Tuesday, December 25, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 2008

Part 47 of our 50-year Pitching Prospect...
What is it: 2008 Topps #171, John Maine

What makes it interesting: Now this is just ridiculous. Topps didn't do well with color splotches scattered on the '07 cards, so damned if they don't come back with the same hair-brained idea in '08 by placing the team name in hideous color balloons along a pasty white border. Some team names (ie Diamondbacks) were so long that Topps instead abbreviated the name rather than having a line of tiny bubbles. Ish.

John Maine ultimately turned into one of the bigger flash-in-the-pans in Mets history, although for several seasons, many of us held out hope that that wouldn't be the case. After arriving with the Mets prior to the 2006 season as an afterthought, a throw-in in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles that rid the Mets of Kris Benson and his trashy bride, Maine surprised everyone by ascending to the Major Leagues in July and immediately hopping into the Mets starting rotation. Though he struggled early, Maine found himself on a July night against the Astros, pitching a 4-hit shutout that eventually turned into a 26-inning scoreless streak. Though he would come back to earth a bit late in the season, Maine clearly proved he belonged, and would be vital in the postseason once Pedro Martinez went down with an injury. Maine figured to throw in relief in the playoffs, but when Orlando Hernandez also got hurt, Maine suddenly found himself shoved into the spotlight and handed the ball for a Game 1 start in the NLDS against the Dodgers. A lesser rookie might have wilted under the pressure, but Maine showed his fortitude by pitching 4.1 solid innings, not enough to win, but good enough to keep the Mets afloat. His start in Game 2 of the NLCS vs. St. Louis wasn't so hot, but come Game 6, with the Mets needing a victory to keep their season alive, Maine responded with an excellent outing, giving up 1 hit and no runs in 5.1 innings and picking up a crucial victory.

Given Maine's solid performance in '06, it was widely believed that he would develop further in the 2007 season. Expectations on him were high enough that he was the #1 Key Met on this Blog for 2007, in the first post by your author. Early on, Maine didn't disappoint, starting the '07 season red hot. He kicked off the season by throwing 7 shutout innings against the Cardinals, and later had a No Hitter into the 7th inning against the Marlins. By April's end, Maine was 4-0 with an ERA of 1.35, good enough to be named NL Pitcher of the Month. Maine fell back to earth rather sharply in May, but by late June had righted himself enough to garner All Star consideration, if not a selection. His second half was somewhat more of the same. Though he was a bit inconsistent, he was great when he was good, including an outing where he hit his first, and only, Major League Home Run against the Pirates, and a crucial victory in a game in Atlanta at the beginning of September. But his signature game came on the next to last day of the season. With the Mets collapsing and ill feelings all over the place, Maine stopped a 5-game losing streak and nearly No Hit the Marlins, taking a gem into the 8th inning and striking out a career high 13 in a blowout victory. But we know how the season turned out, and the good vibes generated from Maine's outing went for naught. Nonetheless, Maine's 2007 season was an undeniable success, as he went 15-10, with a 3.91 ERA and 180 strikeouts.

Unfortunately, Maine wouldn't ever build on that. In fact, Maine spent the remainder of his Mets career struggling to get back to that level. Though he had flashes of brilliance in 2008, including a near-shutout of the Dodgers, he struggled with high pitch counts and rarely went deep into games. Too often, Maine would get 2 strikes on a batter, but be unable to put him away. The result was that Maine would spend more time moping around the mound, generally frustrated with himself rather than getting things accomplished. But clearly, something wasn't right. He left a start in Philadelphia in July with shoulder problems, and eventually it was revealed that Maine was pitching with a bone spur in his shoulder. Maine went on the disabled list following a miserable outing against the Astros in August, and although he tried to come back, his season was ultimately over, finishing with a disappointing 10-8 record and 4.15 ERA.

Counted on to rebound in '09, Maine instead had a season that mirrored '08, where he would have tantalizing moments that would lead you to believe he was going to make The Leap, but then regressing. Another shoulder injury forced him to the DL in June, and there he stayed before returning in September to make a few token starts, but by then the season was long gone and Maine was simply trying to prove he could still get the job done. Given one final shot in 2010, Maine did nothing to inspire anyone, and eventually ended up embarrassing himself in the process. After one start where he opened up by throwing 12 consecutive balls, Maine was pulled from a game in Washington after 1 batter because Jerry Manuel thought he didn't look right. Maine protested and argued with his manager, but Manuel was right. Not only was Maine headed for the DL again, but that would prove to be his final outing with the Mets.

Whether it was injuries or inconsistency, John Maine could have had a brilliant career under a different set of circumstances. A quiet, generally likeable kid, Maine's strong start to his career endeared him to a lot of Mets fans, who generally rooted for him to succeed rather than bashing him for his failures. I include myself in this group. Since leaving the Mets, Maine hasn't resurfaced in the Majors, bouncing through the systems of the Rockies, Red Sox, Yankees and now Marlins. Hopefully, he'll find himself someday.

Card back:

No comments: