Maine unsinkable in series finale

Maine unsinkable in series finale

SAN FRANCISCO -- His back to the plate, his hands on his hips, his baserunner on his way home and his face twisted, John Maine was a picture of ... well, he was a picture of who knows what? Frustration? Exasperation? Vexation? Any of those $1 synonyms for angry would have fit, the Mets' foremost crossword puzzle player said. He had some cross words in his mind and almost in his larynx when an unseen hand had guided the baseball to earth.

On a mostly comfortable day in the Mets' 2008 season, their starting pitcher clearly wasn't comforted by what just had unfolded with two outs in the sixth inning on Wednesday. Given his druthers -- and if the guaranteed results would have been the same -- Maine would have opted for a line drive to do what Omar Vizquel's popup to center field did. Instead a good pitch and a weak, imprecise swing had conspired against him and reduced the Mets' lead to three runs.

At that instant, it mattered more than it would 10 outs later when the Mets were putting the finishing touches on a 5-3 victory against the Giants and their third straight favorable series split. But in the sixth inning it was a blemish -- a fly ball in the ointment, if you will. And Maine wasn't alone in his annoyance.

Willie Randolph also was irritated. Not a lot, but amid all the smiles that followed his team's seventh victory in nine games, the manager's expression grew cold for an instant when he reviewed Vizquel's hit. All the winning that has followed, all that losing and the speculation about his job has suggested the Mets have executed a 180, reversed their season. And maybe they have. But when Vizquel's bloop became Vizquel's run-scoring single, it seemed to suggest the Mets had pulled only a 175. Not everything is right just yet.

The ball had landed less than 10 feet from the two feet of Carlos Beltran. And from where Randolph was watching, a catch was quite plausible.

"Two outs, man on [third], I think that can be made," the manager said. "I thought he could have made it. And if it couldn't be caught, at least look like you're trying to make the play."

Beltran, who plays deeper than most center fielders, had come from his normal deep position and run hard, but he decelerated. And then the score was 5-2.

He said later he couldn't have saved the run, and Randolph, otherwise satisfied with the day's work, wasn't inclined to make an issue of it. He hadn't broached the topic. Moreover, Beltran's swing in the first inning had produced the pivotal hit -- a two-run double -- in a three-run frame that eliminated angst from most of the two hours, 43 minutes required to complete this one.

Teammates noticed the play which wasn't made. They were unsure what to say or sure what not to say. An eye roll was the most caustic reaction. "He had the big hit for us," was the most favorable sentence of support.

And Maine glossed over the non-play.

"I was ticked because it's happened twice this year: two outs, man in scoring position and I make a good pitch and wind up giving up a run," Maine said. "He [Beltran] got me some runs."

In fact, four of the Mets' five runs were produced by players whose defense contributed to runs the Giants scored. Jose Reyes, who initiated the rally in the first inning and hit a two-run homer in the fourth, also had committed a two-out error in the third that was the first component in the unearned run which Maine surrendered. A ground ball bounced between his legs.

Reyes has made 10 errors in the Mets' first 58 games. He never has committed more than 18 in a season. "That's not me," he said. "I can't do that." He was completely exonerated for his misplay.

His leadoff double had been the torch that lit the fuse in the first. Reyes pulled the third pitch of the game from losing pitcher Matt Cain into the right-field corner and advanced to third when Luis Castillo grounded out. After Cain (2-4) hit David Wright, Beltran doubled into the left-center field gap for two runs, and Carlos Delgado drove in Beltran with a single to right.

The Mets aren't the first-inning force they were two years ago, but they're getting there. The initial frame on Wednesday put their first-inning-runs-scored differential at 40-12 by Reyes. They have scored 19 runs in the first inning in their most recent 12 games. Their record when they score in the first is 15-7.

"It's no surprise when we win when Jose gets on early," Randolph said.

The Giants scored in the third after Reyes' two-out error and a wild pitch. Singles by Jose Castillo and Randy Winn produced the run.

Reyes made amends for his mistake almost immediately. Cain retired his first two batters in the fourth inning but walked Maine, an .095 hitter at that point, on five pitches. The next pitch he threw became Reyes' eighth home run. Reyes tapped Maine on the shoulder when he returned to the dugout, a wordless mea culpa.

The resulting 5-1 lead remained until Vizquel's bloop to center scored Travis Denker who had tripled to deep right center. The single was the last of the seven hits Maine (6-4) allowed in winning for the first time in four starts. He walked one and struck out four. Bengie Molina's pinch-hit sacrifice fly against Duaner Sanchez drove in the third Giants run in the eighth and gave Randolph more reason to summon Billy Wagner (13th save) for the ninth.

The Mets were quite pleased with themselves when Wagner finished what Maine had started. Wright called the performance "pretty complete" and said "we have some nice momentum," and expressed caution.

"We can't be satisfied after a week or a week and a half," he said. "When you're playing well, you have to stack up the wins.

"We can't pat ourselves on the back."

Not yet.

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