NEW YORK -- They are games without significant team consequence being played these days at Citi Field, games that can do nothing to change the team's standing -- the Mets have been locked into fourth place in the National League East for nearly two weeks now -- or its self-perception or public image. This is the time when motivation wanes and professionalism is challenged. It also is the time John Maine did his most impressive pitching in nearly 18 months.

And there are consequences in that.

Seven innings of effective pitching Friday night is all about consequences for Maine. His arm feels fine, he says, and his mind feels better. At a time when no need for momentum exists -- his next start is tentatively scheduled for April -- Maine has a confidence that has been lacking since the first time his shoulder balked early last summer. His performance -- the quality and quantity of it -- in a 7-1 victory against the Astros was a booster shot for his sense of self and for the Mets' sense of what they have amid all the uncertainty they carry into the offseason.

Maine did his best pitching of the season in the victory that constituted a breath of fresh air, coming, as it did, after the Mets had been swept by the last-place Nationals. He allowed five hits and the run. More importantly, he completed the seventh for the first time in 15 starts this season and the second time in 33 starts. Moreover, he walked no one and, despite pitching to contact, equaled his season high in strikeouts with seven and won for the second time in four starts since his return from his extended assignment on the disabled list.

His 107-pitch workday and the way his arm responded to it delighted Maine.

"It's good to get that out of the way,' he said.

He hadn't thrown more than 79 pitches in the other starts. And that it all came against the Astros, the team that buried him in his final '08 start ... well, he relished that, too.

"They got me for eight [runs]," he said.

He hadn't forgotten.

Maine's work and more unexpected power from his teammates made the Mets' first venture into October in three years a resounding success. It also begged the question how this team can play as poorly as it did in three games in D.C.

"After that, we needed to play a lot better," Jeff Francoeur said. "We weren't very happy with ourselves."

Francoeur provided the runs that allowed Maine to win, hitting a two-run home run against losing pitcher Wandy Rodriguez in the sixth inning to produce a 3-1 lead. Daniel Murphy hit a two-run homer in the eighth, David Wright contributed three hits, an RBI and a run, and Nick Evans played. That Evans tripled as a pinch-hitter in the seventh was less surprising.

The Mets afforded Maine (7-6) a lead in the first when Wright doubled to the warning track in right-center field to drive home Angel Pagan from second base. Pagan had reached on an infield single and became the first player to steal second base against the left-handed Rodriguez in six attempts this season. Wright later stole second base.

The Astros, losers of 37 of 61 games, scored in the fourth on a one-out single by Lance Berkman, a double by Carlos Lee and an infield out by Geoff Blum. Maine retired 11 of his remaining 12 batters before he was replaced by Bobby Parnell to begin the eighth. Sean Green pitched the ninth after the Mets had scored four times in the eighth against Doug Brocail.

Francoeur's home run was his 15th, his 10th with the Mets. It denied Rodriguez (14-12) a 20th game in which he allowed one or no runs. He has the most such starts since Greg Maddux in 2002, 20. Now Francoeur, Wright, Carlos Beltran and Gary Sheffield have 10 home runs each. Murphy leads the Mets with 12. The only collection of Mets to have its home run leader have as few as 12 home runs was the 1977 team. Steve Henderson, John Milner and John Stearns hit 12 each.

But in this baseball evening, Maine's performance is what was most important and uplifting to a team that needs some uplift.

"It gives us a lot of hope," manager Jerry Manuel said. "I haven't seen his slider that good since he's come back, and his fastball had late life. Very encouraging for all of us."