Inside Pitch: Standing room only

Doug Mientkiewicz laughed when asked how big this weekend's series between the Yankees and Mets was.

"I played in the World Series, it can't be bigger than that," he said. "I know it's a good rivalry but we had a good rivalry with the White Sox when I was with the Twins."

It's not the World Series. But it's far bigger than Twins-White Sox. Shea Stadium will be standing room only as the Mets face their city rivals. Victor Zambrano starts for the Mets on Friday against Kevin Brown.

The Mets, who have a road trip against Atlanta and Florida next week, can't afford to center all their emotions on the Yankees. But for a rebuilding team trying to establish itself as a contender, playing well against the Yankees would be a boost.

"It's special, no doubt about that," said manager Willie Randolph, who spent 25 seasons with the Yankees as a player, coach and front-office executive. "But I've been in a lot of big games so it's no big deal. It is going to be a little different looking across the diamond at guys I'm so familiar with. But once the game starts I'll be locked-in on getting a win."

The Mets were 4-2 against the Yankees last season, sweeping the three games at Shea. The Mets are 15-7 home this season.

"There will be Yankee fans here but we'll have the crowd with us," third baseman David Wright said. "It should be fun."

NOTES, QUOTES

It was Asian Night on Tuesday at Shea Stadium, a marketing ploy designed to draw a few extra fans to an otherwise nondescript weekday game against the Cincinnati Reds.

The pre-game festivities included costumed musicians and young martial artists punching and kicking in the outfield. Then the two Japanese players on the Mets roster -- left-hander Kazuhisa Ishii and second baseman Kazuo Matsui -- played their roles perfectly.

Ishii threw 6 1/3 strong innings in his return from the disabled list and Matsui hit a game-winning home run in the seventh inning as the Mets beat the Reds 2-1 before a crowd of 28,426.

"I first realized when I went out on the field that it was Asian Night," Ishii said. "It was a good night for all Asians."

"I guess it was good timing," Matsui said, laughing.

With the Mets down 1-0, Doug Mientkiewicz singled to right with one out in the seventh. After David Wright flew out, Matsui homered to right off Ramon Ortiz.

  • C Mike DiFelice played his first game for the Mets, catching the ninth inning. He was called up Monday when Ramon Castro went on the disabled list.

  • RHP Braden Looper, the closer, did not start the ninth inning with the Mets up 2-1 Tuesday. With three left-handers -- Sean Casey, Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn -- due up for the Reds, Dae-Sung Koo was Willie Randolph's choice to close. "I understood it but I was surprised," Looper said. He shouldn't have been. Left-handers were hitting .360 against Looper, .158 against Koo. "I knew right away what I was going to do," Randolph said. "I'm not going to go with the so-called traditional way. I'm going to go with what I feel and what I feel is best for the club. ... I'm not trying to reinvent the game, I'm just going with what I feel." Koo got only one out, however. Looper came in and got the final two outs for his 10th save.

  • OF Mike Cameron was on base 26 times in his first 49 plate appearances since coming off the disabled list.

    RHP Kris Benson said he "lost focus" against the Cubs last week, which led to his giving up a career-worst four home runs. But his focus apparently returned on Monday night.

    Benson threw 7 2/3 strong innings, allowing only two runs, as the Mets beat the Cincinnati Reds 9-2 at Shea Stadium.

    Benson (1-1) struck out eight, walked two and allowed only four hits. He had five 1-2-3 innings and at one point retired 10 in a row.

    "This was a big start for me," Benson said. "I need to get back on the right track."

    Benson also had a single that led to a run being scored as Cincinnati left fielder Adam Dunn misplayed the ball, allowing David Wright to score from second.

    The Mets collected 13 hits off three Reds pitchers. Cliff Floyd homered, his 11th of the season.

  • C Ramon Castro (strained right quad) was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Catcher Mike DiFelice was called up from Class AAA Norfolk. He was hitting .276 with 8 homers and 25 RBI.

