Order is restored

Against former club, Church does it all

NEW YORK -- Two hours and 48 minutes before Billy Wagner's 16th pitch struck out Felipe Lopez and secured the Mets' 6-3 victory against the Nationals on Tuesday night, John Maine's first pitch struck Lopez. There was a striking difference between the two pitches. Turns out that the words of Nelson Figueroa, words that were just about his last as a Met, were not the last word. Turns out there was more to be said -- or done -- about that chanting and cheering business on Monday night. Turns out that first pitch on Tuesday night was the last word, at least for the time being. Now we'll see how it all turns out.

The first pitch found its way to Lopez's right leg. The first pitch was loaded; it carried intent and a message. Indeed, the intent was the message. The Mets hadn't appreciated the Nationals' behavior on Monday night, and they wanted their opponents to recognize that. Figueroa spoke about it. Maine said nothing and something at the same time. He aimed to do it that way.

The other 275 pitches in the Mets' victory were mostly routine. They determined who won the seventh game this season between the two National League East teams. The first one determined how the teams will view each other for the rest of the season, and maybe longer.

No Met other than Maine had much to say publicly about that first pitch. And all he said was: "It slipped."

But as the Mets showered, dressed and departed Shea Stadium, they acknowledged what had happened, that Maine's pitch had "put 'em in their place" purpose.

One player said Maine had been urged to hit the first batter with the first pitch. And others agreed with the statement he made. "And the best thing," one of them said, "was that John came off the mound when he got the ball back, just in case someone had something to say. Very impressive. And you know what else impressed us? After he did his job, he did his job."

Maine's second assignment was to beat the Nationals, and with significant assistance from Ryan Church, he did. Church hit a solo home run and drove in four runs. Maine pitched six innings and won his fourth straight start. And the Mets walked off the Shea Stadium lawn feeling comfortable about their evening's work.

They had scored twice in the sixth and eighth innings to win for ninth time in their past 13 home games. They methodically beat an inferior opponent, the way have-lots are supposed to beat have-nots. And this team that, three weeks earlier, had welcomed the return of Jose Reyes' home run handshakes and dances, believed it had sent a reminder about dugout decorum.

The Nationals had chanted and clapped during their rally in the third inning on Monday. And Figueroa, a pitcher of record in the 10-4 defeat, went on the record, saying, "They were cheering in the dugout like a bunch of softball girls. I am a professional, I take great offense to that. ... They won tonight, but in the long run, look who they are, a last-place team. ... They should show a little more class and act a little more professional. That's why they are who they are."

Figueroa was designated for assignment on Tuesday -- because of his performance not his public outrage, so he had other issues more pressing than chants and cheers. His now-former teammates seemed less insulted than he on Monday night. Indeed, several wondered how he would condemn the Nationals after they had had their way with him. But the Mets came together on Tuesday, perhaps in a way that will galvanize them. "If it gets us going," one of them said, "great."

They appeared to play with greater purpose and energy on Tuesday. Church was the primary source of energy. He hit his eighth home run, leading off the third inning against left-handed-losing pitcher John Lannan, doubled home two runs in the sixth and provided the sixth run in the eighth with a sacrifice fly.

Brian Schneider, who had three hits, and Reyes drove in the other runs in the Mets' fifth victory in seven games against the team that has been in last place since April 10. The decisive rally began with one out in the sixth inning. Schneider singled to right. Pinch-hitter Fernando Tatis singled in his first big league at-bat since 2006 to move Schneider to second. After Lannan (3-4) struck out Reyes, Church hit a catchable line drive to right field that Austin Kearns misjudged. It flew past him -- it was scored a double -- as Schneider and Tatis scored.

"The ball took off on him," Church said of his fellow right fielder. "I know the feeling." That's empathy, not sympathy.

The Nationals scored against reliever Matt Wise, activated before the game, in the seventh. Duaner Sanchez pitched the eighth, walking two. Reyes drove in Schneider and Church drove in Marlon Anderson in the eighth against Luis Ayala. And Wagner earned his eighth save, putting him one save behind Jeff Reardon for sixth place on the all-time list. Wagner has 366 saves.

The Mets had scored in the second inning on a leadoff single by Moises Alou, a bunt single -- honest! -- by Carlos Delgado, a walk to Damion Easley and an infield out by Schneider. Church hit his home run, his third home run in what now is 46 at-bats against left-handed pitching. He leads the Mets in home runs; his 30 RBIs are second on the team to David Wright's 32.

It almost seems preposterous now that manager Willie Randolph's Spring Training assertion that Church would be his everyday right fielder raised eyebrows. Church has been the team's most consistent hitter.

And, Randolph said, Maine "probably has been our most consistent starter." He has allowed no more than two runs in seven straight starts, the longest streak of that nature by a Mets starter since Masato Yoshii had eight such starts at the end of his 1999 season.

With a 5-2 record, Maine certainly has been the most successful. He threw 109 pitches in his six innings. And if the pesky Nats hadn't fouled off 33, he might have pitched seven innings.

"That's a lot of foul balls," he said. "I'm not sure if they were trying to spoil my pitches and run up my pitch count or if it just happened that way. I wanted to go seven, but ..."

One of the two runs charged to him was unearned. The first of two errors by Easley at second base directly preceded a rocket home run into the bleachers beyond left field by Ryan Zimmerman. The home run, Zimmerman's sixth, was the fourth allowed by Maine in what now is 48 innings. Maine allowed one other hit and one walk and he struck out five.

And he hit a batter, too.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.