NEW YORK -- Whatever quality once existed in the Mets' starting rotation has been diminished over the past few months by injury. Now in baseball-desperation, the club that had been favored to win the National League championship has turned to quantity in hopes of merely reaching the second round of playoffs.

With Orlando Hernandez excluded from the team roster of the National League Division Series, the Mets opted to carry 12 pitchers, one more than they had planned. And one of the least experienced, rookie John Maine, started Game 1 against the Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon at Shea Stadium.

The change of direction was necessitated by the injury to Hernandez, who, until he tore a muscle in his right calf Tuesday, was in place to start Game 1. But even in that role, Hernandez was substituting for Pedro Martinez, whom the club was forced to exclude from its first postseason appearance in six years because of injuries to both calves and the need for shoulder surgery.

Instead, there is Maine, 25 years old and right-handed, who had made 24 starts in the big leagues, including 15 this season, his first with the Mets. Acquired from the Orioles in January, Maine became part of the rotation in July and has emerged as a moderate surprise. But until Martinez went down with a torn muscle in his left calf last week, Maine hardly was guaranteed a place on the postseason roster.

Now, with Hernandez all but eliminated from postseason pitching -- even if the Mets reach the World Series -- Maine has been thrust into the first game of the playoffs. And, manager Willie Randolph said Wednesday, he will start Game 5 if the Mets survive this attrition and extend the series to its limit.

That scenario seemed less likely when Randolph announced that Oliver Perez, the erratic left-handed pitcher acquired from the Pirates in July, has a place in the rotation -- as the starter for either Game 3 or Game 4. Randolph indicated Steve Trachsel would start the game Perez doesn't.

Maine entered the start Wednesday having produced a 6-5 record and 3.60 ERA in 16 appearances and 133 2/3 innings. He had opposed the Dodgers once, losing to them Sept. 8 at Shea, allowing two earned runs in five innings.

Maine was one of three rookies starting games Wednesday -- the others being Boof Bonser of the Twins and Justin Verlander of the Tigers -- and the second rookie ever to start a postseason game for the Mets. Gary Gentry started games in the NLCS and World Series in 1969.

Hernandez's calf was examined via MRI on Tuesday. The results revealed a Grade 2 proximal gastroc muscle tear of the right calf -- Grade 2 on a scale of one to four, four being the most serious. The Mets have not said he will not pitch again this year, but it seems quite unlikely he will. El Duque may have realized that well before the MRI. Randolph said his veteran starter -- 36, 40 or something in between -- was "very, very distraught, very upset," and he cried when he first spoke with the manager Tuesday.

"El Duque has always been a warrior," Randolph said. "He's always been a guy who takes full responsibility for taking the ball and being accountable. This is his time of year."

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With El Duque gone for the NLDS for certain, the Mets opted to create a seven-man bullpen and to carry Perez, a long shot to be part of the October roster until Martinez's injury. The inclusion of Perez and -- something of a surprise -- left-handed reliever Royce Ring made it impossible for the Mets to carry an extra middle infielder -- Anderson Hernandez would have been the choice -- or a third catcher. Chris Woodward now is the lone middle-infeld reserve, as he has been most of the season. Mike DiFelice, considered a quality receiver, would have served as the primary defensive reserve catcher, freeing Randolph to use right-handed-hitting Ramon Castro as a pinch-hitter. Now Castro is the lone reserve behind Paul Lo Duca, and he is not likely to be used at all.

Pitchers: Chad Bradford, Pedro Feliciano, Tom Glavine, Aaron Heilman, Roberto Hernandez, John Maine, Guillermo Mota, Darren Oliver, Oliver Perez, Royce Ring, Steve Trachsel, Billy Wagner

Catchers: Paul Lo Duca, Ramon Castro

Infielders: Carlos Delgado, Julio Franco, Jose Reyes, Jose Valentin, Chris Woodward, David Wright

Outfielders: Carlos Beltran, Endy Chavez, Cliff Floyd, Shawn Green, Michael Tucker