By Mike Steffanos
Mets 6 - Nationals 4
John Maine managed to tack another 3-2/3 innings onto his scoreless streak before Nick Johnson's long home run ended it with a bang. Maine would ultimately give up another long jack to Alfonso Soriano and settle for a no decision, but the Mets jumped on Washington's bullpen and pulled the game out.
The game started out very well for Maine, who allowed only a 2-out walk to Marlon Anderson in the second until Johnson took him deep with 2 outs in the fourth. The Mets, meanwhile, staked Maine to a 3-0 lead in the third on RBI triples by Reyes and Beltran and Lo Duca's RBI single. They tacked on another run in the sixth on Lastings Milledge's infield chopper to go up 4-1, but things came apart for Maine in the bottom of the sixth.
Pinch hitter Bernie Castro led off with an infield single, and Soriano homered off of Maine's next pitch to make it 4-3. Felipe Lopez followed with a single and stole second. Maine retired Ryan Zimmerman on a fly ball, but with lefty Nick Johnson coming up Willie replaced Maine with Feliciano. Feliciano has allowed almost half of his inherited runners to score this year, and sure enough Johnson singled to bring home Lopez and tie the game at 4-4. Feliciano retired Kearns and Anderson to escape further damage, but Maine had lost the chance to earn the win.
The Mets came right back in the seventh to grab the lead back. Beltran doubled leading off, went to third on Delgado's grounder and scored on a soft single by Valentin. David Wright, on first after being hit by a pitch, advanced to third on Valentin's single and scored on Michael Tucker's sac fly to put New York back up 6-4.
Feliciano stayed in for the bottom of the seventh and retired the side in order. Aaron Heilman faced the meat of the Nationals' order in the eighth. He retired Soriano on a ground out to short, then allowed a single to Lopez. He retired Ryan Zimmerman, then went full on Nick Johnson before overmatching him with a fastball for strike 3. It looked like he had Johnson looking changeup, which Lo Duca originally called, but Heilman shook him off for the fastball. Nice job with both the arm and the head for Aaron.
Wagner came in for the ninth, and for one day at least was the Wagner we dreamed of last winter. He was bringing his fastball at 98 with location, and the slider was breaking just fine. He overmatched all 3 Nationals he faced, striking out Austin Kearns and pinch hitter Damian Jackson, and retiring Alex Escobar on a weak grounder to Wright. It was Wagner's 27th save on the season.
Thoughts on the game
If you just saw the box score, you might have thought Maine had a bad game, but he just made a couple of bad pitches and got hurt on both. He seemed philosophical after the game and said it just gave him some things to work on in his next bullpen. Let's update the table:
Interesting that this was Maine's first start away from Shea stadium. The only road game he's been in was an inning in relief in Chicago. This was the first start that Maine didn't pitch six innings since that first game after his recall against the Pirates. One problem he has is that his pitch count gets a little high at times. He was at 89 pitches today when Willie lifted him. Not Trachsel numbers, but higher than you want to see for 5-1/3 innings with only 4 hits and a walk.
As fun as the scoreless streak was, I'm glad it's out of the way. It was somewhat of a distraction, and now he can settle down and we can all find out if he can challenge for October starts.
Only Beltran had a big day offensively, coming up a home run shy of the cycle. Beltran had an RBI, leaving him just 2 short of 100 for the year. Delgado was 0-4, but did contribute a really nice defensive play, as did Jose Valentin, who also drove in the eventual game winner. Tucker's sac fly to give the Mets their final run was the kind of situational hitting we haven't always seen lately.
The win was number 70 on the season for the Mets, putting them back to 25 games above .500. They increased their lead back to 14 games over the Phillies who lost today, as did everyone else in the NL east.
This game is being discussed in the MetsMerized Mets Talk Forum.