Clubhouse Confidential: Lastings' lesson

PHILADELPHIA – In just his third week as a major leaguer, Lastings Milledge has flashed plenty of talent, created his share of excitement and soundly displayed the five tools that allowed him to easily ascend the Mets' minor league ladder.

But Milledge has left no doubt that he is still learning at this level.

The latest instance of that message came in Wednesday's 9-3 laugher at Citizens Bank Park when Milledge was thrown out at home plate on Julio Franco's seventh-inning double to right-center, drawing criticism from Mets manager Willie Randolph in the dugout during the game.

Though Franco's pinch-hit double plated one run and Milledge's run ultimately would not have mattered in the final outcome of the game, Randolph said he believed Milledge was "spectating there a bit" on the two-out play.

"I just thought that he should've scored on that ball to right-center field," Randolph said. "You've got to put your head down and run. There's two outs and you don't want to be a spectator there."

Discussing the play after the game, Milledge lowered his eyes and appeared embarrassed by the attention, especially given the festive atmosphere of the Mets locker room surrounding him.

The Mets' winning streak reached seven with Wednesday's victory, but still Milledge was the center of attention for what could only have a negative connotation.

The demeanor was similar to Milledge's reactions during the Mets' recent homestand, when Milledge was told he could not wear a large wooden cross over his uniform, then was lambasted by some for slapping hands with fans after his first major league home run.

"I got thrown out," Milledge said, softly explaining Wednesday's play. "I peeked into right [field] and I guess it slowed me down a little bit. I actually peeked twice. I peeked when it fell, and I peeked in again when it came to the cutoff guy. It slowed me down as I came home."

Asked if he was disappointed in Milledge's play, Randolph said the fuss was more about Milledge being a young player, with the manager trying to teach points on playing the game at the major league level. He said Thursday that he had asked Milledge, "Did you learn anything from that?"

"He knows I like him a lot," said Randolph, who later lumped Milledge in with young franchise cornerstones Jose Reyes and David Wright. "I'm in his corner. I feel like he's going to be a big part of what we're going to do here."

Milledge said, indeed, he could consider this another lesson learned.

"Peeking in slows you down," Milledge said. "So I guess I won't peek in no more."

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Randolph noted before Wednesday's game that, even with Milledge's impressive performances to date at the big league level, he likely has not seen the last of Harbor Park and his old Norfolk Tides uniform.

Xavier Nady, rehabilitating from his appendectomy three weeks ago, went 4-for-6 in an extended spring training game Wednesday and will be challenged at Triple-A this week. That could possibly put him in line to re-join the Mets during their upcoming homestand at Shea Stadium.

Randolph said he doesn't anticipate carrying Milledge even with games at American League parks on deck. Those precious few designated hitter assignments are likely to go to Carlos Delgado or Julio Franco, Randolph said.

* * *

Mike Pelfrey's pitching lines are announced by the Mets in the major league press box every five days, the only minor league pitcher to have such an act performed on his behalf this season.

Lately, the information relays have been sounding better and better for the Mets, who obviously recognize the great deal of interest being placed upon the 6-foot-7 right-hander.

Pelfrey struck out eight New Britain Rock Cats Wednesday at Binghamton's NYSEG Stadium, earning his second consecutive victory for the Mets' Double-A affiliate. Pelfrey is 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA in nine Eastern League starts this season, having allowed 49 hits in 47.1 innings, striking out 55 and walking 18.

But though Pelfrey's numbers are steadily improving and his starts are gaining consistency, the Mets are no longer salivating for him to prove his worth at the minor league level, rushing to the major leagues.

In announcing trades on back-to-back days that brought Orlando Hernandez and Triple-A left-hander Dave Williams last month, GM Omar Minaya strongly hinted the moves helped Pelfrey as much as anybody, saying that the deals would allow the Mets to not "have to rush our young kids" to make major league starts.

Evan MacLane (6-0, 2.11 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk) is also strongly stating his case for a chance, with some speculating that he could be the Mets' version of the Washington Nationals Mike O'Connor.

* * *

The streaking Mets are 8-1 on their 10-game road trip, but it hasn't been without a little help.

The Phillies in particular have played the first two games of this series like a club in no shape, way or form resembling a divisional challenger, committing six errors in the 18 innings and falling behind the contests early.

Randolph said he had heard the Phillies mentioning this kind of play was uncharacteristic of their season, but also noted he had little sympathy for Philadelphia's fielding woes.

"I don't care about that," Randolph said. "If they want to kick the ball around, that's fine by me."

Eyeing a series sweep on Thursday behind Steve Trachsel, it's safe to say the Mets won't continue to flat-out destroy opponents for the rest of the season, but that hasn't made this trip any less enjoyable for New York.

They've outscored the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Phillies by a combined score of 73-35 on this trip. The Mets also lead second-place Philadelphia by 8 ½ games entering play Thursday, by far the biggest lead of any major league club, but still maintain that it's a bit too early for scoreboard-watching.

"I don't get caught up with standings and the leads," Carlos Delgado said Wednesday. "I believe in playing good one game at a time, one series at a time. It's June 14. There's a lot of baseball left. We need to worry about our game and come out and play good baseball, instead of saying, 'We're this [many] games up. We're this [many] games down.' We'll play one game at a time, and then I guess at the end, we'll scoreboard watch."

* * *

Short Hops…

  • Randolph lifted Hernandez after Wednesday's rain delay, later saying that he remembered an adverse effect 'El Duque' suffered when coming back after a lengthy layoff during his time with the Yankees. Asked about the incident Wednesday, Hernandez flatly declined, insisting he would only answer questions about that night's performance. …

  • The World Cup is a hit in the Mets' clubhouse. Carlos Beltran, Hernandez, Eli Marrero and Alay Soler all watched the Poland-Germany match closely, but Jose Valentin was by far the most excited spectator, screaming loudly as Germany's Oliver Neuville squeaked a game-winning goal in the 90th minute of play …

  • But others are more interested in other sports spanning the globe. Tom Glavine was transfixed by Thursday's U.S. Open action from Westchester, N.Y., rooting for Phil Mickelson – one lefty pulling for another -- while Cliff Floyd is planting his hopes with his beloved Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. "Maybe I'll be an NBA coach in a couple of years," Floyd said. "I do know how to run the zone defense."

    Bryan Hoch can be contacted at metsinsidepitch@aol.com.


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