04/28/10 6:16 PM ET
Mets reach rare territory with sweep of LA
Maine strikes out nine in club's seventh consecutive win
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
Those, however, are thoughts for another day, another week, another month. Manager Jerry Manuel didn't even realize when he woke up Wednesday that his team was in sole possession of first place -- and he swears he doesn't pay the scoreboard much heed until June. "Play good baseball" is his mantra in April. And presently, his Mets are doing precisely that.
Their victory on Wednesday included plenty of offense, along with John Maine's most encouraging outing of the season. And it gave the Mets an extra jolt of confidence in anticipation for this weekend's series against -- do not adjust your monitors -- the second-place Phillies.
"I don't know of too many guys that would have expected it," outfielder Jason Bay said of the homestand. "But I know a lot of guys wanted it."
Even Manuel, in his wildest fantasies, could not have envisioned a homestand in which the Mets would score 48 runs, allow 23 and parlay that into nine victories. Wednesday's finale against the Dodgers included more of the same: a strong -- if not spectacular -- start from Maine, a comfortable amount of offense and a growing bit of pride.
"Right now, every time we take the field, we're sure we're going to score runs, we're going to hit, our pitching's going to shut them down," outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "When you do that, it's a good feeling."
Maine took care of the pitching on this day, striking out nine Dodgers over six-plus innings. With game-time winds at Citi Field gusting close to 30 mph, Maine used the weather to his advantage, featuring plenty of late movement on his fastball.
In the first inning, Maine struck out Andre Ethier -- who entered the game hitting .354 -- on five pitches, four of them fastballs. In the third, he threw Ethier five straight heaters, fanning him yet again. And in the fifth, Maine needed merely three fastballs to whiff Ethier, each of them clocked at 87 mph.
The overwhelming majority of Maine's pitches were fastballs. That's his usual strategy. But for the first time this season, he kept them low and moving.
"Yeah they were all fastballs, but they didn't all end up that way when I threw them," Maine said. "They turned into two-seamers; they turned into changeups with those big gusts of wind; they turned into cutters. The goal was just to get them in the area."
Ethier was not the only Dodgers hitter to struggle against those fastballs, though his issues were most pronounced. Of Ethier's teammates, only catcher Russell Martin found real success, lining one fastball over the left-field wall for a two-run homer in the fifth. But even Martin struggled in the end, hitting into a double play off Fernando Nieve, after Maine walked the leadoff batter in the seventh.
By that time, the Mets had taken a 5-3 lead off Dodgers starter John Ely, on the strength of Angel Pagan's two-run triple and run-scoring doubles by Francoeur and Alex Cora. They added two more on RBI hits by Bay and Ike Davis in the seventh, then coasted to the victory.
"The way we're going right now," the 56-year-old Manuel quipped, "I could probably go in the game and we'd get a few outs."
The Mets, unwilling to change what works, aren't likely to let him try. Right now, they're content to coast. And boast.
"We felt we had the talent the whole time," Francoeur said. "We felt confident that we could win ballgames. When you get on a roll, you just try to ride it as long as you can."
"Day in, day out, our pitchers are giving us a chance to win," catcher Rod Barajas said. "That's all you can ask for."
Now, for the obligatory word of caution: the Mets also won seven straight games last May, sitting in first place as late as May 29.
Another reason to fret: their current 3.06 ERA -- third in the Majors -- does not seem sustainable given the 4.45 mark that ranked 20th in the Majors one year ago. Leave it to the most cautious Met to inject such perspective into the conversation.
"This whole homestand gives us confidence moving forward," third baseman David Wright said. "But you have to take it for what it is."
From Wright's viewpoint, it's nothing more than a sliver of schedule in the middle of April.
But caution is no fun. So the Mets will throw it to the 26 mph winds that whipped around their heads all afternoon, relegating them to long-sleeved undershirts and their fans to winter coats. The Mets just had their way with three of the National League's premier franchises. Now they're heading to Philly, and they're going to beat their chests a bit. Who wouldn't?
"Being 9-1, it doesn't matter who you're playing," Bay said. "That's pretty impressive."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.