By Mike Steffanos
Mets 1 - Cubs 0 (10)
After two days of watching Steve Trachsel and Tom Glavine squander run support, the Mets handed the ball to rookie John Maine today. The young right-hander matched zeroes with the Cubs Mark Prior all afternoon, and despite failing to come away with the win, he has made himself the clear frontrunner in the fifth starter sweepstakes.
As if the job audition wasn't enough pressure for the 25-year-old Maine, Mark Pryor managed to keep his fragile physique intact for 5-2/3 innings of no-hit ball, scattering 5 walks in the process. With no margin for error, Maine was aggressive and effective -- working in a solid curve changeup along with his live fastball. He worked around a leadoff walk and a single in the first inning, thanks to Ramon Castro's terrific throw gunning down Juan Pierre on an attempted steal of second. The throw was so good Jose Reyes had to wait for Pierre to slap on the tag. Maine then really hit his stride, allowing only Aramis Ramirez' one-out single in the third over the next 3 frames.
Maine got into some trouble in the fifth when Juan Pierre beat out a bunt that Jose Valentin just missed making a terrific glove-flip play on. Maine walked Todd Walker on 5 pitches, and Willie Randolph walked out to the mound and challenged his young hurler to get himself out of the jam. Maine embarrassed the white-hot Aramis Ramirez, striking him out on 3 pitches. He went full on Jacque Jones, but then got him on a grounder to Valentin. Maine came back out for the seventh, and despite being over 100 pitches he struck out Michael Barrett and John Mabry. After walking Angel Pagan on 5 pitches, he bore down and overpowered Ronny Cedeno for the final out of his terrific performance.
The Mets managed their first hit in the bottom of the seventh on Jose Valentin's 2-out bloop, but couldn't get him home to give Maine the chance for a well-deserved win. It went to the bullpen, and they were equal to the task. Duaner Sanchez pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, and in the bottom of the frame singles by Reyes and Beltran gave Delgado a 2-out opportunity, but he struck out.
Wagner came in to pitch the ninth. He had the best slider he's shown all season, and threw a lot of them in a 1-2-3 inning, striking Michael Barrett out on 3 straight for the final out. The Mets had another chance in the bottom of the ninth when Wright led off with a walk. Jose Valentin popped out trying to bunt him over, Nady flied out for the second out, then Ramon Castro singled to put Wright in scoring position. Cliff Floyd pinch hit for Wagner with a chance for a walkoff, but grounded out to send it into bonus frames.
Heilman pitched out of trouble in the tenth after giving up a leadoff walk and an infield hit. Beltran singled with 2 outs against former Met Glendon Rusch, then was doubled over to third when Carlos Delgado hit a rare opposite field double on an inside-out swing. The Cubs elected to walk David Wright and face Jose Valentin from his weaker side as a right-handed batter, but Valentin foiled the strategy by lacing a 1-2 fastball for a hard single to center for the walkoff win. The elated Mets team surpassed their usual head pounding celebration with a good-natured stomping and pummeling of their second baseman that would warrant assault charges in many jurisdictions.
Thoughts on the game
Let's look at what John Maine has done as a starter since coming back up to New York in early July (he's also thrown one scoreless inning as a reliever:
He's been somewhat unlucky, but boy, has he been terrific. He looked good even in that game against the Pirates. He just seemed nervous and flamed out in the fifth inning. He settled down after that, and although he allowed 3 solo home runs against the Marlins he was great in that game, and even before the last 2 gems both Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez were talking up Maine, especially Darling. They loved his aggressiveness, and the way he went right after hitters with his fastball.
You could see why this guy led all of the minor leagues in strikeouts in 2003, and why he was once a top-100 prospect with the O's. The most interesting angle to watch him pitch is the one behind home plate -- his motion keeps his arm and the ball hidden, probably adding the visual equivalent of an extra 2-3 mph on a fastball that already sits anywhere from 91-94 mph, and he's got late movement on it. He seems to be maturing rapidly, also, and his secondary pitches are showing a lot of improvement. One of Rick Peterson's strengths is working with young starters, and Maine seems to be benefiting. After the last two games, Maine was very clear that he wanted to stay in New York. With the current thinking being that at least for now it is Pelfrey and Maine battling for one job, John Maine has clearly staked his claim.
This game is being discussed in the MetsMerized Mets Talk Forum.