Hip, hip hooray: Maine mostly pain free

Hip, hip hooray: Maine mostly pain free

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- With nary a knock on wood, John Maine responded to this inquiry Monday morning in a way that might have tempted the gods in charge of injuries.

The question: "Has your [left] hip been a problem?"

The response: "Not yet."

The hip: Not a problem.

And on the morning after his latest Grapefruit League game, Maine didn't expect it to be. He has been pain- and malady-free all spring perhaps because all the physical problems imaginable -- and one or two that were beyond imagination -- had been spread among others on the Mets' roster. The supply of injuries just ran out before Maine got his.

Or it may be that all he does to avoid problems has had the desired effect.

"I'd like to think it's what I do that's made the difference," Maine said. "I try to do as much as I can."

Maine pitched all last season with pain on the inside of the hip after straining something late in Spring Training. What it was remains a mystery. He felt "something" while he was doing his conditioning running just before his final exhibition game. He went on regardless. But he had it examined when the Mets returned to New York. A preliminary diagnosis was a sports hernia. But no one was convinced, and the pain was quite manageable, so manageable that after his sixth start, May 4, he had a 5-0 record and realigned aspirations.

"When you start off like that," he said last month after camp had begun, "you start to rethink. 'Hey, maybe I can do more than I thought." It's a good feeling."

And when Maine beat the Astros in Houston on July 5, his record was 10-4, and the chance to do more than he initially had thought still existed. But it was in that start that the problem -- whatever it was -- grew worse. More pain, more worry, more treatment. Less success.

Maine, 27 in May, prefers not to talk about the pain and what went through his mind as he dealt with it, start after start. "It was there almost all the time," is how he put it. His 10-4 record morphed into 13-8. The Mets began to flounder, despite his brilliant last start. He allowed one hit and 14 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings against the Marlins on Sept. 29 in the second to last game of the regular season, also known as the Mets' final victory.

That hip pain didn't compare to what he and his teammates endured the following day.

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"There was no doubt I'd pitch. I was ready for postseason," he said Monday.

Alas, some of this unwanted and unscheduled free time in October was spent having the hip examined and trying to learn what had caused the pain. The hernia possibility was eliminated. A chance exists that he had torn a ligament. But nothing of that nature was detected. No structural damage was found. The pain faded, and now, after an offseason of twice a week therapy and conditioning and 8 2/3 innings of Spring Training competition, only slight residual pain exists.

"I'm fine," he said.

His start Sunday encouraged him, and the following morning brought no messages of alarm from the hip or any other body parts. Manager Willie Randolph said he has a feeling that Maine may exceed his 15-10 performance of 2007 this year.

Maine offers no predictions. And he feels negligible pain.

"It's a lot easier to concentrate when you're not hurting," he said. "And if it hurts, it hurts. I'll deal with it."

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