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10/04/06 10:27 AM ET

Mets make Maine the man for Game 1

Young right-hander to take mound instead of Hernandez

NEW YORK -- While the loss of Pedro Martinez created some worry, it didn't create the panic the Mets felt when they learned Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez wouldn't be available to make his scheduled start on Wednesday in Game 1 of the National League Division Series with the Dodgers.

While running in the outfield during batting practice at Shea Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, Hernandez tore his right calf. This created hours of deliberation and speculation, both of which ended early Wednesday morning when the Mets announced, that in just a few hours, it will be John Maine taking the mound to face the Dodgers in Game 1.

"It would be awesome," Maine said on Tuesday afternoon in one of the early hours of deliberation and speculation about Hernandez's health. "I never thought it would have been a possibility."

It's safe to say the Mets never wanted this possibility to become a reality. But when Hernandez awoke on Wednesday still with discomfort, they were forced to go into Game 1 with their third option, which was Maine.

Instead of going with El Duque, who is 9-2 with a 2.64 ERA in 14 career postseason starts, the Mets are left to rely upon Maine, who owns a total of 27 career Major League appearances -- none of which have come in the playoffs.

"You still have to go out there and throw strikes," Maine said. "You still have to go out there and get guys out."

While going 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA in a career-high 15 starts this season, Maine at least showed he's capable of pitching at this level. But never before has he felt the tension that will be present on Wednesday in the ever-important opener of this best-of-five series.

With injuries hampering both Tom Glavine and Martinez for most of the season's final three months, the Mets still managed to win a National League-best 97 games. But with both Martinez and Hernandez unavailable, they may have found disaster.

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"This last month, he's been the hottest pitcher we've got," Mets veteran right-handed reliever Roberto Hernandez said in reference to El Duque, who went 2-2 with a 2.01 ERA in his five September starts.

In fairness, Maine was the third-best starting pitcher the Mets had in September, going 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA in five starts. The 25-year-old right-hander gained a lasting spot in the Major Leagues when he managed to throw 26 consecutive scoreless innings after the All-Star break.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.