The 41-year-old right-hander was hitting the corners, his pitches had wicked movement and he had a 4-0 lead. The San Diego Padres nearly wasted his brilliant effort before Geoff Blum singled in the go-ahead run with two outs in the eighth for a 5-4 win over the Mets on Wednesday night.
Maddux had thrown just 65 pitches -- 49 for strikes -- and allowed four singles through five innings when he told manager Bud Black that he was tired and had felt something in his left hamstring.
"It was one of those decisions where I didn't want to risk it and look back," said Black, a former big league pitcher. "He indicated he was fine to go back out, but I felt as if I didn't want to do that and take a chance."
Maddux said he wasn't sure if he tweaked the hamstring or if it was just cramping.
"I'll be all right, though," he said. "It's actually feeling pretty good right now. Maybe it's more of a cramp than a strain."
Maddux said he was glad Black took him out, "because mentally, I was about done anyway. But nice win. Blum clutched up and had a big hit. They tried to steal it and Blum didn't let 'em. Very cool."
Maddux had been showing his age in losing his previous three starts, allowing 15 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings. He lasted only four innings in his last start, an 8-3 loss at Arizona on Friday.
Against the Mets, he had been in line for his 341st career victory before the bullpen coughed up a 4-0 lead.
Maddux resurrected the pinpoint location that helped him win four consecutive Cy Young awards in the 1990s, striking out the side on 11 pitches in the first inning. He had six punchouts through four.
Carlos Delgado beat out an infield single in the second and Jose Valentin had a line drive single to right leading off the fourth. The Mets didn't get consecutive baserunners until Shawn Green and Paul Lo Duca hit balls that got through the infield opening the fifth. But Maddux retired the next three batters, including catching Lastings Milledge's line shot back to the mound.
Maddux said he might have been thinking about his last few starts.
"You try to elevate mentally and you burn quicker," he said. "I didn't pace myself very good. Kind of overthrowing a little bit."
Maddux matched his season-high with six strikeouts and didn't walk a batter.
Blum, subbing for slumping second baseman Marcus Giles, singled to right off Joe Smith to bring in Khalil Greene and finished 2-for-3. Giles, who's hit just .191 since May 7, has been benched for at least three games.
Milton Bradley and Adrian Gonzalez homered for the Padres, who took two of three from the NL East-leading Mets. Trevor Hoffman pitched a perfect ninth for his 26th save in 28 chances, his 22nd in a row and the 508th of his record-setting career.
After sidearmer Cla Meredith threw a perfect sixth, former Mets reliever Royce Ring allowed Carlos Delgado's homer leading off the seventh. The ball glanced off Mike Cameron's glove as he was reaching over the center-field fence.
Linebrink (3-2) picked up the win despite giving up Wright's three-run homer with two outs in the top of the eighth. Linebrink retired the first two batters in the eighth before walking Jose Valentin and Carlos Beltran. Wright hit Linebrink's next pitch off the top of the left-field fence, his 17th.
"He was struggling to throw strikes," Wright said. "I was just sitting on a first-pitch fastball, thinking that he's going to try and get ahead."
The Padres then rallied against Smith (2-1). Greene walked with one out and advanced on Kevin Kouzmanoff's single before scoring on Blum's base hit.
"Greg Maddux pitched a hell of a game and it was kind of disappointing to see him lose that win, but we got back in the dugout and the game wasn't over," Blum said. "We still had a couple of innings in our hand and we took advantage of it."
The Padres got to John Maine early to give Maddux a 2-0 lead after one inning. Gonzalez hit an RBI double and scored on Greene's single.
Bradley hit his first homer since joining the Padres, driving Maine's first pitch of the third over the fence in right-center, the deepest part of Petco Park. The ball went an estimated 427 feet. Bradley was obtained from Oakland on June 29, but went on the disabled list when he reported two days later due to a strained oblique. He hit two homers with Oakland.
Gonzalez homered to straightaway center with two outs in the fifth, his 15th. It was his first homer since June 17 at Chicago, a span of 90 at-bats.
Delgado's homer was his 15th.
Maine allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings, struck out five and walked two.
Wheaties will unveil a special-edition box honoring Hall of Fame-electee Tony Gwynn on Thursday at Petco Park. Gwynn will be inducted into the Hall of Fame a week from Sunday, along with Cal Ripken Jr.