  • RHP Scott Strickland has agreed to stay with Class AAA Norfolk for at least one more week while the Mets further evaluate their bullpen. Strickland had the option to declare free agency on Sunday. "We bought ourselves some more time," GM Omar Minaya.

  • OF Victor Diaz was optioned to Class AAA Norfolk on Monday. The Mets would prefer the 23-year-old play every day in the minors rather than play sparingly in the majors. Diaz hit .294 with four homers and 15 RBIs over 28 games. He was starting regularly in right field until Mike Cameron returned from the disabled list.

  • The dynamic duo has been a disappointing dud.

    Shortstop Jose Reyes and second baseman Kazuo Matsui were supposed to be a double-play combination who would also provide offensive spark. The Mets started the season with the two at the top of their batting order. Both are switch hitters with speed; it made perfect sense.

    But with the season nearly 25 percent gone, Reyes was hitting .252 and Matsui was at .224. Matsui had been dropped to No. 8 in the order, and cries were being heard to move Reyes out of the leadoff spot because of his terrible (.280) on-base percentage.

    The two have stolen only eight bases, far fewer than expected.

    Mets manager Willie Randolph has preached patience, reminding critics that Reyes is only 21 ands Matsui is in his second season since coming over from Japan.

    "You have to give guys a chance to get rolling," he said. "I'm not giving up on anybody this quickly. Those guys will hit for me."

    Both players have been too aggressive at the plate, swinging at anything close. That limits RBI opportunities for Carlos Beltran, Cliff Floyd and Mike Piazza. Still, the Mets were 19-19 after losing to St. Louis 4-2 on Sunday.

    "We need those two guys who spark us," Beltran said. "Particularly Jose, we all know how much talent he has."

  • OF Cliff Floyd had a 20-game hitting streak going when manager Willie Randolph gave him a day off on May 5. Floyd is 4-for-33 in the nine games since, dropping his batting average from .391 to .317.

  • RHP Aaron Heilman (3-3) took the loss against the Cardinals on Sunday, giving up four runs in 5 1/3 innings. With LHP Kazuhisa Ishii returning, Heilman could be moved to the bullpen or sent back to the minors. The other candidate for demotion is RHP Victor Zambrano.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Number of runs LHP Tom Glavine has allowed in his last 11 innings.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "These are normal struggles a pitcher goes through. People are accustomed to not seeing me give it up in back-to-back games. But those things happen. I'm human." -- RHP Pedro Martinez on giving up nine earned runs over his last two starts.

    ROSTER REPORT

       ROTATION:
       1. RHP Pedro Martinez
       2. LHP Tom Glavine
       3. RHP Kris Benson
       4. RHP Victor Zambrano
       5. LHP Kaz Ishii
    
       BULLPEN:
       RHP Braden Looper (closer)
       RHP Mike DeJean
       RHP Heath Bell
       LHP Dae-Sung Koo
       RHP Roberto Hernandez
       RHP Manny Aybar
       RHP Aaron Heilman
    
    
       LINEUP:
       1. SS Jose Reyes
       2. 2B Kazuo Matsui
       3. CF Carlos Beltran
       4. C Mike Piazza
       5. LF Cliff Floyd
       6. RF Mike Cameron
       7. 1B Doug Mientkiewicz
       8. 3B David Wright
    
       RESERVES:
       C Mike DiFelice
       INF Miguel Cairo
       INF Chris Woodward
       INF/OF Marlon Anderson
       OF Eric Valent

    MEDICAL WATCH:
    May 17: C Ramon Castro, strained right quadriceps, 15-day DL.
    April 19: LHP Felix Heredia, strained left thumb, 15-day DL.
    RHP Steve Trachsel underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back on March 19 and will miss at least three months.
    RHP Tyler Yates, who showed promise as a reliever, was lost for the season when he had shoulder surgery in February.


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