Martinez raises NL-leading strikeout total to 104

NEW YORK (AP) -- On a night when he had everything working, Pedro Martinez threw one hanging curveball that cost him a chance at the first no-hitter in New York Mets history.

Martinez took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning Tuesday against the Houston Astros before Chris Burke hit his first major-league home run. The speed bump hardly disturbed Martinez, who
allowed only one other hit and struck out 12 in a 3-1 victory over one of the worst-hitting teams in baseball.

"It was a curveball that backed up," catcher Mike Piazza said. "It was the only curve that backed up. It stayed in the hitting zone and he banged it out."

Martinez said he didn't realize he had a no-hitter going until the crowd of 39,953 responded following the homer, which came on his 69th pitch of the night.

"I didn't really realize it until I heard the fans clapping," he said. "I never look at the scoreboard. I look everywhere else. It's not the first time that's happened to me."

The two-hitter was his second this season and the fifth of his career. In 1995, when he was pitching for Montreal, the three-time Cy Young Award winner took a perfect game into the 10th inning before allowing a hit. He has been down this road before.

Behind the plate, Piazza felt he was along for the ride.

"We started hard early and threw some off-speed stuff in the middle innings," he said. "It was in and out. It's what he's feeling."

Burke, in his first full major-league season, had never homered before.

"It's kind of a culmination of thoughts," he said of his trip around the bases. "First, it's just the gratification of knowing you hit the ball well. Then, you realize that you broke up a no-hitter and it's your first homer and it's off Pedro Martinez. When I got into the dugout, I really kind of had to sit down for a second."

Martinez took advantage of the light-hitting Astros. Their .244 team batting average coming in was tied for last in the majors with Cleveland, and their 439 hits and 201 runs were the lowest in the majors.

For Martinez, it was his 44th career complete game and second this season. He capped his stellar performance in style, fanning his final four batters and saluting the crowd with arms raised high as he walked off the mound.

"It's a great feeling to be embraced by the fans so quickly. I could feel it from the very first time I stepped between the white lines in New York," Martinez said as fans chanted "Pedro! Pedro!" behind him.

He outpitched Roy Oswalt, who hit Cliff Floyd with a pitch in the seventh. An angry Floyd pointed at Oswalt and started toward him but was held off before he could get close. Both benches and bullpens emptied, but no punches were thrown.

Oswalt also plunked Floyd in the back of the ribs last August. Floyd hit a grand slam off the right-hander in May 2004.

"It's been talked about around the league," Floyd said. "I'm not saying retaliation will come from this club. But sooner or later, somebody's going to hurt him. He doesn't want to pitch to me, fine, throw four balls."

Oswalt said it was unintentional.

"I mean, it's a 2-1 game and we're not hitting," he said. "I don't need to make it 4-1. He stands on the plate."

Martinez (7-1) pushed his NL-leading total to 104 strikeouts. He retired his first nine batters before walking Orlando Palmeiro on four pitches leading off the fourth inning. The runner was erased when Burke banged into a double play.

Constantly getting ahead of the Houston hitters, Martinez mixed speeds and pitches brilliantly. Typical were back-to-back strikeouts of Lance Berkman and Morgan Ensberg to open the fifth inning. He got two-strike counts on fastballs and struck out both hitters with changeups.

After Burke's homer, Martinez responded by striking out Craig Biggio. After Berkman singled, Martinez fanned Ensberg to end the inning.

The Mets jumped in front in the first inning against Oswalt (6-7).

Mike Cameron doubled with one out and scored on a two-out double to left by Floyd.

Despite working with the slim lead, Martinez pitched effortlessly, never coming close to allowing a hit after second baseman Kaz Matsui made a sharp stop behind the bag and threw out Palmeiro leading off in the first inning.

Burke's home run broke that string and kept intact the Mets' 44-season history of never pitching a no-hitter.

In the fifth, Martinez, who ended an 0-for-29 stretch with his first hit of the season in his last start, singled to center leading off. With the crowd chanting his name, he moved to second on an infield out and third on a single by Cameron.

When Carlos Beltran singled to center, Martinez trotted home with New York's second run, greeted with high-fives from his teammates, who have teased him about his hitting this season.

Marlon Anderson added an RBI single in the seventh.

Game notes
It was Martinez's fourth double-digit strikeout game this season and the 103rd of his career, which ranks fourth behind Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens. ... X-rays on Mets first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz's chest were negative. He has a bruised pectoral muscle and rib and is day-to-day.