With the news that John Maine (above) will take El Duque’s spot on the mound for the Mets against the Dodgers later today, Newsday’s Wally Matthews can barely contain his glee at the Amazins’ difficulty finding a suitable starter for their first playoff game in 6 years.

This is what happens when you hire old men to do young men’s jobs.

The injury to Hernandez, following closely on the heels of the rotator-cuff injury that ended Pedro Martinez’s season and perhaps his Mets career, has the feel of a crushing bill finally coming due.You can curse the fates if you like for what will today be presented as a most sudden and unfortunate turn of events, but, just like the aging process, this did not happen overnight, nor did it happen by accident.

It happened because, in cooking up their $100-million roster, the Mets somehow left out the pitching.

General manager Omar Minaya has been rightfully praised for buying the Mets an American League lineup. Nobody liked to mention that he also bought them a Senior League rotation.

In building this team, the Mets ignored a century of baseball history and 45 years of their own. Shea Stadium is, has, and always will be a pitcher’s park, and the groundbreaking for every successful Mets team has started on the mound, not in the batter’s box. And playoff baseball is a showcase for the arms, not the bars. You need look no further than yesterday’s curtain-raiser, won, 3-2, by the Athletics behind Barry Zito to be reminded of that.

Minaya’s Mets were designed to win a ton of regular-season games, and they did. But clearly, they weren’t built for October, not with a lineup of starters who are aging and infirm.

All season long, the Mets have played Russian Roulette with their starting pitchers. The fact that they hit as well as they did, that they ran as well as they did and that they manufactured as many runs as they did obscured the fact that the pitching was running on Geritol.

Jerry Koosman will be tossing the ceremonial first pitch today at Shea. Adds Metsblog’s Matthew Cerrone, neatly on cue, “the obvious question: is there any chance he can stay out there for a few innings?”

In addition to having a terrific 2nd half as Mets closer, Billy Wagner has shown he’s just as capable of putting his name on a shitty ghostwritten column as Jeremy Shockey.

Am I excited to be in New York on a winner? Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?

Yikes. Country Time really ought to tell whoever’s writing this stuff to cool it on the “Hee Haw” vibes and get down to brass tacks — what’s up with Lasting Milledge’s attitude, how Pat Burrell can eat shit and die, etc. The stuff we’re all dying to read.