Amazin' Maine keeps Mets alive
Rookie helps New York tie NLCS, force Game 7
NEW YORK -- Ask any of the Mets. The Saint population of this National League Championship Series doubled on Wednesday night.Saint Louis is still around. Saint John kept them around. "At this point, he's the savior for the team," Shawn Green was saying minutes after the NLCS had been held over for the deciding Game 7 on Thursday. "What can you say? He saved this team." Green was talking about John Maine. Everybody was talking about John Maine at the end of a perfectly expectable October evening. Expectable? October nurtures underdog heroes. This particular NLCS has paraded them. Between them, Tom Glavine and Chris Carpenter have made four starts and won once. So it made perfect sense for Saint John to take the Shea Stadium mound on shaky legs and, with the Mets in danger of being sucked into the offseason eddy, shut out those dire thoughts, along with the Cardinals. Maine threw blanks for 5 1/3 innings of New York's 4-2 victory. It was far from a complete game. Under the circumstances, it was a complete marvel. "Considering when it came, it was extremely impressive. It would've been a difficult situation for an experienced veteran," Glavine said. "He gave us a chance to win, which is what we wanted him to do." In this duel, Maine wasn't the main attraction. That was Carpenter, with all that big-game experience and a perfect postseason record. But he quickly became the Maine attraction. And if the revival he enabled should lead all the way to a World Series championship, they will hold the parade on Maine Street. "I'm nervous every start," said Maine, who had to be triply jittery before this one. He had come home alone from St. Louis the previous night, to watch on his hotel TV as a Mets loss raised his stakes to the limit. "But I try not to put any extra pressure on myself." A rollicking Shea Stadium crowd of 56,334 saw Maine grow up before its eyes during a first-inning sequence that lasted a few minutes but whose memory might last forever. Fathers may be telling their sons in the future about those minutes, which could grow into legend. Who knows? Only time can turn events into legends.
Maine went to the ledge early. The chips dropped immediately, in the first inning. Singles with one out by Scott Spiezio and Albert Pujols called out the 25-year-old rookie.Either he would be devoured by this, or feed off it. There was no middle ground. "I just go out there and try to make good pitches and make them put it in play, because the defense behind me is going to pick me up every time," Maine said, detailing his game plan. He stared back by striking out Jim Edmonds on three pitches, the last a worm-seeking curve that dove sharply below the arc of Edmonds' bat. A fastball sailed into Juan Encarnacion's chest to load the bases, tightening the screws. Maine didn't flinch. He got Scott Rolen on a wimpy fly to right, ending the inning. His confidence pumped to intoxicating levels, Maine was unleashed. The Cardinals had to know. Their manager, Tony La Russa, definitely did. "It seemed like after [that] he got more confident, he pitched better and better and got them into the sixth inning," La Russa said. "One of the keys was dodging that bullet in the first inning."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.