The Associated Press

The Associated Press

New York — With the rain coming down steadily and no end in sight, John Maine knew he had to be efficient. It's a good thing he was.

The Mets starter made quick work of Washington, allowing only a first-inning single in five innings, and the Mets salvaged a four-game split with a 5-0 victory over the Nationals yesterday that was shortened to 4½ innings by rain.

David Wright drove in two runs and Ramon Castro made sure the Mets didn't miss starting catcher Paul Lo Duca, who strained his right hamstring Saturday night and was unavailable. Castro, the backup catcher, went 2-for-2 with a home run, a double and two RBI.

The NL East-leding Mets (59-46) remained 3½ games in front of the Phillies.

The rain started before the game and never let up. Despite occasional downpours, intermittent thunder and even a few flashes of lightning, officials seemed hesitant to call the game, perhaps because this was the Nationals' last visit to Shea before the final week of the season.

Less than 10 minutes after the game became official — with one out in the bottom of the fifth — plate umpire Mike Winters went out to the mound and called out the grounds crew to cover the infield. The game was called after a wait of 91 minutes.

Maine cruised, retiring his final 14 batters after a one-out single by Ronnie Belliard in the first. He threw 62 pitches, 44 for strikes. He got two foul popouts to start the fifth and struck out Nook Logan swinging to end it.

It was Maine's first one-hitter and his second career complete game. His first one was a four-hitter on July 21, 2006, against Houston.

"He was very efficient, kept going after guys," manager Willie Randolph said. "He's been our stopper and that's what stoppers do."

Maine (12-5) struck out five without a walk and won for the sixth time in his last eight starts. His control has been a big factor — he's walked a total of three in those six wins, with 37 strikeouts.

By the fifth inning, Maine knew the game was in jeopardy of being called at any moment. Still, he didn't change his strategy to try to get the game to be official.

"By the fifth inning it was bad," he said. "But you go out there and do your job until they tell you it's over."

Castro hit a fastball an estimated 425 feet to center for a two-run homer in the fourth to give the Mets a 4-0 lead.

Castro has hit safely in his last 11 starts, and is 17-for-38 in those games. Despite just 101 at-bats, he is tied for fourth on the team with seven homers.

"They don't give me the chance I want, but I know what I have to do," Castro said. "I feel I'm ready."

Notes — Milledge extended his hitting streak to nine games and is batting (.424) 14-for-33 with seven RBI during that span. ... The win was the third five-inning win in Mets history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.