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An Old Friend Helps the Mets Pull One Out

Mike SteffanosThursday, May 10, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

Mets 5 - Giants 3

Armando Benitez had a better Mets career than he is given credit for, but he undoubtedly lacked the resilient psyche to match his gifted right arm. Up until the infamous "high-five gate" game last year where Lastings Milledge homered off him to tie the game, Armando had been maddeningly perfect against his former employer. His melt-down in the ninth inning of a tie game yesterday was both satisfying and eerily familiar to those of us who lived through Benitez' tumultuous seasons in Queens.

First things first, though. John Maine was a little off for his second rough start in a row. I initially listened to the game on radio and then watched it later last night on DVR. When I got a chance to actually see it, I was pleasantly surprised with how well he was throwing his changeup and slider. Yes, he walked six batters (2 intentional) in six innings, but he wasn't really missing that badly. His pitches had more break on them than usual, and a lot of his balls weren't that far off the plate. Ultimately John Maine's ceiling as a pitcher will be determined by how well he complements his devastating fastball up in the zone, and this was actually some nice progress in that area.

Maine has done a good job mixing up his fastballs this year. He's thrown some good sinking fastballs down in the zone that serve to change a hitter's eye level and make those high fastballs look even better. It's helped him to keep the hitters more off balance, which allows him to get away with a few mistakes.

The off-speed stuff has been a mixed bag early, there some days and nonexistent on others. I thought he had better movement on the slider and change than we've seen up to now. He'll need to control those pitches better than he did yesterday but, if he can throw them like yesterday fairly consistently, it will serve to keep opposing hitters even more off-balance. It will be interesting to watch those pitches progress during the course of the season.

Maine is a perfect role model for Mike Pelfrey. Last year, Maine had mostly the great high fastball and slowly built an arsenal around it. He was able to have some not inconsiderable success because he was aggressive in the strike zone.

Pelfrey's best pitch is the power sinker and, like the 2006 version of John Maine, his other pitches are inconsistent and in need of refining. If Pelfrey can be aggressive in the strike zone as Maine was last season, he could be a serviceable fifth starter with upside. With Philip Humber, Jason Vargas and Adam Bostick all scuffling in Triple-A, the Mets don't have a great option to replace Pelfrey.

Nice to see Delgado and Wright come up big. I've jumped the gun in hoping for evidence of a renaissance from both of them in previous games, so I'll resist the urge in that direction for now.

Billy Wagner looks great so far. He's not pitching quite as much as he did last year, and I wonder if that factors in at all.

John Maine (5-0)
TOTAL (7 Games)45.19929412431.791.177-0

Box Score

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Comments (7)

I thought Gary and Keith were spot-on regarding Benitez; not too harsh, but not avoiding the flame-outs that every Mets fans recall from his tenure here.

Maine may not have the most impressive stuff, but he sure pitches like a veteran, doesn't he?

Good win.

This is the kinda win that helps to define your team. It's also a good "steal" of a win on the road. And beating up on Benitez is something that I'll always enjoy (rare as it has been). He had two good years as a Met: 1999 and 2000, and after that I want to forget he was ever a Met. However, that 9th inning wasn't all his fault. Reyes should have been out- and Benitez made the right pitch at that time. Pitching to Wright on the other hand, is all his fault.

Good stuff about Maine and Pelfrey. I think Pelfrey's looked better his last two outings (and in his last one, he dealt with an ump that was squeezing him in the first inning), and will have a good second half of the season if he stays in the rotation.

As for Wags, last year he had a problem with one of his fingers on his pitching hand early in the season, which affected his ability to crank up the heat, and throw effectively. That threw his mechanics off a bit during the season. This year, he doesn't have any of those problems, and this is more like the Wags of old on the Astros/Phillies.

Bring on the Brew crew!

dd - It's uncanny how much he has matured in a year.
Jason - I agree that it wasn't Benitez' fault that Reyes' pop dropped in, but it was typical how he reacted.

Regarding those Brewers, is it slightly remarkable how many teams across the big leagues have reloaded, essentially rebuilt themselves within a year's time? Most of them are in the National League too.

There are the Snakes, who despite their losing three or four to the Mets are vastly more talented then they were two short years ago, the Braves, who kept their heads, filled their weaknesses and are right back in the mix, the Dodgers, who continue to build on what they started last season, the Brewers, ditto, and even the Giants, who are doing it ugly (superior starting pitching and a single positive offensive player) but mostly to good effect so far. Then there's the Fish, who will improve, the Padres, probably better simply because Peavey is pitching better, and a few oddball non-failure stories such a Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

All in all a vastly different landscape then 2006, when the Mets were clearly the best team in the NL. I think the Mets are still in all likelihood the best team because they (usually) play defense, but it's no clear choice these days.

Which is fine; I prefer competitive baseball to dominance.

On thinking about it further, I think that the best move in that game was Willie's double switch. He put Endy in the 9 hole and the pitcher in the 6 hole. That allowed the Mets to have Lo Duca, Gotay, and Chavez to come to bat in the 9th inning, and not have to worry about using a pinch hitter just yet. And it also allowed them to get Endy in the game- and his walk proved to be crucial. And they didn't need to use up a pinch hitter- a Franco or a Newhan- in that situation. Very good managing.

As much as I agree with you, Mike, about the aftermath of the Reyes at bat, I also must say that Endy's walk was just as pivotal. If Benitez gets Endy out easily the inning's pretty much over. Instead, Endy battled for a full count walk, and clearly took a bit out of Benitez. Combine that with Reyes, and Benitez coughed one up.


1. mike you finally echoed my sentiment on Pelfrey. Last yr he was all FB. This yr his secondary pitches have been mashed. But of note is that Maine worked at Norfolk for a while before coming up to stay after the Soler meltdown on July 4th (?). Every pitcher struggles and Maine can get off his rhythm too. It amazes me how long he can stay in his routine. I think his ceiling is can be Maddux like.

2. Nothing on Gotay? Gotay (as conveyed by a reader) made some nice defensive plays and should have had a double play that Reyes could not finish....that no-play led to two runs. with Endy, Franco and easley on the bench I wonder if Newhan will see a whole season with us.

dd - I'm with you. I enjoy a competitive division and National League.
Jason - I think that walk also played a part in Benitez' melt-down.
Ed - Echoed your sentiment, really? I don't see anywhere where I wrote they should trade him. As far as sending him down, that would have to wait until El Duque comes back or Vargas or Humber start to pitch well -- and that's if Sosa keeps pitching good.

As I've explained on many occasions, I have very little time to write these posts and don't pretend to cover everything. That was a nice home run by Gotay, but I wasn't as impressed with the defense as you were. That throw on the failed DP was terrible, and cost them the DP and eventually a run. If Gotay works hard he could be a decent 2B, but he'll have to hit to justify a place on the team. He's no A-hern, but A-hern seems to have proven he'll never hit enough to be a major league regular.

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