Was thinking this Monday night in the blissfully cheap seats and then stuffed a sock in it so as not to jinx the protagonist, but since he finished April undefeated and practically untouched, here goes:
And warming up in the bullpen, the starting pitcher for the National League, number thirty-three from the New York Mets…
One year ago, John Maine was an emergency starter with some decent stuff and little clue as to what to do with it. Today he's one of the best starters in the entire Senior Circuit, rapidly evolving into the ace of the Met staff and not too many months away from becoming the anti-Nolan Ryan.
Tonight's AFLAC trivia question: Who was the pitcher the Baltimore Orioles received in exchange for John Maine? Whoa, that's a tough one!
Maine is for real as far as one month of his first full season in the bigs is concerned. If he gets much realer, Omar Minaya gets a boulevard named in his honor because swapping ol' whathisname to the Orioles and receiving young, high-heat-hurling John Maine as a throw-in should go down as one of the great heists in modern baseball history.
Exaggerating? Just giddy after his seven scoreless innings and eight commanding K's against the Nationals? A little giddy, but not telling tall tales. Here's why I think this trade shapes up as so particularly spectacular.
Let's step back a few months to the free agent season. To what pitcher did the Mets give tens of millions of dollars and many years of commitment? None, that's who. Not Meche, not Zito, not Suppan, not Weaver, nobody. Woe was us!
Or was us? Minaya did not empty out his piggy bank to overpay for a pitcher nor did he trade any of his jewels in a desperate lunge for a name to quiet his critics. He did his work a winter earlier. Well, Omar and Anna Benson teamed up, but only one of them likely read the scouting reports real closely.
If Johnny Maine continues to be Johnny Maine (I've already promoted him from the impersonal John), then what does the quietly brilliant (sure, he thinks so now) trade that brought him here tell us? It tells us that making pitchers rich just because you've heard of them is not a formula for rotation success. It gives us pause for the months ahead when Carlos Zambrano possibly comes on the market. It makes us think that this Minaya character may not say much when he gives interviews (honestly, have you ever learned anything of value from anything he's uttered?), but he sure is doing his job.
Maine pitched a whale of a game in Washington Sunday and let's tip our caps as well to the man who got the save, Julio Franco. Oh, the S in the boxscore is affixed to Wagner, but Franco made two plays worthy of Rescue Me, one on a bunt (charge, throw, out at third), one on a bases-loaded grounder (up his arm, stayed with it). This came an afternoon after Julio lined a death-defying single in the ninth to keep Saturday night's affair alive and just a little more bizarre.
As I never had any particular faith in John Maine when he first appeared in our midst last May, I've been just as wrongheaded about Julio Franco's value of late. Had you been in our living room last evening, here is the approximate dialogue you would have heard between my wife and me when he stepped to the plate:
ME: I'm Julio Franco. I don't do anything anymore. Can I have a roster spot anyway?
ME: And can I have plenty of at-bats even though I never get a hit?
HER: Only in the clutch.
I love when the Mets shut me up.