A pair of road series against struggling opposition was just what the New York Mets needed to put together another long winning streak and move atop the NL East.
On Monday, they'll try to complete a 7-0 trip by sweeping a four-game series from the Pittsburgh Pirates.The Mets (68-56) lost for the second time in two days last Monday as the bullpen squandered a four-run, seventh-inning lead in a 7-5 home defeat to the Pirates. New York, though, rebounded from the disheartening result by winning three games at last-place Washington before heading to Pittsburgh and taking the first three there.The win streak, New York's longest on the road since a nine-game run from June 7-23, 2006, pushed the Mets past Philadelphia and back into first place in the division.The Mets can close out a perfect road swing by sweeping Pittsburgh in a series of at least three games for the first time since Sept. 17-19, 2001. Johan Santana kept them on track to do so Sunday, throwing a three-hitter to beat the Pirates 4-0."We're playing good baseball and getting good pitching," manager Jerry Manuel said. "We're executing, for the most part, in different facets of the game. Those are still things you must do, no matter who you're playing. These are games you would like to win, but it's baseball, so you never know."New York hopes John Maine (10-7, 3.97 ERA) can turn in his second consecutive solid outing after he allowed one hit with six strikeouts in five innings of Wednesday's 12-0 win at Washington. The short but effective outing came hours after he was activated from the disabled list following more than two weeks off with a strained rotator cuff."I felt better," Maine told the Mets' official Web site after throwing 90 pitches against the Nationals. "I think it's still a little sore, but I felt better -- better than the last couple of weeks."Maine went 2-0 with a 3.75 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 12 innings over two starts against Pittsburgh last year.The Mets might have a new reliever available Monday acquiring Luis Ayala from Washington on Sunday for a player to be named, believed to be infielder Anderson Hernandez once he clears waivers.Ayala, a right-hander, has struggled to a 1-8 record and 5.77 ERA in 62 outings this season. He posted a 26-24 mark with a 2.82 ERA in 258 relief appearances over his first four years in the majors.Ayala pitched two scoreless innings against the Mets on Wednesday.The Pirates (55-69), losers of four straight, will give the ball to Paul Maholm (8-7, 3.69 ERA) on Monday. The left-hander is looking to win consecutive starts after giving up two runs -- both on solo homers -- in eight innings of a 5-2 victory over Cincinnati on Wednesday.That performance came five days after he struck out a career-high 10 and scattered five hits in seven innings of a 2-0, 12-inning win at Philadelphia."Everything was, once again, just mixing pitches," Maholm told the Pirates' official Web site after Wednesday's victory. "I had a lot of sinkers for ground balls. I threw the breaking pitches when I needed them."Maholm is 3-0 with a 2.37 ERA in his last three starts against the Mets, last facing them July 26, 2007.