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Maine looks ready to meet his goals

Maine looks ready to meet his goals

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- There were hundreds of Mets caps at Fort Lauderdale Stadium on Monday. Out of place, perhaps, but certainly not out of the ordinary. Not here, in southern Florida, where New Yorkers flock no matter the season.

What seemed unusual, however, was when those Mets caps rose in unison, standing and cheering as John Maine left the field. There he was, a visiting pitcher, enjoying a standing ovation in a Spring Training game -- you know, the type that doesn't matter.

Must have been an awfully good game.

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And it was for Maine, who's now proven his readiness for the upcoming season as thoroughly as any Major League pitcher can. He completed six innings in this one, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out seven. Maine's Grapefruit League ERA now stands at 1.78, which is reason to be excited -- even here, where the Orioles are kings.

"You want to pitch well, but the bottom line is just getting ready for the season," Maine said. "I think I'm doing a good job doing that."

The stats say so, and the Mets caps do, too. Even some Orioles caps did on this day, paying tribute to the prospect that got away. Maine was among an oversized crop of young Orioles pitchers who broke in with this team, even spending two springs at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. He hasn't forgotten, and neither have the fans.

"When I was here in Baltimore, I still went out there and I competed hard," Maine said. "I think they saw that. My results weren't quite there, but I was a lot younger then. I still went out there and I pitched hard for them."

Had the Orioles known, of course, that Maine would enter the 2008 season with a chance to win 20 games, they certainly wouldn't have included him in a deal to acquire Kris Benson. Mistakes like those are as much a part of baseball history as anything.

So Maine brushed aside those Oriole memories on Monday, focusing instead on his immediate future. He'll pitch once more this spring -- likely not in a Grapefruit League game -- before opening the second series of the regular season in Atlanta.

Despite all of Maine's success, this is still his first experience with a veteran's confidence. Knowing all spring that he would be a member of the Mets rotation, Maine has been able to focus all his energy on pitching -- and nothing else. That Maine has outpitched Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez is no coincidence, and an awfully nice bonus. He and the Mets would be content with far less.

"I just want 200 innings," Maine said. "That's the only thing I want. Getting 200 innings is the biggest thing for me.

"And the playoffs, obviously."

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

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