Healthy John Maine on journey to big-league comeback with Miami Marlins

After two shoulder surgeries and spending last season in Single A, John Maine said he feels ‘even better than before the surgeries.’

02/14/2013 12:01 AM

07/31/2014 5:15 PM

If one looks carefully at the video, John Maine said you can barely make him out. It is the bottom of the fifth inning at Shea Stadium on Sept. 29, 2007 — the season’s next-to-last game — and both benches have cleared after Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo goes berserk, charging Mets shortstop Jose Reyes and throwing punches that fail to land.

It is a crucial game for the Mets. They are in the throes of a historic September collapse, teetering on the edge of elimination after holding a seemingly safe seven-game division lead only 17 days earlier. Maine was not only on the mound that afternoon for the Mets, trying to preserve their fast-evaporating postseason hopes, but had held the Marlins without a hit to that point.

“If we lost, we were out of the playoffs,” Maine said. “I’m running out there and you can see, on the edge of the video, the pitching coach, Rick Peterson, grab me by the edge of the jersey and pull me down. He’s yelling, ‘What are you doing? If you get thrown out of this game, we’re out of the playoffs!”

Order was eventually restored. Maine carried a no-hitter into the eighth before giving up a two-out swinging bunt single to the ejected Olivo’s replacement, Paul Hoover, and the Mets lived to play another day. But the Marlins delivered the knockout punch Sunday, winning the season finale and sending the Mets home for the winter.

“Such an emotional high and then just to be deflated like that,” Maine said of what is perhaps the apex of the Marlins/Mets rivalry over the years.

Six years after experiencing severe emotional pain at the hands of the Marlins, Maine is now hoping they can help revive his major-league career. He is a 31-year-old right-hander who has undergone the second of two shoulder surgeries since last pitching in the big leagues in 2010.

Maine is not only one of 38 pitchers in camp for the Marlins; he’s not even the only one with the last name “Maine.” Scott Maine, no relation, is trying to win a bullpen spot.

But John Maine, unlike Scott, is a non-roster invitee hoping to work his way back to a big-league mound. Maine, who said his wife talked him out of retirement in 2011, spent last season at Triple A Scranton-Wilkes Barre and said his shoulder feels the best it has in years.

“I’ve kept playing despite two shoulder surgeries,” Maine said. “I’d rather have two Tommy John’s. They’re easier to come back from. Shoulders are just so complicated.

“But last year I felt I was finally back to where I was five years ago. I feel good, maybe even better than before the surgeries.”

Maine, who went 41-36 in his seven seasons with the Orioles and Mets, made 16 starts last season at Triple A after the Yankees signed him in late May to a minor-league deal. He enjoyed his best season in 2007 when he went 15-10 with the Mets. He was 3-0 in four starts that season against the Marlins.

But it all went for naught.

The Marlins, who went 71-91 and finished in last that season, pulled the playoff rug out from beneath the Mets on the final day, ending one of the greatest September collapses in major-league history.

“Thank God there’s been a couple more collapses the last couple of years to kind of overshadow ours,” said Maine, alluding specifically to Boston’s September nosedive in 2011.

Maine said those ’07 Marlins deserve credit.

“Good for them,” he said. “They weren’t playing for anything. We were playing for the postseason. They didn’t lie down. They didn’t just let us win. You want to earn it. You don’t want them to just give it to you.”

• The Marlins would prefer that Henderson Alvarez not pitch in the World Baseball Classic, but their request for him to withdraw is apparently falling on deaf ears. Sources said Alvarez intends to represent Venezuela in the upcoming tournament.

As a compromise, the Marlins have asked that Alvarez pitch at Roger Dean Stadium on March 5 when the Marlins face Venezuela in a WBC warmup for the South American country. Whether Alvarez suits up for Miami or Venezuela doesn’t matter to the Marlins.

The Marlins have no issues with closer Steve Cishek and outfielder Giancarlo Stanton taking part in the tournament. Cishek and Stanton are on Team USA.

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