Leiter allowed only three hits in seven innings

NEW YORK (AP) -- More than 55,000 fans filed into Shea Stadium to see Pedro Martinez pitch another gem.

They went home happy thanks to Ramon Castro.

The backup catcher singled home the winning run with two outs in the ninth inning as the New York Mets beat the Florida Marlins

4-3 on Saturday for their sixth straight victory.

"They never got away from us and we never quit," Martinez said. "I'm very glad I signed to pitch here and I'm able to give the fans what they expected."

Martinez struck out nine in a stellar home debut for New York -- but the Mets' new ace was outpitched by their old one, Al Leiter.

The left-hander allowed only three hits in seven innings and left with a 2-1 lead before New York rallied against reliever Todd Jones in the eighth.

Carlos Beltran tied it with a two-out single and Mike Piazza followed with a go-ahead double to give the Mets a 3-2 edge, overcoming Martinez's career-high three wild pitches.

"I prefer scoring early in the ballgame so we don't have to go through this situation every day," Beltran said.

Braden Looper (1-1) couldn't hold the lead. He gave up three hits in the ninth, including Juan Encarnacion's tying double with two outs, for his second blown save in three chances this year.

But Victor Diaz, who also singled to start New York's eighth-inning rally, doubled off Guillermo Mota (0-1) with two outs in the ninth and scored when Castro lined a 1-1 pitch to right-center for the game-winning hit.

"That's what we want to do every day, keep fighting back. That's what good teams do," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "The attitude in the clubhouse and the dugout is that we're going to keep coming at you."

Castro, a defensive replacement for Piazza in the ninth, was also involved in a key play at the plate.

With runners on the corners and one out, Paul Lo Duca hit a grounder to Mets first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who threw home. Castro appeared to miss the tag on Miguel Cabrera, but umpire Charlie Reliford called him out.

Encarnacion followed with a double to left, which could have put Florida ahead if Reliford's call had gone the other way.

"It was close," Castro said. "I got to go watch the replay, I don't know."

One night after Aaron Heilman's stunning one-hit shutout, Martinez took the mound before a packed house at Shea. He didn't get the win, but he helped the Mets extend their sudden surge after opening 0-5.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner started the winning streak with a two-hitter in his previous outing in Atlanta. This time, he gave up two runs and three hits in seven innings, walking one.

"I think a lot of it goes back to the first game we won. That was very important. Everybody's playing loose and with more confidence," Martinez said. "If I am to lead, I am going to lead by example. That's what they are going to see."

Leiter pitched for the Mets from 1998-2004, helping them to successive playoff berths and the 2000 NL pennant. But New York let him leave in the offseason, and he signed an $8 million, one-year contract with Florida, where he won a World Series title in '97.

He got a mixed reception in his return to Shea, but he was certainly sharp on the mound. Leiter pitched effectively to both sides of the plate, striking out four and walking two.

"Not surprised. I didn't really anticipate boos or cheers, so I was kind of indifferent on the whole thing," Leiter said. "It was exciting. I was nervous the first inning. It was a little odd for me to be in the opposing dugout, the opposing bullpen."

Martinez got off to a rough start. He gave up a leadoff single to Juan Pierre and threw two wild pitches in a row, sending Pierre to third. Luis Castillo's RBI groundout put Florida up 1-0.

The right-hander turned it on from there, striking out Cabrera,

Carlos Delgado and Mike Lowell. Martinez retired nine in a row before Castillo opened the fourth with a single, stole second and scored on a wild pitch as Delgado struck out.

Delgado also reached safely, but Martinez escaped further damage.

"He pitched well. He was throwing harder than what he had last year," Delgado said.

The Mets cut it to 2-1 in the fourth when Miguel Cairo led off with a double and scored on Piazza's double-play grounder.

Game notes
New York's last six-game winning streak was in August 2003. ... Mets left fielder Cliff Floyd (strained rib muscle) missed his fourth consecutive start and second baseman Kaz Matsui (scratched cornea) was not in the lineup for the third game in a row. Matsui pinch-hit in the eighth and dropped down a successful sacrifice bunt. ... Martinez had thrown two wild pitches in a game five times before. ... Leiter leads all active pitchers with 51 career wins at Shea. ... Castillo got his first RBI in 32 at-bats this season. ... The crowd of 55,351 was a sellout.