Mets have found their Maine man

In Game 6 of the National League Championship Series last year, the New York Mets, with their season on the line down three games to two, handed the ball over to little-known starter John Maine, who had just 27 career regular-season appearances (24 starts) at that point.

Facing a loaded St. Louis lineup and squaring off against Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, Maine was unflappable in the pressure situation, pitching 5¹/³ innings of two-hit, shutout ball to lift the Mets to a 4-2 victory and force a Game 7.

Unfortunately for the Mets, they dropped the decisive game to the eventual champs, but Maine has ridden that breakthrough performance into 2007, where he has become one of the best starters in the National League.

For a team entering the season with plenty of pitching questions, Maine has been the answer, teaming up with the ageless Tom Glavine to give the Mets a sterling combination on the mound, helping New York fight through season-long injury problems to its staff.

Through five starts, Maine is unbeaten, going 4-0 with 30 strikeouts and an NL-leading 1.35 ERA. He has yet to give up more than two earned runs in a start this season and he has lasted into the seventh inning in all but one of his appearances.

Maine’s consistency has been his calling card, as he has thrown between 97 and 108 pitches in all his contests, and he has registered a quality start (at least six innings with three earned runs or less) four times.

The one concern for the 25-year-old right-hander has been his control, as Maine has walked 17 batters in 33 innings, including six against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 9 — the one start he did not make it to the seventh. There were also questions about his propensity to give up the long ball, as Maine surrendered 16 homers in 15 starts in 2006.

However, Maine, who did not have a starting spot secured for the Mets entering spring training, has quickly soared up the fantasy depth charts and is a must-have pitcher.

WHO’S HOT?

» Shawn Hill, SP, Nationals

» Hideki Okajima, RP, Red Sox

» Aaron Rowand, OF, Phillies

» Sammy Sosa, RF, Rangers

» Chris Young, CF, D’backs

WHO’S NOT?

» Phil Hughes SP, Yankees

» Raul Ibanez, LF, Mariners

» Orlando Hernandez, SP, Mets

» Josh Hamilton, CF, Reds

» Melvin Mora, 3B, Orioles

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