Bats blast off, lift Mets atop NL East

Bats blast off, lift Mets atop NL East

WASHINGTON -- They don't make them much easier than this.

An eight-run third inning lifted the Mets to a 12-0 romp at the Nationals' new stomping ground on Wednesday, soundly putting away the worst team in baseball with time -- and runs -- to spare.

"That was good for us," manager Jerry Manuel said after the game. "We needed that."

Manuel's point certainly made sense, considering just outside his office Mets teammates crowded around the four television sets in the visiting locker room to watch St. Louis record the last three outs over Florida, one of the two teams the Mets are battling for the National League East crown, along with Philadelphia.

The crowds were justified. The Mets are 1 1/2 games up on the Marlins. Coupled with the Phillies' late loss to the Dodgers, the Mets found themselves atop the NL East. And for a team whose previous six wins had come by three runs or less, they didn't have to sweat the score all night.

John Maine was hardly made to work in his first start back from a disabled list stint that started on Aug. 3 because of right rotator cuff soreness. The right-hander threw five innings, striking out six and allowing just one hit, the only spot on his night being four walks surrendered.

Maine said after the game he still felt some soreness in his right shoulder, but never enough for him to feel like he needed to shut down.

"I felt better," Maine said. "I think it's still a little sore, but I felt better -- better than the last couple of weeks."

The only downside Manuel found to his starter's performance Wednesday was Maine's velocity, which "touched 93 [mph], maybe 94" but usually hits 95-96 mph, according to Manuel. Still, the Mets' skipper thought his pitcher's curveball had plenty of snap to it, and he attributed Maine's high walk total simply to rust after a week and a half off.

Whatever minor issues Maine might have had, they likely went unnoticed to the untrained eye Wednesday, considering the offensive show.

The Mets did the most damage in the third, sending 13 batters to the plate and scoring eight of them, a number that matched their highest offensive output from any single inning all year.

Though only four of the runs were earned, the Mets used four hits and five walks -- including two with the bases loaded -- and an inning-capping Carlos Beltran double to drive starter Jason Bergmann from the game.

A run in the third and Daniel Murphy's two-run homer in the fifth capped the scoring and put the game well out of reach for Washington. Maine said after the game that his start was made easier by the large lead, because it allowed him to relax and "get in a groove."

"We needed to have an offensive game like this," Manuel said. "We haven't had this type of outbreak in awhile. Everything has been early, then nothing, but to get double-digit runs means that there are a lot of people contributing offensively, and that's huge for us."

The bullpen, a perceived weakness of late, turned in another shutout performance on Wednesday, lasting four innings without allowing a National to cross home. All that relief, however, came in the form of one man -- Brian Stokes, who went four innings and struck out three while giving up no runs to the league's worst offense.

Stokes' performance drew heavy praise from his manager, who said he was happy to give the rest of his bullpen the night off.

"His stuff was electric," Manuel said of his reliever. "He might have had the best stuff out of everybody tonight."

Stokes, who picked up a save because of the length of his outing and despite the Mets' massive lead, recognized the value of his inning-eating performance.

"Rest is always good," Stokes said. "It's just as good as throwing. You've got to let Mother Nature take its course."

Manuel said the only thing he'd like to have done differently would have been to rest David Wright and Jose Reyes late. He did manage to pull Beltran and Carlos Delgado from the game after the top of the seventh.

"The next time that comes around, those two guys will get that break and the other guys will finish it out," Manuel said.

Overall, however, the Mets left Nationals Park feeling more than pleased, no one moreso perhaps than their manager.

With all his team's close games recently coupled with the bullpen's struggles, it seemed natural to ask Manuel what he was thinking going into the bottom of the third up 10 runs

The wide smile Manuel wore on his face as he answered told the story of a satisfying night at the ballpark, and the manager allowed himself a joke: "I'm thinking it might end up 10-9."

Zachary Osterman is an assoicate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.