NEW YORK -- Jerry Manuel did the right thing when he pulled John Maine, a pitcher forever projecting the body language of defeat. The manager did the right thing when he showed his other 24 Mets he will not allow a noncompetitive player to remain on a major league field.
Maine deserved to be humiliated Thursday night in Washington, and humiliate him Manuel did.
But the odds this righteous act will hurt Manuel's already fragile standing in his clubhouse increased when the manager mocked Maine before Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Yankees. On his way to the disabled list with a weak shoulder and a weaker resolve, Maine swore he burned to pitch so badly he would "throw left-handed" if he had to.
Informed of this claim, Manuel replied: "That's out of the question. But he might have more stuff lefty, I don't know. I might try that."
A good, funny line from a good, funny man.
It will be repeated fairly high in Manuel's Mets obituary, currently being written and edited by a team that opened a huge intramural series with a grand total of one hit off Javy Vazquez, who would've pitched all night if not for the finger he mashed on his bunt attempt gone foul.
"We're definitely better than what we've been," Jason Bay said.
That quote will make the obit, too.
Manuel will make it through this Yankees series, and the Philly series, and then we'll see after that. His bosses say he's not about to be fired.
A lot of bosses have said that about a lot of managers who were, you know, fired.
The Mets are 20-23. They've lost 10 of their past 13 games, and their franchise player (if there's such a thing on a 20-23 team) has devolved into an unruly mess at the plate.
With two outs in the ninth and the tying run at second, David Wright swung at Mariano Rivera's first pitch and grounded out to Robinson Cano. On truth serum Wright would've admitted he was positively thrilled just to make contact.
He struck out swinging against Vazquez in the fifth, and struck out looking against Joba Chamberlain with two on in the seventh, leaving him with 57 whiffs in 42 games. Before he took a third strike way too close to take, Wright sat dead red on a 3-1 Joba fastball and still couldn't beat the pitch to the punch.
The Mets' offense sprayed graffiti all over Hisanori Takahashi's own masterpiece, and the defense had a hand in betraying the cause.
"We flinched," Manuel said. "We made one mistake and it cost us two runs."
Under the Friday night lights, a Mets second baseman made a dreadful mistake for the sake of old times. This time it wasn't Luis Castillo dropping a popup, but Alex Cora throwing away a potential double play and, ultimately, inspiring Kevin Russo's zillion-to-one two-run double.
"They hit that ball 100 times," Cora said, "and I'd throw it to second again. ... I just didn't execute it."
The Mets always lead the league in failed execution, which is why Manuel is destined to meet Willie Randolph's fate. Maybe it will happen a little later than sooner, but it will happen. This isn't a team that looks in the mood to save anyone, never mind a manager who isn't afraid to brush back his own guys.
Manuel benched Jeff Francoeur when Francoeur didn't want to be benched in front of his parents, and he benched Wright when Wright didn't want to be benched against a pitcher he'd owned, Livan Hernandez.
Way back when, Manuel publicly ripped his hitters for appearing "unprepared" against Hernandez, another word heavily favored to make the obit.
On Friday, Manuel called his running disagreement with Maine a "confrontation" and told a little joke at the right-hander's expense. Even as the manager tried to protect Maine in public, painting him as a warrior of "Braveheart" proportions, he conceded he might've used the pitcher to send a message to the rest of his team.
Asked if he was making a five-pitch statement on accountability by wrapping his hook around Maine's waist and dragging him off the stage, Manuel said, "That wasn't the initial thought behind it, but it possibly came into play."
Whatever. The Mets simply aren't skilled enough physically, or strong enough mentally, to keep Manuel employed for the long term.
Manuel? He got Jason Bay and his one homer for a lousy 66 million clams.
"We have better hitters than what we're showing," Bay said. He'd just put some serious lumber on a Rivera pitch in the ninth, ripping the longest double of his life before standing on second base with the same flustered Citi Field expression Wright wore all of last year.
"As I've noticed," Bay said, "you can't take anything for granted at this ballpark."
Except a fed-up crowd.
Manuel found no comfort in that bulletin. He knows he's stuck with Maine and Ollie Perez, and a widening circle of hitters who don't hit.
The game's almost over. Jerry Manuel's been around long enough to know he's a nice guy about to finish last.