Maine up in the air as Mets drop opener
Starter's tough outing could lead to changes in rotation
DENVER -- By the end -- which, to the Mets' misfortune, was really still the beginning -- John Maine's shoulders seemed permanently slumped. This was not how he expected his season to begin. And the same could be said for his team.
By the time Maine left Tuesday's game against the Rockies, staring at an eight-run deficit after merely three innings, the Mets were already well on their way to an 11-3 defeat at Coors Field. They fell to 2-5 on the season, already a full four games out of first place. And they showed little spark in doing so.
Those searching for more misfortune need look no further than Maine, who is now in danger of losing his spot in the rotation.
"Those things we'll have to talk about," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "Right now, after this game, you have to kind of sleep on that and see how you feel tomorrow. Hopefully he feels OK and that type of thing. But you have to have dialogue about it. That's just the business of the game."
The more lopsided elements of Tuesday's game included the third and seventh innings -- in which the Rockies batted around -- and the complete ineffectiveness of Maine. Unable to spot his fastball down in the zone and unable to throw with his old mid-90s velocity, Maine was battered for seven hits.
In the third, one of his three free passes led to an inordinate amount of trouble. After walking Todd Helton to open the inning, Maine -- among other sins -- committed a throwing error, allowed a double to pitcher Greg Smith, and served up outfielder Seth Smith's two-run homer to the deepest part of right-center field.
After each misfortune, his body language grew increasingly worse. Maine's eight earned runs tied a career high, last reached Aug. 21, 2008. In mid-April, he was fighting a midsummer's frustration.
"I hate it," Maine said. "I hate everything about what's going on here right now."
"He understands the situation and he's got to get the job done," catcher Rod Barajas said. "It's not a time to take a breath and relax."
Hidden amongst Maine's struggles was the fact that the Mets, for all their newfound health, could do nothing against Greg Smith. Entering the game, Smith had struck out more than five batters merely once in 33 career starts. On Tuesday, he struck out eight Mets in seven innings.
Some scant offense came from David Wright, whose homer in the sixth inning provided the Mets' first run. Rod Barajas doubled the output with a sacrifice fly off Smith in the seventh, and Jason Bay drove in his first run of the season with a single off reliever Esmil Rogers in the eighth.
But the game was effectively over in the third, when it was 8-0.
"In a perfect world, the score doesn't matter," Bay said. "But you kind of get the wind sucked out of you a little early, and you're kind of fighting uphill the entire time."
Colorado, no doubt, holds some unpleasant memories for the Mets. It was here in 2008 that general manager Omar Minaya unexpectedly flew out to join the team, putting then-manager Willie Randolph's job security in doubt. It was here, one month later, that the Mets flew in from Anaheim after dismissing Randolph in the dead of night.
And it is here, now, that Manuel has fallen under similar scrutiny. Though the manager does not seem in dire jeopardy of losing his job, his team has already underperformed. Tabloids and talk shows have made him a target.
Manuel has little recourse but to win, yet the Mets are floundering beneath him on a nightly basis. And lest anyone forget, the calendar has not yet flipped to May.
These are rocky times in the Rockies.
"I'm frustrated," Maine said, voicing the opinion of his entire team. "I'm doing the right things. I just can't put it together."
Whether he will have another opportunity to do so remains to be seen. The Mets will meet, discuss it and come to a decision before his next start this Sunday in St. Louis.
But to blame Maine alone is to ignore most of the problem. Virtually no one has pitched well, virtually no one has hit and the Mets have shown virtually no ability to escape from this funk.
"The thing is, we wanted to pitch well," Manuel said. "When you hit a little bump in the road like we have, it's a bit frustrating. But we still feel we have a good team."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.