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Remember the Maine (and the Ollie)

The Mets lost another dreary game on the Road Trip From Hell, walked off the field for the numbing, seemingly impossible 12th time this season. (The franchise record is 14, an unhappy distinction shared by the ’74 and ’78 clubs; the major-league record is an all-too-achievable 16, which befell the ’69 Giants and the ’75 Astros. Hat tip to Adam Rubin [1].) The immediate cause of defeat was a meatball served up by Oliver Perez in the 13th inning to James Loney, but for once let’s not be too hard on Ollie, who’d already escaped a tied-to-the-tracks jam the inning before. Someone was going to lose, and given the Mets’ utter lack of offense — no hits and just two baserunners after the sixth, 14 total pitches seen in the 11th and 12th innings — it was pretty clear it was going to be us [2]. Mike Pelfrey’s vastly improved performance was a silver lining, but boy did it come wrapped in a lot of gray.

Around the time that Ollie was trudging off for the showers, I heard that John Maine had had surgery to remove scar tissue from his shoulder, the one that betrayed him over the last three seasons. Not surprisingly, given all that’s transpired this year, he chose to have it done by a doctor not affiliated with the Mets. The news release said Maine was expected to be ready for spring training, while politely not mentioning the certainty that he will report somewhere in Florida or Arizona as something other than a New York Met.

It’s a cruel business. Maine hasn’t been right for three years, and I think we long ago got tired of the parade of injuries and mysteries and arguments and frustrations about what was wrong inside his shoulder. So this comes as a merciful end, quickly followed by the unhappy realization that our last sight of Maine doing something reasonably active in a Mets uniform was him arguing furiously with Jerry Manuel in the Washington, D.C., visitors dugout. Ollie, for his part, has pitched on this road trip in the only games he is now allowed to pitch in — extra-inning Verduns in which the focus turns from winning to mere survival. The Mets would gladly like to be rid of Ollie while unhappily aware that the only way to be rid of him is to eat the massive contract they themselves so foolishly gave him. So there we have it. Maine is gone; Perez remains on an enormously expensive technicality.

But it was different once. In October 2006, recall, the Mets roared to the postseason, then suddenly found themselves stripped of Pedro Martinez and then Orlando Hernandez. And so the postseason plan became T#m Gl@v!ne, Steve Trachsel, then gulping desperately and hoping Maine and Perez could somehow do a job none of us thought they were ready to do. If they had failed, we would have been disappointed but borne them no particular ill will. But they didn’t fail. In Game 1 of the division series Maine pitched admirably [3] into the fifth against the Dodgers, then followed that with an indifferent performance [4] in Game 2 against the Cardinals, a.k.a. the Scott Spiezio Game, a.k.a. lots and lots of profanity. Perez, for his part, was successfully hidden until Game 4 against the Cardinals, and was predictably awful, giving up five runs while lasting into the sixth. But the Mets won [5]. And we weren’t done yet.

Recall that Maine drew the do-or-die assignment in Game 6 of the NLCS, with Chris Carpenter looking to extinguish our season, and he beat the Cards’ ace with 56,000 Mets fans baying in the Shea Stadium seats, me and Greg among them at nosebleed prices. He was wonderful [6], a folk hero, our thin blue-and-orange against death and ruin. (As he would be again [7] on the next-to-last day a year later.) The next night was another, even more desperate roll of the dice, for the only person available was Ollie. Ollie, who’d arrived as a throw-in when Omar was calling around looking for someone to replace Duaner Sanchez [8] after his middle-of-the-night car accident, and been tucked away at Norfolk as an afterthought. Now, the biggest game for the franchise in six years was his to win or lose. And he somehow gave up just one run over six, matching Jeff Suppan. (The idea that Oliver Perez and Jeff Suppan would have locked horns for anything important seems hilarious in 2010, doesn’t it?)

Yes, the Mets lost [9] and the Cardinals went on to win it all, but oh what might have been. A Jose Valentin sac fly, a Cliff Floyd bunt, a Jose Reyes liner that knuckled a bit on Jim Edmonds, Carlos Beltran looking curveball … the Mets came within a whisper of the promised land, and Maine and Perez were big reasons that they came that close.

That’s easy to forget now, with Maine finished as a Met and everybody wishing Ollie were too. But it’s our jobs to make sure it’s remembered.