Maine flirted with the first no-hitter in team history before allowing an infield single to Paul Hoover with two outs in the eighth inning, and New York snapped out of its September doldrums by routing the Florida Marlins 13-0 in a fight-filled game Saturday.
"We weren't going to lose today," Maine said.
Maine finished with 14 strikeouts, the most by a Mets pitcher in eight years, and departed to a raucous ovation long after Florida catcher Miguel Olivo charged across the diamond and threw a punch at buddy Jose Reyes in the fifth -- setting off a bench-clearing brawl.
Once order was restored, the Mets ended a five-game skid that cost them their NL East lead. Hours later, they moved back into a tie with Philadelphia for first place in the NL East when the Phillies lost 4-2 to Washington.
After squandering a seven-game cushion with 17 to play and falling a game behind Philadelphia, New York entered Saturday with a chance to suddenly be eliminated from postseason contention. A loss to Florida and a Phillies win over Washington later would have sent the Mets home for the winter.
Instead, Maine (15-10) gave them the dominant outing they've desperately needed for two weeks.
"We needed a stopper and he was our guy," David Wright said. "Hopefully, it's not too little too late."
New York will hope for another big effort from 300-game winner Tom Glavine in the regular-season finale Sunday. The Mets face nemesis Dontrelle Willis (10-15), who is 11-3 with a 2.49 ERA in 18 career starts against them -- including 5-0 at Shea Stadium.
Lastings Milledge homered twice, Ramon Castro also connected and Luis Castillo had three key hits for the Mets, who had lost eight straight home games and 11 of 15 overall -- putting them in danger of completing one of baseball's most colossal collapses.
Maine was looking to make his own bit of history for the Mets, born in 1962. He struck out seven straight during one stretch and held Florida hitless into the eighth. With the crowd of 54,675 getting more and more excited, Hoover hit a dribbler up the third-base line that left Wright with no chance to make a play.
"You couldn't have rolled the ball any better," Maine said. "What are you going to do?"
Wright put his arm around Maine on the mound as manager Willie Randolph walked out to lift the right-hander after 115 pitches. Maine took a curtain call before Willie Collazo and Carlos Muniz finished the one-hitter.
The crowd let out another huge roar when Washington's early 1-0 lead at Philadelphia was posted on the out-of-town scoreboard.
Milledge flopped on a clubhouse couch to watch the Phillies' game on television for a while, but most of the Mets scattered, saying they would keep an eye on it with family and friends or get updates via cell phone.
The teams first spilled onto the field when Florida pitcher Harvey Garcia threw behind Castillo in the fifth. Holding the bat in his hand, Castillo walked toward the mound with his arms spread wide. Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson was incensed, pointing angrily toward Marlins coaches as the benches and bullpens emptied.
"That's irresponsible. That's not how you play the game," Peterson said. "It was a knee-jerk reaction."
No punches were thrown, however, with both teams mostly just milling close to each other near home plate.
After a brief delay, play resumed. Castillo walked and Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez came out to make a double switch.
Reyes, on third base, was jawing with Olivo, who was standing on the mound during the pitching change. Reyes said he was kidding with Olivo, figuring it was harmless because the two chat all the time.
"I'm on the mound waiting for the pitcher, and he yelled at me. He says, 'You want to fight?' I said, `OK,"' Olivo said. "We're good friends. Maybe he just got a little excited. We play winter ball in the Dominican all the time. I don't care. He wants to be my friend? I'll be his friend. But I don't care."
Reyes' story was slightly different, though he also said the two are friends. He said Olivo was the one who asked him if he wanted to fight, so he answered yes -- but again thought they were simply joking.
Suddenly, though, Olivo charged at Reyes and took a swing that failed to connect.
"I'm too quick for that," Reyes said. "He (took) it serious. I don't know why."
Mets third base coach Sandy Alomar held off Olivo, and Florida third baseman Miguel Cabrera grabbed hold of Reyes as both teams poured onto the field. There was plenty of pushing and shoving, but it appeared no other punches were thrown.
Olivo was ejected -- and replaced by Hoover. Reyes wasn't tossed. He scored on Wright's single, making it 10-0.
Marlins star shortstop Hanley Ramirez appeared to be hit on the left hand by Maine's pitch in the fourth, though he wasn't awarded first base. Plate umpire CB Bucknor ruled it a foul ball off the knob of the bat.
Robert Andino replaced Ramirez, and X-rays on his hand were negative.
New York chased rookie Chris Seddon (0-2) in the second inning.
- It was the most strikeouts by a Mets pitcher since Al Leiter had 15 on Aug. 1, 1999, at Chicago.
- New York had a season-high 19 hits.