Maine dominates Astros as Mets snap 4-game skid

Mets 6, Astros 2

HOUSTON (AP) -- The New York Mets needed one inning to purge the memories of their nightmare series in Colorado.

John Maine set a career high with nine strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings and Ramon Castro hit a two-run double filling in for suspended Paul Lo Duca as the Mets beat the Houston Astros 6-2 on Thursday night.

The Mets started the week by getting outscored 34-12 in a three-game sweep by the Rockies in Denver. They were a different team in the opener of this series, with Maine dominating and the Mets pounding Houston starter Jason Jennings with extra-base hits in each of the first three innings.

Jose Reyes tripled on Jennings' second pitch of the game and scored on Ricky Ledee's infield single that bounced off first base. Ledee later scored on Carlos Delgado's two-out single to make it 2-0.

Maine then struck out the side in the bottom of the first, a sign of the night ahead for both teams.

"We really needed it," said Delgado, who went 4-for-4. "We needed a guy to stop the bleeding. He came out today and really set the tone. He was aggressive throwing strikes."

Maine (10-4) won his fourth straight start, allowing six hits with two walks. Carlos Lee had an RBI double off Maine in the eighth, the only inning he looked vulnerable.

"He was pumping the ball good all night," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "The ball was coming out of his hand really sharp and strong. You can tell early in the game, when most guys have their stuff, and he did."

Houston had averaged six runs and 11 hits in its previous 21 games. Maine tried to use the Astros' aggressive approaches at the plate against them.

"The first time through the lineup, I just wanted to show them I was throwing strikes," Maine said, "and then get them to chase some things after that."

Maine had struck out eight in two games this season. His slider was the key to reaching a new career high.

"I'm getting more comfortable with my slider on both sides of the plate," Maine said. "When you throw enough of them, and throw strikes with them, you can kind of second-guess them."

Ledee had another RBI single in the sixth as the Mets improved to 20-9 in series openers. Former Astro Carlos Beltran struck out three times and then hit a solo homer in the ninth off Astros reliever Dave Borkowski. It was his 15th of the season.

Billy Wagner, another former Astro, shut out Houston in the ninth. He struck out Craig Biggio to end the game.

"It's not fun pitching against those guys," Wagner said. "You have a relationship with those guys. You went to battle and competed and achieved a lot of things here. It's tough."

The Mets, meanwhile, had an easy time handling Jennings (1-4), who dropped his third straight decision.

Delgado doubled off the center-field wall in the third, a 400-plus foot drive. Jose Valentin walked and one out later, Castro doubled off the left-field scoreboard to put the Mets up 4-0. Castro was playing for Lo Duca, who began serving a two-game suspension for a June 23 tirade against an umpire.

"I'm here to pick him up," Castro said, "and I'm going to try to do my best."

Castro led off the sixth with a single to left, advanced on Maine's bunt and scored on Ledee's two-out single to right to put New York up 5-0.

"He didn't make good pitches," Houston manager Phil Garner said of Jennings. "He just didn't make the pitches he wanted to make."

Biggio and Hunter Pence opened the sixth with singles. Maine matched his career-high strikeout total by fanning Lance Berkman for the second time, then got Lee swinging.

"Everything was working for him tonight," said Castro, catching Maine for the second time this season.

Biggio led off the eighth with a double to right. Pence and Berkman flew out before Lee lined an RBI double off the left-field wall on Maine's 121st pitch. Lee leads the NL with 72 RBIs.

Randolph replaced Maine with Joe Smith, and Mark Loretta blooped a single to right to score Lee. Pedro Feliciano then relieved Smith and struck out pinch-hitter Morgan Ensberg.

Game notes
Castro has four doubles and a home run in his last six games. He has 17 RBIs in 18 starts this season. ... The Mets are 36-4 when they lead after six innings. ... Biggio's double was his 3,011th career hit and moved him past Wade Boggs for 24th all-time. ... Pence has hit safely in 31 of his last 38 games. ... The Mets homered for the 11th time in their last 12 games.