Mets fighting to the finish

NEW YORK -- Who can ever know whether Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo, who took a fight to the Mets, actually helped bring the fight out of the Mets, or if it was strikeout after strikeout from starter John Maine that kept New York alive. But New York is certainly not dead yet. These Mets are livelier than they have been in weeks after a resounding 13-0 win against Florida, which keeps their season alive, at least until Sunday.

With Philadelphia's 4-2 loss to the Washington Nationals, the Mets are now tied for first in the National League East. New York and Philadelphia are also one game back in the wild-card race after the San Diego Padres fell to the Milwaukee Brewers 4-3 in 11 innings Saturday.

A Mets clubhouse that had been somber on Friday night was absolutely giddy on Saturday evening. Players who had left the clubhouse as quickly as possible the previous night now socialized in groups. David Wright, who had challenged himself and teammates with an impassioned plea to the media after Friday's loss, now joked with reporters.

These Mets certainly still have life.

"We're not going to get pushed around," Wright said.

The stolid Maine, once an afterthought in the trade that sent Kris Benson to the Baltimore Orioles, carried a no-hitter until the eighth inning. With two outs in the eighth, third-string Marlins catcher Paul Hoover nudged a slow ground ball toward third base. The ball trickled up the line so slowly, Wright did not even make a throw to first base after he gloved it.

"When it came off the bat, I thought maybe it would go foul," Maine said. "I didn't have a chance at it and neither did David."

When he went to the mound he said, 'Do you want to fight?' I said yes because I thought he was kidding with me. He went after me and then I said, 'OK, let's fight then.'

--Jose Reyes on nearly coming to blows with Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo

Maine struck out a career-high 14, the most for a Met since Al Leiter struck out 13 in 1999. The maligned Mets offense pounded out 19 hits and 13 runs.

"Pitching always sets the tone, and when you get games like that it's easy to win," Mets manager Willie Randolph said.

And yet it was not Maine who aroused the strongest feelings on Saturday. Instead it was a squabble that involved Olivo, the highly charged Marlins catcher, and struggling Mets shortstop Jose Reyes.

Here are the undisputable facts: After Lastings Milledge led off the fifth with a home run deep into the Florida bullpen in left field (and posed after doing it), and Reyes hit a one-out double, Marlins pitcher Harvey Garcia threw behind Mets second baseman Luis Castillo.
Both benches cleared and the bullpens emptied, though no punches were thrown.

"We've been getting our [butts] kicked pretty good and it would have been good to kick somebody else's [butts], or at least attempt it," Mets closer Billy Wagner joked about his sprint out of the bullpen.

Garcia eventually walked Castillo, which brought out Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez for a pitching change. While Garcia walked to the dugout, Reyes, now standing at third after advancing on the pitch that sailed behind Castillo's back, began to jaw with Olivo, who was on the mound for the pitching change. Suddenly, Olivo raced toward Reyes at third base. Mets third base coach Sandy Alomar quickly stepped in front of Reyes and was struck on the side of the head by a punch from Olivo.

Now here is where the details get murky: Reyes blamed Olivo for starting the fight, and Olivo blames Reyes.

"When they threw the ball behind Castillo, he was saying to me, 'I'm going to throw the ball to third base and hit you.'" Reyes said. "I thought he was kidding with me because he's good friends with me. When he went to the mound he said, 'Do you want to fight?' I said yes because I thought he was kidding with me. He went after me and then I said, 'OK, let's fight then.'"

Olivo responded: "I went to the mound, waiting for the pitcher and Reyes started talking [crap] about me. He told me he wanted to fight. I said OK. [Marlins third baseman Miguel] Cabrera told him, 'Take it easy.' [Reyes] called me to third base and I showed up. He told me, 'Let's you and me fight.' I said, 'OK, let's go.'"

Regardless of who started the fight, the scenario for Sunday's game seems now much more compelling aside from the fact that the Mets could win the division outright with a win against the Marlins, and a Phillies loss to the Nats. Mets ace Tom Glavine opposes Marlins ace Dontrelle Willis on Sunday with a new feud boiling between the two teams.

"I don't care if it's broke," said Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who left the game after being struck on the left hand by a pitch from Maine (X-rays showed the hand was not broken). "I'm gonna play tomorrow. [Screw] everybody on the Mets. I'm going to kick their [butts]."

The Mets have at least one more fight remaining.

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.