I always liked John Maine. He had that live, high-riding fastball — the kind you don’t see that often, because it’s a dangerous pitch — and he used to get a lot of K’s and pop-ups on that pitch. Then he hurt his shoulder. Elbows get fixed; shoulders, not so much. John signed on with the Marlins as a nonroster invitee. He’s trying to make a comeback, and I’m rooting for him.
That certainly makes two of us, actually three. John is a big favorite in our house. It started on July 3, 2006, when Maine, who was acquired as the other guy in the Kris and Anna Benson for Jorge Julio trade, was called up from the minors to pitch against the Pirates. If you look up the boxscore from that game you will be confused as the Mets got pummeled, 11-1. Maine’s linescore does not totally jump out at you either. We had great field level seats that night. Right from the first inning my daughter and I both saw it…that fastball. Now I’m not Clint Eastwood, and Kelly is not Amy Adams, but we do know a big league fastball when we see one. And Maine had it. When the game got out of hand, we wore out my wife and son with all our talk about Maine and that fastball. But as 2006 continued, Maine proved us correct in our optimism and Kelly had a new favorite player.
Players like Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado rightfully get a lot of credit for that 2006 season. But as our starting pitchers started dropping all around us that summer, Maine pitched great. At one point the team won eight consecutive Maine starts, and as we headed into the postseason the only thing left to see was how he handled pressure situations.
I sat in the stands along with 57,000 others for Game One of the 2006 NLDS against the Dodgers. John stepped into the crucible as the emergency starter after Orlando Hernandez went down due to a pre-game injury. And I want to tell that story. But first, two quick comments:
1) I love the writing of Joe Posnanski, I probably say that every week. A while back he blogged a wildly entertaining response to seeing the aforementioned movie, “Trouble with the Curve,” in his hotel room. You’ll enjoy reading it.
2) I noticed that Maine’s spring debut was in Roger Dean stadium. As an old prog fan who had all the early Yes albums, I think it’s terrific the Cardinals named a baseball stadium after my once-upon-a-time, favorite album cover artist. As a young teenager — before punk arrived and knocked out our teeth — I bought a collection of Dean’s work, cut up the pictures, and plastered them on my wall. Now they’ve named a stadium after the guy!
No, sorry, wrong Roger Dean. This guy sells cars.
Oh, really? Nevermind! But wouldn’t it be cool if we named our ballparks after artists instead of banks and insurance companies?
Anyway, back to Game One of the 2006 NLDS. So 25-year-old John Maine — with a total of 8 wins in his career — walked into the inferno and gave the Mets 13 huge outs. He left with a 4-1 lead. But not before participating in one of the most jaw-dropping double plays in playoff history.
In top of the second, no score, Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew lead off with singles. Next guy, Russell Martin, singled deep to RF. Shawn Green played the ball off the wall, hit Jose Valentin with the relay, and Valentin fired home to nab Kent. In the confusion, the hard-charging Drew, hot on Kent’s heels, also tried to score. A surprised Lo Duca met him at the plate and before the dust settled, there two outs, a runner on second, and still no score.
In the stands we all collectively kind of rubbed our eyes, checked the scoreboard, shook our heads, turned to each other — “Did you just see what I think I just saw?” — and then we went berserk. Full-on bedlam. The playoffs had returned to Shea and it was LOUD.
Jayson Stark had a terrific write-up the play. Here’s Stark’s reconstruction of the action, as Drew raced toward home:
Everyone in the park could see it coming — everyone, that is, except Lo Duca.
He applied the tag on Kent. He turned toward plate ump John Hirshbeck to show him he still had the baseball. He then turned back around — and found a second out about to land right in his lap.
“Never saw him,” Lo Duca laughed. “I swear to God. He just slid right into me.”
“They all told me they were screaming at the top of their lungs,” Lo Duca chuckled. “I never heard anything.”
And how could he? Shea Stadium was the loudest place on the entire planet. And no play like this had ever taken place in any postseason game ever.
The batter that followed, Marlon Anderson, doubled to score Martin. Maine then intentionally walked Wilson Betemit before striking out Derek Lowe for the final out. So to recap: the Dodgers began the inning with a single, single, single, double, and intentional walk — and in the process they scored one run, recorded two outs, and delighted Mets fans everywhere. Pure craziness.
And yeah, thanks to my father-in-law, I was there with my two boys.
Check out this fan clip, it’s only 28 seconds, but it really conveys the feeling in the stands. Please note that this is a nothing moment, a strikeout to end an inning, in an otherwise dramatic 6-5 Mets win.
In 2007 Maine had a really good full season. Fifteen wins, 180 strikeouts in 190 innings pitched, Maine was arriving as a top of the rotation starter. But what I remember most about 2007 and Maine was his last start of that season, on September 29th. The sad collapse had been in full force at this point and with two games to go in the season all of our margin for error had been eliminated. The Mets needed to win. Sitting in the stands that afternoon the original mood in the air was fright. Maine quickly ended that.
He dominated the Marlins that day, no-hitting them for 7.2 innings while striking out 14. The Mets won 13-0 in a game so lopsided it felt like an exorcism. Shea was known for rocking, but it didn’t really explode that day, I would say it exhaled. We thought we had dodged the bullet, but of course Tom Glavine had other ideas.
Seven runs in one-third of an inning, yeah, that was about as horrible as anything we’ve ever seen. But at least Tom wasn’t devastated.