Some rain had fallen on the Mets' parade -- Martinez made a premature departure because of a physical malady. But it turned out to be a passing shower. Not even a remnant puddle of disappointment existed as the Mets gathered. Martinez is fine, as fine as a 36-year-old pitcher with 2,700 innings on the odometer can be. And the Mets, eight games into an abrupt about-face that almost boggles the mind, are finer.
They're pitching like their ancestors of 39 years ago, winning games via the exploits of unlikely heroes and making it look terribly easy. Martinez and four relievers produced a hardly suspenseful one-hitter Saturday, the team's third shutout in five games. The staff has allowed no more than three hits in five consecutive games, a big league precedent.
Not only did the Mets not lose a pitcher, one who still looms large in their plans for next three months, but they haven't lost a game since the Fourth of July. And they now are closer to first place in the National League East -- a half-game behind -- than they been since the fourth of May.
"You've got to play the whole season," Billy Wagner said, turning philosophical. "We could have been out of it by now. We did everything to screw it up. But look where we are. That's why you play 162. Look at the Diamondbacks. Two months ago, they were the greatest team since the '27 Yankees. Now they're, what, 45-46?"
Now the Mets are the greatest team since ... well, the Rays of two weekends past. They have won eight games in a row. Their winning streak is the longest active streak in the big leagues and the longest by this team since June 2006. They have reduced their division deficit by seven games since June 13.
"Everything is going so well now," Martinez said. "We knew we had a run in us, but I don't think anyone saw this coming."
The only cloud in the day had been Martinez's early exit. He was removed after pitching four innings because his sore right groin affected his delivery and caused his right shoulder to tighten. But before the game was complete, Martinez had been examined and cleared to make his next start, after the All-Star break, as scheduled.
"Everything is fine," Martinez said. "Nothing to panic about."
He said he developed a problem with his groin running the bases in his previous start, on Monday in Philadelphia. The tightness in his shoulder was not a new malady for him, but rather an aftereffect of the shoulder surgery he underwent in October 2006.
"Sometimes, my shoulder locks," Martinez said.
It did so twice in the fourth while he was pitching to Matt Holliday, who led off the inning. Manager Jerry Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen noticed Martinez stretching his arms skyward. Manuel visited the mound, allowed his starter complete the inning, but he rejected Martinez's efforts to continue pitching.
"He fought, fought, fought, fought to go on," Manuel said.
And not many people say no to Martinez.
"Jerry's a tough man," Martinez said. "He's from the Felipe [Alou] school."
If not for the well-struck single Brad Hawpe produced against Martinez with one out in the fourth inning, the Mets might have pitched their first no-hitter -- albeit a team effort -- and not their 33rd one-hitter. This one-hitter, the team's fourth in its most recent 181 games, is its eighth by more than one pitcher. Two of the three pitched last season were abridged, five and six innings because of rain.
Martinez's followers were Carlos Muniz, who gained his first big league victory, Aaron Heilman, Scott Schoeneweis and Wagner, who earned his 22nd save. The four relievers allowed one baserunner -- a walk by Muniz -- and struck out five in their four innings. The bullpen has pitched 18 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings.
"Everybody is doing a little bit of something," Martinez said.
The runs were a combined effort, too. The Mets scored once in the fourth inning on another RBI hit by Fernando Tatis, in the fifth on the 10th home run by Jose Reyes and in the sixth on a double by Brian Schneider. Tatis singled through the drawn-in infield after Carlos Beltran doubled and stole third. Reyes crushed his home run, hitting the Smith-Barney sign on the scoreboard in right-center field.
"He hit Smith and rattled Barney," Wagner said.
And Schneider doubled home Carlos Delgado, who had singled and advanced to second on Endy Chavez's sacrifice bunt.
The Mets scored three runs, using speed for one, power for another and small ball for the third. A month ago, the Mets could show you speed.
All the runs came against losing pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, who beat the Mets and Martinez in Denver on June 21. Then Jimenez, now 4-8, pitched eight innings and allowed two hits and one run.
But these are different Mets. They have put their record six games over .500 for the first time. They have won 16 of 25 games since Manuel replaced Willie Randolph on June 17. They grow beards and they play music -- or what they identify as music -- in the clubhouse before games.
And when they're injured, it doesn't even hurt much.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less