Super Maine Carries the Mets

Mets 4 Cardinals 2

John Maine did not look like a Cy Young Award winner, nor a future Hall of Famer. However, he also did not look like Steve Trachsel. Rather, he was somewhere in between, and in the end it will be judged as a masterful perfomance, not far away from among the greatest postseason pitching performances in Mets history.

Maine’s 5 1/3 innings may be measly compared to, say, the Bobby Jones one-hit NLDS shutout in 2000. However — like the Jones game — it is the man and the story behind the performance that creates the legend.

Most fans remember Bobby J. Jones as a guy who had a hot streak early in his career, then fizzled into nothing more than an ordinary pitcher — a reliable but unspectacular fourth or fifth starter (though these days, his numbers would make him a $10M-a-year ace).

In 2000, it looked like Jones’ career might be finished. His fastball barely broke 85 MPH, and his curveball rarely broke at all. He spent a good portion of 1999 in the minors and early in the 2000 season, was demoted to Norfolk for a weeks, where he won two games but sported a 5.32 ERA. He eventually worked his way back to the big club, and despite an ERA over 5, was chosen as the Mets’ #4 starter — in the even they needed one.

Did they ever … Bobby Jones pitched the greatest game of his life in the deciding fifth contest of the NLDS — a one-hit, nine-inning shutout — propelling the Mets to the NLCS and eventually the World Series. As much as the game was about Jones’ skill that day and the goose-eggs, it was equally measured by Jones’ ability to re-emerge from the darkness, to come out of nowhere to be the unlikely postseason hero.

Unlikely is the key here. It is what we attach ourselves to, as fans and non-ballplayers. The unknown, the regular guy. The ordinary man who finds it within himself to rise against the seemingly insurmountable odds and overtake the opposing giant. For us, it is real-life “Rocky”, and the major reason why most Mets fans root for the Mets. Heck, if all we cared about was winning, we could easily follow baseball’s Goliath — the Yankees.

Instead, we follow the Mets, and therefore we immediately recognized no-name John Maine’s place in our Amazin’ history. A one-pitch pitcher who was a supposed throw-in in the Kris Benson deal, who barely hung around the team as a sixth starter, who only was able to make it to the Mets’ rotation because more highly touted prospects were either injured or not ready for prime time, pitched his heart out and extended the 2006 Mets season for at least one more game. And he did it after a mediocre, 4-inning outing in his last start against the same team. And against the reigning Cy Young winner, Chris Carpenter, who some believe to be one of the top 3 pitchers in the NL and the 2006 Cy Young winner as well. John Maine had the odds and the history stacked against him, and had no business throwing six-plus innings of shutout ball — especially with the so-so stuff he was serving to home plate.

That might have made the performance all more legendary — you could say Chris Carpenter outpitched Maine. From the first inning, Maine was in trouble, loading the bases and falling behind hitters, often unable to get a good rhythm going. Yet inning after inning, jam after jam, he gritted it out, weathering each storm and before you knew it, it was the sixth inning, the Cardinals had yet to score a run, and more than 55,000 fans were offering a standing ovation to an ordinary young man who had just struck out. The fact that he shut out the St. Louis hitters without dominating them — just getting it done — made it all the sweeter.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.