By Mike Steffanos
Mets 4 - Nationals 3
John Maine has had a solid rookie season with the Mets. When he has tripped up, it is usually due to losing concentration for a few batters or giving up the long ball. Despite encountering both of his personal tripwires last night, Maine managed to toss a solid game against Washington in his last outing before the playoffs.
After coasting through three solid innings, it was a pair of walks that cost Maine in the fourth. After being staked to a 1-0 lead on Jose Valentin's long sac fly in the top of the frame, he gave it right back in the bottom. One-out walks to Felipe Lopez and Alfonso Soriano set the stage, Lo Duca's throwing error on a double steal scored the tying run and advanced Soriano, who scored on Ryan Zimmerman's base hit. Maine settled down and escaped further damage.
The Mets tied the game in the top of the fifth when Lo Duca doubled home Maine, who had doubled for his first major league hit. In the bottom of the inning Maine got ahead of Ryan Church 1-2, then left an outside fastball around belt high which Church homered on to centerfield. He allowed nothing further that inning, but walked Lopez leading off the sixth. Maine threw a nice slider to Soriano that erased the threat with a 6-4-3 double play, and then retired Zimmerman to end his day.
The Mets got Maine off the hook in the seventh when Beltran's RBI single tied the game. Pedro Feliciano made it interesting in the bottom of the seventh when he retired the first two Nats, but then loaded the bases on two walks sandwiched around a base hit, but escaped by striking out Bernie Castro.
Shawn Green's pinch hit sac fly put the Mets up 4-3 in the eighth. Guillermo Mota retired the Nationals in order to get the ball to Wagner, who came back to strike out the final two Nats after allowing a 1-out single to Robert Fick. It was Wagner's 40th save on the season.
Thoughts on the game
Maine was a little spotty at times, but did a good job of working in his secondary pitches. He still has some problems putting batters away with 2 strikes, with batters fouling off lots of balls and running up his pitch count. Ron Darling points out that he still telegraphs his changeup somewhat by slowing down his delivery. Still, he's made some progress under Rick Peterson's tutelage this year and certainly has a chance of giving the Mets a solid performance in the playoffs. Here is his updated chart since August 1:
|TOTAL (10 Games)||57||30||27||46||44||23||11||4.26||1.21||8-2|
One of the announcers, I think it was Keith, made the observation that Maine has completely abandoned his curveball this season. If you remember, he had an injured hand in his first 1-game stint with the Mets and didn't throw any curves. Then he came back and threw a few, but basically replaced his curve with a slider as time went on. I remember an interview where he felt that he couldn't throw his curve for strikes. I remember it was a large-breaking curveball, and it might be something he would possibly want to reintroduce next year as an out pitch with 2 strikes. Darling has also said he should consider a split finger pitch. He gives up so many 2-strike foul balls; he needs something to give the batter a different look. Still, that's a project for next year -- and we'll leave those decisions to Maine and Rick Peterson.
Lisa has teased me about how long it took me to warm up to Billy Wagner, mimicking how I used to sit watching the ninth inning of games with Wagner in there muttering to myself, "I want to like him," over and over while he dug yet another hole for himself. It finally dawned on me that I was looking at it the wrong way. I wanted Wagner to be the illusion of the invincible closer -- shutting down the other team utterly and completely in the ninth. I remember being involved with a girl once who had just came out of a bad relationship. What killed things for us was that she couldn't get past what her old boyfriend had done to her, and I finally got tired of paying for things I didn't do. In a way, I've been guilty of the same thing with Wagner. After being traumatized by John Franco, Armando Benitez and Braden Looper for years, I wanted someone who wouldn't make me sweat at all in the ninth, and held it against Wagner that he wasn't that guy. Certainly he wasn't good early in the year, but with 18 saves in a row and 26 of his last 27, maybe it's time to get over the past. I'll never watch Wagner pitch a ninth inning without sweating a little, but I respect the job he has done. Forgive me, Billy, for holding what other closers have done to me against you. I was wrong.
Lo Duca and Beltran both had 2-hit games. Good to see Carlos hitting again with the playoffs only a few days off. Lo Duca has his average up to .319. You have the feeling the second-half collapse isn't coming this year. Speaking of being wrong, I didn't like the trade so much when Omar made it. As stated previously, that's why he's a highly-paid GM and I write a blog for free.