WASHINGTON -- Sometimes, all it takes is a well-placed bunt to get a team going. Sometimes, one big swing does the trick.
Carlos Beltran tried both methods Sunday, and his bid to spark a first-inning rally with a sacrifice didn't pan out. But when he went after an up-and-away pitch in the sixth, he hit the ball over the wall.
Maine (4-0) struck out a career-high eight and allowed three hits in lowering his ERA to 1.35.
"He showed me again he's getting better and better," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "Each time out, he's stronger and stronger."
Has Maine shown he's going to be an elite pitcher?
"If he keeps going, he's going to be up there soon," Randolph said. "He's got a long way to go, but I like what I'm seeing."
Aaron Heilman, Scott Schoeneweis and Billy Wagner finished the six-hitter. Schoeneweis got out of a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the eighth by getting Ryan Church to ground out to first, and Wagner pitched the ninth for his fourth save in four chances.
The Mets limited the Nationals to three runs over the last 29 innings of the three-game series. Washington left 10 runners on base Sunday, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
"You get the snowball effect where you're trying too hard," Austin Kearns said, "and that's the worst thing you can do in these situations."
Beltran's fifth homer came with one out in the sixth off starter Jason Bergmann (0-2), who allowed two hits over seven innings and trimmed his ERA to 2.79.
"Hey, he's good," Bergmann said. "He hit the ball out, and that's the game."
It was the Mets' first hit since the first at-bat of the afternoon. Jose Reyes was credited with an infield single when first baseman Dmitri Young couldn't hold onto shortstop Felipe Lopez's one-hop throw from the hole.
Reyes then stole second and David Wright walked, bringing up Beltran with a chance to put New York ahead early. But the Mets' No. 3 hitter -- and leading RBI man -- decided on his own to bunt the runners over.
"It was the right thing to do," Beltran said.
Randolph agreed, saying: "If that's what he wants to do, that's fine."
With runners on second and third and one out, Moises Alou popped up to Lopez on the grass behind third base, and Shawn Green struck out looking at an off-speed pitch.
At least Beltran accomplished what he set out to do. The Nationals, by contrast, failed three times to sacrifice: Bergmann struck out by fouling a bunt try in the third; pinch-hitter Josh Wilson struck out swinging away after fouling off two bunt attempts in the ninth against Wagner; and, in the seventh, rookie Jesus Flores bunted to charging first baseman Julio Franco, who threw to third base for a forceout.
"He knows how to pounce on the ball," Randolph said.
Maine departed for a pinch-hitter in the eighth, having allowed three walks. He hasn't given up more than two earned runs in any of his five starts this season -- all New York victories.
"He's made a lot of progress," said Nationals manager Manny Acta, who saw Maine up close last season as the Mets' third-base coach. "He was more like a one-pitch type of guy. He threw a lot of fastballs up in the zone and guys couldn't catch up with it. He's more of a three-pitch guy now."
Maine gave up singles to Ronnie Belliard (six hits the last two games) in the third and sixth, then Kearns' double leading off the seventh. Church followed Kearns by walking for the sixth time in two games, putting two on with none out.
But Franco -- getting his first start at first base this season in place of slumping Carlos Delgado -- made his key play.
Maine then struck out Chris Snelling and pinch-hitter Robert Fick.
"That's why we keep stressing that we have to play close to perfect baseball in situations like that," Acta said. "How many times are we going to beat the Mets 2-1 or 1-0? You have to get the bunts down and make the plays when we have to."
The Nationals plan to recall OF Kory Casto from Triple-A Columbus in time for Monday's game at San Diego. ... Mets RHP Orlando Hernandez flew to New York to have a doctor check out pain in his pitching shoulder. He's scheduled to start Monday at home against Florida.