All hail our most-reliable pitcher, the glue of the rotation, the man we turn to in times of need. All hail…John Maine?
Yep, John Maine. Who should stand as just the latest reminder that as a collective fan base, we say a lot but know a little.
Consider the many lives — in 2006 alone — of John Kevin Maine, born May 8, 1981 (your blogger's 12th birthday, by the way) outside Washington, D.C.
January-March: The “Who?” Months. Meet the other guy in the Kris Benson trade, if you remember his name. The five-second scouting report: Did well in the minors, got shelled in the bigs. If his name was spoken at all, it was as an ironic counterpoint to ranting about Jorge Julio. “…AND THE GUY CAN'T PITCH, HE'S A FREAKIN' HEAD CASE, AND HE EVEN FRIGGIN' LOOKS LIKE ARMANDO BENITEZ!” At which point the other guy would add, “But we got John Maine!” Rimshot. The best I could muster was that he'd always had trouble initially moving up a level, and then found himself. That and the fact that the Orioles were stupid. I'm sure I was crossing my fingers while typing it.
March-May: The “Where?” Months. Jorge Julio was a disaster. Kris Benson was Kris Benson. John Maine was in St. Lucie and Norfolk. Boy was he old for 25.
May-June: John Maine Gives Us the Finger. With Brian Bannister on the shelf for a couple of extra weeks (hahahaha!), Maine was a surprise starter. Greg's postgame take after his National League debut: John Maine pitched OK. I guess we'll see him again. He wasn't really all that interesting. No, he wasn't. Then he was gone with some nebulous finger injury. When he came off the DL five weeks later, we packed him back off to Norfolk. By then Jorge Julio had gotten just good enough to send off to Arizona for El Duque. Our great hope at the back end of the rotation? It was Alay Soler. John Maine was back in his native Virginia, next to be glimpsed in St. Lucie or on the waiver wire. If we thought of him at all, it was grumpily while Kris and Anna celebrated his win and his homer and her mouth. “John who? Oh yeah — the other guy in the Benson-for-El Duque swap. Man, not sure that one was worth it. Maine, Maine…wasn't there something wrong with his finger?”
July: The Maybe Month. First Maine was bad. Then he got tired with too much game to go. Then he was lights-out. Then he was lights-out again. Hmmmm. You know, I never liked Kris Benson anyway.
August: We've Loved John Maine Our Whole Lives. Three in a row lost to Philadelphia, Pedro back on the shelf, Wright exhausted, Delgado lost, Cliff in St. Lucie, Jose all by his lonesome. Granted, not a situation dire enough to reconsider October plans, but all of a sudden baseball wasn't the giddy pleasure it's been most of this remarkable year. With a day game on tap, I found myself walking to the subway this morning thinking dark thoughts about our offense, about the Phillies, about whether Lastings could really learn on the job, about a hundred other Met-related anxieties medium and small. And then I heard a most unexpected little voice in my head, offering a bit of Faith amid all this Fear.
I like our chances — Maine's going today.
Yes, the same John Maine who'd been the other guy and one of the anonymous guys and the forgotten guy and the guy with the finger and the guy who replaced Soler after he was undressed by the Yankees because…well, because we didn't have anybody else.
And that same John Maine throttled the Phils, the lone blemish a Ryan Howard dinger. (Which is the kind of blemish that's had a lot of pitchers reaching for the Clearasil this year.) Wasn't nervous, didn't rattle, had a plan and stuck to it, showed his usual swing-and-a-miss stuff — the kind of stuff only El Duque has on this staff, and then only sometimes. Beat the Phillies like the Phillies deserve to be beaten. Sent us home (with some help from the Carloses) happy. Restored order. Left us thinking about the '86 Mets reunion (Strawberry flavoring added back in!) instead of about Bad Things.
The regular season has six weeks to go, and a lot can happen. So I'm not going to speculate on future acts in the American life of John Maine. But let's leave a placeholder for him, one we never thought we'd need, but that he's shown us he deserves.