Shea suits Heilman fine

NEW YORK – Two home starts down, and Aaron Heilman has allowed a grand total of one run and three hits. If only the Mets could start him at Shea Stadium every time around, they'd be in business. <P> Heilman was a winner for the second consecutive Queens start on Monday, holding the Atlanta Braves to a run on three hits for seven innings, en route to a 5-4 victory.

The five strikeout outing, coupled with last week's one-hit shutout of the Florida Marlins, shaved the righthander's Shea 2005 ERA to a miniscule 0.56.

"He's pitched here before," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "Maybe it's that. Maybe he's comfortable here, I'm not sure. In your mind, you don't put a finger on it, you just ride it. I like what I see."

Heilman isn't worried about the reasons behind his recent success in front of home crowds. After an up-and-down professional career that saw him come into 2005 with a 6.36 career ERA – to say nothing of the seven-run pounding he took last Wednesday in Miami – Heilman is plenty happy just to see zeroes piling up on the scoreboard.

"I don't know if it has anything to do with Shea," Heilman said. "I've had games where I've struggled and got away from my game, and then had the big inning. That's been the key; just keeping the ball down and changing speeds."

"He's just continuing to work to get better every time he's out there," catcher Mike Piazza said. "His attitude's great. He's not letting a bad outing get him down."

For hours before Monday's game, Heilman paced the Mets clubhouse in a T-shirt and shorts, going over video footage and printed scouting reports on Braves hitters – the same studious demeanor Heilman must have had as a scholar at Notre Dame.

The results of the cram session speak for themselves: the same Braves club that rapped Heilman for eight hits and five runs on April 9 at Atlanta was put out of commission for most of the night.

"You look for tendencies, anything that's going to give you an advantage," Heilman said. "I feel like I'm getting to the point where I'm able to repeat things now. It's just a matter of getting my game plan and executing pitches, and staying aggressive."

Suddenly, a Mets club that appeared to have no use at all for Heilman just three weeks ago is counting on the right-hander, big time. Injuries to Steve Trachsel and Kaz Ishii played a part in that, naturally, but Heilman has stepped up in two of his four starts this year.

He will draw the Marlins in Miami again next time out, and if Heilman passes that test as he did Monday night's exam, he may force the Mets to keep him in the starting five for the foreseeable future.

"I'd like to think it doesn't go unnoticed," Heilman said. "All I can do is go out and pitch my best and try to give the team a chance to win."

"This was an opportunity that he really didn't have in the spring," Randolph said. "I think he's going to take advantage of it."


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