WASHINGTON - When it comes to road trips, the Mets are baseball's version of the Griswolds, the hapless family besieged by comical travel disasters in the movie "Vacation."
Each catastrophe is more ridiculous than the one preceding it, and that's pretty much how the past eight days unfolded for the Mets. The three-city journey, which featured Jeff Wilpon's unsettling visit to Atlanta, had a happy ending with last night's 10-7 victory over the Nationals - but that followed Jerry Manuel's decision to pull John Maine after seeing him throw only five pitches.
As angry as Manuel was with Maine, the Mets' offense helped brighten his mood somewhat. David Wright, fresh off Wednesday's benching, had four RBIs, including a three-run double in the first inning, as the Mets matched their highest run total of the season. Rod Barajas added a two-run homer, his team-leading 10th, and Ike Davis and Jason Bay each had three hits to help the Mets wrap a 2-6 trip on a positive note.
It was closer than it had to be. The Mets led 10-1 in the sixth, but the Nats rallied back to 10-6, and had the bases loaded in the eighth when Pedro Feliciano retired Adam Dunn on a short fly to leftfield.
Judging by Manuel's reaction, don't expect to see Maine anytime soon. The Mets already had lost two starting pitchers on this trip with the demotion of Oliver Perez and the hamstring injury to Jon Niese. But Maine apparently infuriated the manager by hiding an injury when he took the mound.
Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen were suspicious of Maine's pregame bullpen session but didn't react until he walked Nyjer Morgan on five pitches - the final three were 85-mph fastballs. As Maine hunched over on the mound, trainer Ray Ramirez hustled out, but Manuel took his time.
Once they returned to the dugout, Manuel and Maine got into a heated discussion. The Mets later announced that Maine was taken out for "precautionary reasons" because his velocity was "down" and his mechanics did not appear "normal." He will be examined Friday in New York.
It was another bizarre twist in a strange season for Maine, who had to leave in the fourth inning April 23 because of muscle spasms in his non-throwing arm. On Saturday, Maine opened the game by walking three consecutive Marlins on 12 pitches. Evidently, Manuel reached his breaking point last night.
Maine's early departure was the second time in the Mets' 49-season history that a starting pitcher left after one hitter, but Craig Swan had a decent excuse. On April 26, 1981, after the Expos' Tim Raines reached base, catcher Ron Hodges nailed Swan on the shoulder with his throw as Raines tried to steal second.
Before the game, Manuel talked about preserving his bullpen heading into the weekend series against the Yankees. He ended up having to use six pitchers, including winner Raul Valdes (2-1), who gave him five-plus solid innings. But the sudden injury to Maine further complicated an already tangled mess.