Mets Insider: Pep talks boosting Maine

He's had so many people come out to the mound to talk to him whenever he's pitched this year that, after getting the win in the Mets 4-2 victory over the Cardinals in Game Six of the NLCS, it wouldn't have been all that surprising if John Maine took off his uniform top to reveal a customized "Pep Boys" T-shirt.

One with the faces of Willie Randolph, Rick Peterson and Paul Lo Duca taking the place of Manny, Moe and Jack.

Mechanics, after all, are a big part of the pitching business, and while Maine's manager, pitching coach and catcher aren't in the auto supply game, it's no secret that they've all spent considerable time this season going under the hood, so to speak, trying to maximize the performance quotient of their talented but still developing rookie righthander.

Arms angle, release point, leg drive, follow-through: With a 6-4, 205 pound chassis, there's a lot to keep track of. Especially when the tank's fuel supply is filled with as much adrenaline as gas, as it was when Maine took the hill at Shea Stadium for Game Six, with the Mets facing elimination and Cards ace Chris Carpenter going up against him.

Which is probably why Lo Duca made the short trek out from behind the plate to the mound after Maine had finished his pre-game warm up tosses to try and mix in one more additive--that all-important but hard-to-bottle ingredient called confidence.

"I just wanted to let him know that as a team we wanted him out there," revealed Lo Duca afterwards. "I told him, 'Just do your job, and we're going to win this ballgame for you.'"

In the first inning, it looked as if Maine might just jump the track, as St. Louis filled the bases on singles by Scott Spiezio and Albert Pujols and a two-out Juian Encarnacion hit-batsman.

But he avoided any damage by getting Scott Rolen to fly out--and from then on, it was solely Maine's control that needed monitoring, as he allowed no more hits after that shaky first.

When Randolph took the ball from him with one out in the sixth inning and the Mets ahead 2-0, the only additional Cardinals who'd reached base had done so via four walks.

One of those was a dugout-mandated intentional pass to Pujols--a prudent choice, to be sure, since the fearsome St. Louis slugger did smash a grand slam against Maine during the regular season.

Then again, the John Maine pitching in October isn't the same model as the one the Cardinals saw in August.

The shy righthander may have been acquired from Baltimore during the off-season as a throw-in in the Kris Benson-Jorge Julio trade, but as Randolph noted after Game Six, "As he's pitched for us and been here, he's gotten stronger and stronger to execute his pitches and stay in his rhythm. Rick Peterson has done a great job working with him and to Johnny's credit, he's putting in the time. A game like this one, you can see where he's starting to feel more and more confident and really secure in his abilities and trusting his stuff.'

Given that the team was in win-or-die mode, Randolph was asked, did he say anything special to Maine before he sent him out top pitch the biggest game of his baseball life?

"I just told him to go out and have fun, to just let it go," replied the Mets' chief Pep Boy. "'Just empty the tank for me, and give me what you've got and we'll pick you up,' and we did."

Beep. Beep.

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