New York Mets starting pitcher John Maine leaves the game...

New York Mets starting pitcher John Maine leaves the game during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals. (May 20, 2010) Credit: AP

Elmer Dessens arrived at Citi Field in the "fourth or fifth inning," the righthander said, and he barely had time to change before he received his first major-league assignment of the season: a scoreless tie in the seventh inning against the Yankees in the Subway Series opener.

With some help from the overpaid Alex Cora, Dessens wound up the losing pitcher in the Mets' 2-1 loss to the Yankees, as West Babylon native Kevin Russo delivered his first big-league highlight. The decision-making didn't reflect well upon Jerry Manuel, who very well might be in the home stretch of his Mets managerial reign.

Even more so, however, this game spoke to the shortcomings of Omar Minaya and his lieutenants.

It was Minaya who decided last winter to tender a contract to John Maine when the Mets could've simply washed their hands of the enigmatic right-hander for no cost.

It was Maine who took the mound Thursday night at Nationals Park and, continuing a pattern of oddness that earned him the "enigmatic" handle, threw five batting practice-caliber pitches to Nyjer Morgan.

It was Manuel who rightly pulled Maine at that point - a necessary move, but one that burned the bullpen to the point that Dessens became the man at this crucial moment Friday.

We'd cut Minaya some slack; after all, he signed Friday night's starter, Hisanori Takahashi, who befuddled the Yankees for six innings with his blend of off-speed stuff and looks like a much-needed boost to the starting rotation. Takahashi earns an A-plus for his work this season.

Except roster depth has been a recurring theme for the Mets since 2007, and it seems once again to be a crippling flaw.

It's apparent that the Wilpons committed to the four-year, $66-million deal for Jason Bay last December and otherwise drew a hard line on the free-agent market. Yet the Wilpons certainly didn't tell Minaya to bring back Maine for $3.3 million.

To commit to Maine as a definite member of the starting rotation, given how poorly Maine's 2008 and 2009 seasons went, belied common sense. It shouldn't shock you that not only is Maine on the disabled list but that he arrived there in the most tense, awkward fashion imaginable.

Fast-forward to Friday. With Jenrry Mejia and Raul Valdes out of commission because of their Thursday workload, and with Manny Acosta and Pedro Feliciano compromised from also pitching Thursday, Manuel turned to Dessens, who took Maine's place on the roster.

"I thought Dessens was a guy who could get us over the bridge, so to speak," Manuel said.

Dessens might have done so if not for Cora, who gets paid $2 million for his leadership skills.

With Nick Swisher on first base and none out, Francisco Cervelli tapped a soft bouncer to Cora at second base. The usually sure-handed Cora, trying to get the lead runner, threw wide to Jose Reyes, and the runners wound up on second and third.

"If they hit that ball to me 100 more times, I won't throw it to second," a contrite Cora said. "I'll take the out."

Russo, making his first major-league start, then stroked a hanging slider for a two-run double to rightfield, and the Yankees had a 2-0 lead.

And . . . that was about it. The futile Mets offense couldn't deliver.

Can't blame the Mets' front office for the continued struggles of Reyes and David Wright. Yet certainly we can wonder why Jeff Francoeur came back for a $5-million salary.

These Mets, with more than $10 million committed to Francoeur, Maine and Cora, are in jeopardy of becoming just as irrelevant as their immediate predecessors. They just don't appear to have the horses.