Yates Primed for First Victory

Tyler Yates was everything the Mets could have hoped for in his major-league debut, holding the Montreal Expos to just five hits over six scoreless innings on April 9. <P> What can he do for an encore? Yates will be gunning to wrap up his first big-league victory.

Yates, a hard-throwing righthander, lends the Mets a dimension in their starting rotation that's been absent for some time. That quality will get a great litmus test tonight, as the 26-year-old takes to the rubber at home against the Atlanta Braves.

Yates admitted to having been disappointed with the turnout for his first start, which drew only a paid crowd of 14,739 at San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

The poor attendance might have partially had to do with the Good Friday holiday, or, as Yates surmised, "maybe they're just not into the Mets (there)."

After watching the Mets pound Braves starter Mike Hampton on Monday, experiencing what an enthusiastic packed house at Shea Stadium can sound like, Yates is looking forward to seeing a New York style greeting of his own.

No matter what the falloff in attendance from the home opener, it figures to be the largest crowd Yates has ever thrown in. He said his all-time high was a crowd of about 16,000, pitching in a Double-A All-Star Game, and the Mets would certainly figure to be able to draw at least that many for their second home game of the year.

Mets fans probably won't head to Shea in droves to catch New York's new pitching talent, at least on this night, but that day could very well come soon.

There was a reason that GM Jim Duquette has been so high on Yates since last season, repeatedly offering up the pitcher as a candidate for both the club's rotation and the bullpen – he carries himself with the maturity of a veteran big-leaguer, while showcasing a fastball with some serious giddy-up.

"He's going to be one of those guys who gets a lot of K's because he's a strikeout pitcher," said Jason Phillips.

But, taking a line from Ralph Kiner, Phillips was quick to caution: "These are big league hitters. They drive Mercedes too."

With his mind on Atlanta, Yates said Monday that he had a lot of adrenaline flowing through his system, although it didn't curtail his sightseeing efforts. Yates' mother, father, uncle and girlfriend will be in attendance for tonight's start, and the pitcher took advantage of the Mets' off day yesterday by heading to Ground Zero and Times Square in the morning.

Should Yates be able to defeat Atlanta tonight, he said that he and his family members would head back into Manhattan and find a place to celebrate – "No fancy clubs, just some hole in the wall (bar)," he said – but cautioned that he wasn't about to pop the champagne just yet. In fact, in true veteran fashion, Yates actually tried to keep it all in perspective.

"It's just another ballgame," he said, almost trying to convince himself as much as the crowd of reporters he was addressing.

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