By Mike Steffanos
Mets 7 - Astros 0
John Maine pitched a pretty good game last time out against the Marlins, but was done in by 3 solo home runs and a lack of offensive support. Tonight he threw a gem at the Astros, and Jose Valentin gave him all the support he would need with a second inning grand slam. Maine made his first win as a New York Met one to remember with a complete game 4-hit shutout.
Maine wasn't even supposed to start this game, but a rain delay to start the game and the threat of potential delays later on prompted Willie Randolph to flip flop Maine and El Duque. Maine didn't seem fazed at all by the short notice, retiring the Astros quickly in the first and working around Aubrey Huff's single in the second. He came out with a very good fastball that he pounded the strike zone with, and effectively mixed in a good curve and changeup.
Astros starter Taylor Buchholz didn't fare as well in the second inning, walking Delgado and going to a full count on Wright before David took him up the middle for a base hit. Cliff Floyd hit a hard grounder to first baseman Mike Lamb, who tried to start a double play by throwing to second. The throw pulled Adam Everett off the bag for a throwing error on Lamb, and Floyd beat Everett's relay to first to load the bases and bring up Jose Valentin. To say Valentin has been clutch in these spots all year is to state the obvious, and he jumped on a Buchholz fastball for his second gram slam of the season and a huge early lead for Maine.
Maine continued to pound the zone and work his way through the Houston order with little resistance, although it took a great leaping catch by Cliff Floyd in the fourth to keep Chris Burke in the park and the game scoreless. Meanwhile Buchholz got touched up for another run in the third when Carlos Delgado hit a sac fly to score Paul Lo Duca. Delgado hit a 2-run home run in the fifth to chase Buchholz, and Maine just kept rolling with a scoreless sixth and a 1-2-3 seventh.
Maine faltered in the eighth, walking leadoff hitter Eric Munson and giving up a double to Everett. With second and third, no one out, the shutout certainly seemed in jeopardy, but pinch hitter Orlando Palmeiro hit a short fly ball to Nady in right that couldn't advance Munson. Craig Biggio followed with a fairly shallow fly to CF on which Munson probably shouldn't have tested Beltran. It looked like he caught a break when Beltran's throw hit the mound and came up, but Lo Duca did a terrific job blocking the plate and nailing Munson for the shutout preserving third out at home.
Willie told Maine the game was his and sent out there for the ninth. He got Lamb and Burke to ground out for the first two outs, then Berkman lifted a fly ball to center for the final out. The bullpen, pushed hard in Cincinnati, had a much-needed night off, and John Maine had a very satisfying win.
Thoughts on the game
Lo Duca does a terrific job shepherding a young pitcher through a game, one of those intangibles he brings to the game that drive stat guys nuts when you try to explain it to them.
Willie just won't admit that Jose Valentin is his everyday second baseman. It's been working, I guess, this system where Valentin needs to produce to keep the job, so why mess with it? As I mentioned in my earlier post, what a terrific story Valentin has been for the 2006 Mets. I never cared for him all that much as a player coming into this season -- he really is one of those guys you have to see every day to appreciate.
Ron Darling was right on John Maine leading up to tonight, talking about how impressed he was with the young right-hander and how he thought he could help the team this year. He does throw a nice lively ball. Even though he only had 4 strikeouts, the Astros were constantly popping weak fly balls into the air. I could see Maine being useful to the Mets as either a starter or a reliever the rest of the season. You know, maybe the Mets already have the arms they need right now.
This game is being discussed in the MetsMerized Mets Talk Forum.