The New York Mets waited until the second-to-last day of the regular season to put together its most impressive outing and stop a free fall that saw them go from division leaders to playoff hopeful.
The Mets now need 41-year-old Tom Glavine to follow up that effort up - and get some help - if they want to head back to the postseason.
New York (88-73) held a seven-game division lead over Philadelphia on Sept. 12. But a late-season collapse in which the Mets dropped 11 of 15, including eight in a row at Shea Stadium, combined with an 12-3 surge by the Phillies left New York trailing by one game in the NL East heading into Saturday.
The Mets staved off elimination with a 13-0 rout of Florida (70-91). That, combined with Philadelphia’s 4-2 loss to Washington, left the Mets and Phillies tied after 161 games.
This contest will start at 1:10 p.m. EDT, and the Phillies’ game with the Nationals is slated to start 25 minutes later. The Mets need a victory - combined with a Phillies loss—to earn consecutive division titles for the first time. If they finish tied, they would have a one-game playoff Monday in Philadelphia.
The Phillies beat the Mets in their final eight meetings this year.
To get to this point, though, the Mets used John Maine’s arm, Lastings Milledge’s bat and a nasty edge to roll past Florida. Maine carried a no-hitter for 7 2/3 innings and finished with a career-high 14 strikeouts. His bid for the first no-hitter in franchise history ended when Paul Hoover hit a dribbler up the third-base line that David Wright couldn’t make a play on.
“We weren’t going to lose today,” Maine said.
Milledge recorded his first multihomer game and finished with three hits. Wright was 3-for-4 with three runs and three RBIs, and Luis Castillo added three hits, scored twice and knocked in two.
The game also featured a bench-clearing brawl touched off in the fifth when Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo charged across the diamond to take a swing at the Mets’ Jose Reyes. Olivo was ejected and replaced by Hoover.
“It’s like Johnny Maine flipped the switch for our lineup,” New York manager Willie Randolph told the Mets’ official Web site. “Pitching always sets the tone for a game. Now we just hope we come out and hit like that again tomorrow and Tommy Glavine gives us what Johnny gave us.”
For nearly two months following the All-Star break, Glavine (13-7, 4.14 ERA) couldn’t lose, going 6-0 with a 3.24 ERA in 11 starts and picking up the 300th win of his career in the process.
But since beating Houston on Sept. 8, Glavine is 0-1 with a 6.11 ERA in three starts - struggling more with each progressive outing. Facing Washington on Tuesday, the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner was reached for six runs and nine hits, including three homers, in a 10-9 loss.
“It’s a big game regardless of what tomorrow’s situation may or may not be. But you can’t worry about that,” said Glavine, who gave up first-inning homers that helped put the Mets in a 4-0 hole. “I struggled with my rhythm, my tempo. I kind of felt like I was fighting myself a lot.”
Glavine has no record and 4.76 ERA in two starts against Florida this season. He’s 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA in nine starts versus the Marlins.
The Mets will be facing a pitcher who’s simply dominated them throughout his career in Willis (10-15, 5.20). The left-hander is 5-0 with a 2.70 ERA in eight career starts at Shea, and 11-3 with a 2.49 ERA lifetime against the Mets in 18 starts.
The Marlins have won 14 of Willis’ starts against the Mets. He didn’t get a decision on Sept. 20 in Florida’s 8-7, 10-inning win over the Mets.
Willis became the franchise’s all-time strikeout leader Tuesday, fanning seven over eight innings in a 4-2 win over the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs. Willis has struck out 755 batters in his career, two more than A.J. Burnett.
“He kind of exemplifies what this team is, all the fighting and clawing,” right fielder Jeremy Hermida said of Willis. “That’s him. He’s struggled this year a little bit, but he’s gone out there and given 110 percent in every start, whether he is giving up some runs or not.”
The Marlins have won just six of 17 matchups with the Mets this season, but five have come in New York.
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