But here we are. The dream has come true. With Pedro Martinez out for this season and well into next, and Orlando Hernandez on the shelf for the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Mets have had to rely at crunch time on one kid (Maine) who has made 27 starts in his career, including three this postseason, and another (Perez) who was tossed on the scrap heap four months ago by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"You have to give credit to our Minor League people and [pitching coach] Rick Peterson for getting these guys where they are today," said Minaya, who plucked Maine from the Orioles last offseason in the Kris Benson trade, and Perez from the Pirates at the July 31 trade deadline for Xavier Nady. "And you have to give credit to Willie for putting his trust and faith in these guys. That's the truth. It's that simple."
Asked how he expected Perez to do in the biggest game of his career with a trip to the World Series on the line, Minaya quipped:
"I don't know. In a Game 7, you can't tell how anybody's going to do. Game 7 is an out-of-body experience. Game 7, in stickball, is an out-of-body experience, so you can imagine what it must be like in the Major Leagues. I can tell you what it's like in stickball, but I can't tell you what it's like in the Major Leagues."
Perez said Randolph gave him the word on Wednesday before the Mets took the field to play the Cardinals in critical Game 6, hoping to knot the best-of-seven series at three games apiece.
"I was told to be ready for it, just in case we won the game," Perez said after the 4-2 victory was in the books. "After we won, Willie came back to me and confirmed it. So I'm ready to go. I'm looking forward to it."
It really wasn't much of a decision for Randolph. Steve Trachsel, who would've normally started in that slot, took a drive hit by Preston Wilson off his thigh in Game 3 on Saturday in St. Louis and has been nursing a contusion ever since. He's also been nursing his poor performance -- he allowed 10 of the 12 baserunners he faced to reach base safely before being yanked in the second inning.
Trachsel could be seen warming up in the bullpen on Wednesday night while Billy Wagner was struggling through the ninth inning.
"I heard Rick say he was getting some side work done, throwing a little bit just in case," Randolph said.
Darren Oliver, the veteran left-hander who followed Trachsel in that game and pitched six scoreless innings, hasn't made a start since 2004.
And Perez came up big in Game 4 on Sunday at Busch Stadium, pitching into the sixth inning and earning the victory.
"He's done a nice job for us since he's been here, very similar to Johnny Maine in a lot of ways," Randolph said. "He's throwing the ball well. He needs to give us another quality start and we've just got to go with everything we've got [on Thursday]."
The fact that the 25-year-old Perez will be pitching on three days' rest is irrelevant, Randolph added. Perez, for his part, couldn't remember when and if he'd ever done that before in his career.
"It doesn't matter, really," Randolph said. "Time to go. One game. He'll have plenty of time to rest after that, I'm sure. Ready to go."
"I'm nervous, but it's normal nervousness," Perez said. "You always have to be ready to go, and I am. I don't remember ever pitching on three days [of rest], but I don't think it will be a problem."
Perez was the Opening Day starter for the Pirates the last two seasons and was on the mound to open one of the most memorable games of this year's World Baseball Classic, pitching the first three innings of Mexico's 2-1 second-round victory that eliminated Team USA from the tournament.
But since the Classic, it's been a tough season for Perez, who fell out of favor in Pittsburgh this year and was demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis on June 29. A month later, he was traded, this time to the Mets, who almost immediately sent him back to the Minors.
"We sent him to the Major Leagues first to kind of just cleanse him out," Minaya said. "Then we sent him to the Minor Leagues with a Major League program in place so he could do his work. I'll tell you this. Even when I got him back in July, my thought was that Perez might be on the 25-man roster come playoff time."
He's on the roster, all right. And now he's looking down the gullet at nailing down the Mets' fifth NL pennant.
"It's been a wild year," Perez said. "I was with the Pirates and I was having a bad season. Now I'm here and I'm excited. Everyone is excited. We're almost to the World Series. Everybody has to be happy."