Their Mets' 5-0 victory against the Nationals was welcome sustenance. It allowed a first-place team to avoid losing three of four games to a last-place club, and afforded the Mets' bullpen extra time to recover from three games in 27 hours. By Monday morning, Aaron Heilman, whose right arm was taxed in the other three games against Washington, may be able to comb his hair again.
Maine not only pitched long enough to qualify for his 12th victory, he also pitched well enough to produce the Mets' second one-hitter of the season, both abridged. If not for a bloop single to left-center field by the game's second batter -- and its last dry batter -- Ronnie Belliard, Maine would have had one of those Andy Hawkins-David Palmer no-hitters that baseball no longer recognizes as equivalent to what Nolan Ryan did seven times and no Met ever has done.
"It came too early to matter much," Maine said.
He was unaware of revised interpretation of no-hitter. But what did that matter? He hadn't planned on breaking any Mets precedents.
"Maybe if I got to the sixth," he said, "but there was no sixth."
Early on, Maine knew this one was likely to be cut short. And when his hearts-in-the-right-place teammates took their sweet time putting up five runs -- three separate rallies -- achieving the requisite 15 outs became something of an issue.
But Maine retired the side in order on 13 pitches in the fifth. And when Nationals reliever Chris Schroder slipped on the mound, facing the third batter of the bottom of the fifth, the game was put on pause. Ninety-one minutes later, the Mets had won for the 11th time in 18 games since the All-Star break.
"I figured time might be running out," Maine said. "But it's never good to rush yourself."
Just the same, he had tried to achieve outs quickly to get his teammates out of the rain and get them back to pounding the Nationals pitching.
It all worked pretty well. Maine (12-5) struck out five and walked none.
"You think we could do this five-inning thing all the time?" Maine said.
Tom Glavine had pitched a one-hit, six-inning shutout against the Cardinals on June 27, to give Maine an idea how it's done. Five innings was a reasonable facsimile, Glavine decided. "He followed my example very well," he said.
The Mets scored merely twice on Glavine's behalf. This time, they had two runs almost as soon as Jose Reyes batted twice. Reyes led off the first and third innings against spot starter Billy Traber with doubles. He scored in the first on an ensuing single by Lastings Milledge, who is batting .424 in his last nine games. Reyes scored in the third, after he stole third, on a single by David Wright.
Traber (2-2 and making his second start) was hit harder in the fourth. A leadoff single by Damion Easley was followed by Ramon Castro's seventh home run, which went to center field.
Castro has 12 RBIs, a .475 average and four home runs in his 11 most recent starts.
"The ball looks big and slow to me," Castro said, smiling because the same adjectives apply to him.
But speed isn't an issue when the ball leaves the playing field.
A single by Ruben Gotay, Maine's sacrifice and a pitching change -- Traber to Schroder -- preceded Wright's second RBI hit. Wright leads the team with 65 RBIs, and his average is back to .298.
It was more than enough offense.
"They didn't need my help this time," said Maine, a home run hitter in his previous start on Tuesday.
He was planning on hitting another in the sixth. But there was no sixth. You can't have everything.
The Mets have now won three five-inning games in their history. The other two came 1971; both against the Expos, both at Shea, both by 4-2, both losses charged to Carl Morten, who pitched five innings in both.