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04/24/07 12:14 AM ET

Mets cruise behind Maine's strong effort

Valentin tallies four RBIs; Delgado belts first homer of season

NEW YORK -- For reasons not abundantly clear, baseball nicknames aren't what they used to be. Some players go through their careers without one, or their clubhouse IDs are no more clever than their surnames or derivations of them with a Y added -- Stearnsy, Jonesy, Koozy. Where have you gone, Joltin' Joe and Sudden Sam?

John Maine is one of a multitude of players who probably shall remain (nick) nameless. If one hasn't been pinned on him at this point in his career -- he'll turn 26 next month and he is in his sixth season as a professional -- it's probably not coming.

But try this one: Long John.

Long John Maine. There's a certain simplicity to it. And now that Maine is going longer or deeper into his starts, there's an appropriateness to it as well. Four starts into what is likely to be his first full season in the big leagues, Maine is the Mets' long man. And he hasn't thrown an inning of relief. He has made four starts and pitched at least seven innings in three of them.

He hardly is a threat to Tom Seaver's club record for complete games, 21, but Maine is longer than his colleagues and contemporaries. He pitched 7 2/3 innings in the Mets' 6-1 victory against the Rockies on Monday night and left Shea Stadium long on satisfaction.

"My goal this year was to finish the sixth pretty regularly," he said. "And if I can go beyond that, it's all the better."

Even with his work this season -- his average of 6.58 innings per start is more than the National League average, 5.88 -- Maine's career average is merely 5.43. He has pitched one complete game and now has completed the seventh five times. As he said with a sense of pride after this one, "I'm getting longer."

Maine earned his third victory -- he hasn't lost -- with a performance touched with quality as well as quantity. He surrendered seven hits -- six of them singles -- and two walks before he was replaced by Pedro Feliciano with two runners on base. He threw 108 pitches to 32 batters, a workable average of 3.38 per plate appearance.

"The better I get with my slider and changeup," he said, "the easier it is to get shorter outs and pitch deeper into my starts."

The Mets' offense had provided him a wide margin for error with a demonstration of might. Jose Valentin hit a three-run home against Taylor Buchholz in the second inning. And Carlos Delgado hit a two-run home run -- his first homer of any kind in his 75th at-bat -- in the seventh against former Mets prospect Bob Keppel. And in between, Valentin drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. Moises Alou had three hits and scored twice.

Not only has Maine pitched longer and quite effectively -- his ERA is 1.71 -- he has brought out the best in the Mets' offense. It has averaged nine runs per game in his four starts. The Mets are averaging 5.2 runs per game in their other 14 games.

"It all works together," he said. "If I have a big lead, there are fewer tough outs to get. I can go deeper and our bullpen has less to do."

Maine knows it's his place to go long. Neither Orlando Hernandez nor Tom Glavine is likely to throw seven innings regularly. "Duque and I are the steady ones, but we're not going too deep anymore," Glavine said. Oliver Perez may reach seven innings in one start and 2 2/3 in the next. And rookie Mike Pelfrey is tall -- 6-foot-7 -- not yet long.

"I'm learning to be longer," Maine said. "I think I threw too many fastballs last year. Too many were getting fouled off and running up my pitch count. Now, I'm in better shape and throwing better pitches. I think I get six more batters per game. If I'm still throwing well, that's two more innings. That really helps."

The Mets seemingly were in position to save some bullpen bullets. Feliciano threw one pitch for his one out. Willie Randolph summoned Ambiorix Burgos to start the ninth with the intention of keeping the bullpen still. Burgos walked his first batter, but retired the next two. When he walked Yorvit Torrealba, neither the 'pen nor Randolph was still. Billy Wagner began to throw, even with the tying run on deck, and Randolph began to move toward the mound -- jogging, not walking with the "You're done" gait.

When Randolph jogs, it is a message in itself. He delivers "a few choice words," as he put it, challenging the pitcher. But the jog is a precursor to the challenge.

"And I know what that's like," Maine said. "Willie came out a few times last year -- jogging. When you see that, you know he's not coming out to chat. He wants the inning to be over.

"So do I. I want the game over. My goal is to let him spend the whole game in the dugout."

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