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10/19/06 1:59 AM ET

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.

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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."

Remarkable rookies
Rookies to start and win an NLCS game.
Pat Zachry
Game 2
Cin. 6, Phi. 2
Fernando Valenzuela
Game 5
L.A. 2, Mon. 1
Charles Hudson
Game 3
Phi. 7, L.A. 2
Tim Belcher
Game 2
L.A. 6, N.Y. 3
Tim Belcher
Game 5
L.A. 7, N.Y. 4
Tim Wakefield
Game 3
Pit. 3, Atl. 2
Tim Wakefield
Game 6
Pit. 13, Atl. 4
Livan Hernandez
Game 5
Fla. 2, Atl. 1
John Maine
Game 6
N.Y. 4, Stl. 2
The Cardinals would not get another hit during the rest of his stint, which ended with him walking tall off the mound as the crowd literally swayed the house.

"I think we saw the maturation of a kid that's going to be a good pitcher and you'll see him for a long time," said catcher Paul Lo Duca, whose two-run seventh-inning single turned from insurance to difference when the Cardinals stirred in the ninth. "He grew a lot tonight, and this is a step forward for his career.

"This is a huge ballgame, huge circumstances. I don't think it's really hit him. I think it hit me," added Lo Duca, who then turned to the blank-faced youngster sitting to his left to tell him, "You beat, to me, the best pitcher in the National League. We knew we weren't going to score too many runs off him."

This wasn't the first personal message Lo Duca had delivered to his pitcher Wednesday evening. Before Maine had thrown a pitch, Lo Duca visited him on the mound.

"He gave me a little speech. It was what I needed. It's a secret, so no one is going to know except us two," said Maine.

Lo Duca, either blowing the secret or just giving an abridged version, said, "Johnny, to me, is not scared. He wants to be out there, and I just wanted to let him know that us as a team want him out there. I told him, 'Just do your job, and we're going to win this ballgame for you.'"

New York manager Willie Randolph also had a sendoff message for Maine: "Go out and just let it go. Don't try to hold anything back. Just empty the tank for me and give me what you've got and we'll pick you up."

The response to Maine's first-inning escape was immediate. Jose Reyes hit Carpenter's third pitch of the evening over the fence in right-center. Green singled for another run three innings later, by when Maine was locked in.

"The whole atmosphere changed after he got out of that first," Green said. "It was incredible. You couldn't pitch with any more pressure, but he's a young man with a lot of poise."

In the early evening, a father played catch with his daughter in the Shea Stadium parking lot. Fans streamed through the gates in shorts and sleeveless Mets jerseys. The calendar said early autumn. But the climate said heart of summer. And the heart said baseball.

And then the buoys of summer kept the Mets' postseason afloat.

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