John Maine was sparkling on Sunday afternoon. With each start, he comes closer to establishing himself as a #2 or #1 stopper.
Maine struck out eight, allowed three hits, and walked three over seven strong innings. A key point in the game — and a test of Maine’s character — came in the seventh. With two outs, the bases loaded, a 3-2 count on Robert Fick, and Maine clearly out of gas, Fick spoiled two good pitcher’s pitches — fastballs on the outside corner of the plate. Everyone in the park knew Maine was going to throw another fastball to the same spot, and he managed to put just a little bit of mustard on it, sailing it past Fick’s late swing. We may look back on this at-bat, and Maine’s chutzpah, as a milestone in his evolution as a legitimate ace.
Just prior to Maine’s epiphany in the seventh, the Nats had runners on first and second with none out and Jesus Flores set to bunt. Julio Franco — playing first base for a resting Carlos Delgado — charged so aggressively that he backhanded the bunt on the third base side of the mound, whirled and threw a perfect strike to David Wright to nail Austin Kearns by a step. Just when I’m ready to dismiss Franco as an old fart hogging a valuable roster spot, he makes a play like this — one you’ll rarely see from ANY first baseman in MLB. Not to mention the HUGE pinch-hit he struck in Saturday night’s game.
As well as Maine was on the mound, former Rutgers pitcher Jason Bergmann matched him nearly pitch for pitch. The Mets could manage only two hits and three walks against him — and he left the game having thrown only 88 pitches in seven innings. However, one of those two hits was a solo blast over the rightfield wall by Carlos Beltran — ultimately the difference in the ballgame.
Sunday’s game was nothing new for Jason Bergmann. He’s pitched very well in four of his five starts, sporting a 2.79 ERA, and has an 0-2 record to show for it. This is the third time he’s gone at least six innings and given up one run or less.
With Bergmann pitching so well, there weren’t many highlights other than Beltran’s decisive blow. Jose Reyes walked once, had one of the Mets’ three hits, and stole two more bases, bringing his MLB lead to 16. The only other offensive incident of consequence: Shawn Green extended his hitting streak to 7 games thanks to an excellent at-bat in the ninth. After falling behind 1-2, and looking vulnerable against sliders down and away, he worked the count to 3-2, fouled a few pitches off, then finally drove a hard grounder up the middle. It’s too bad he couldn’t have had that kind of at-bat in the first inning, with
Ryan Church walked two more times in another successful impersonation of Barry Bonds. By the way, Church has walked a total of 70 times over the course of his 4-year, 230-game career.
Jose Valentin missed the game with a hyperextended knee. The injury is not considered serious, and he likely will not go on the DL.
The Marlins come to Shea with Scott Olsen on the mound. El Duque is the scheduled starter, but is having his shoulder checked out, so there’s a possibility we’ll see Aaron Sele make a start. If not Sele, perhaps Mike Pelfrey will be pushed up a day. Pelfrey threw only 61 pitches over three innings on Wednesday, and will have had his customary four days’ rest.