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Notes: Milledge mystery at RFK09/30/2006 8:15 PM ET
By Bryan Hoch / Special to MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- Willie Randolph had just one lament concerning the hand-written message tacked above Lastings Milledge's locker on Friday: He hadn't ripped it down more quickly.
After Friday's game at RFK Stadium, two scraps of paper reading, "Know your place, rook!" were taped above the rookie outfielder's locker, signed, "Your teammates."
Randolph was the one who intervened and yanked the sheets down, but not before their presence was documented. By Saturday, just two pieces of tape and a fragment of paper remained, but the message had left a larger impression.
The note stemmed from a "misunderstanding," as Milledge termed it, with a teammate during the Mets' series in Atlanta.
"It's joking, having fun," Milledge said. "Some people took it the wrong way."
As reporters approached Milledge in the cramped visitor's clubhouse on Saturday, teammate Julio Franco intercepted, waving his arms and questioning the relevance of the note. Milledge initially refused to comment, dressing silently as Franco stated his case in what became an awkward conversation.
"I want you to find out who put it in his locker," Franco said at one point, "and leave Lastings alone."
Milledge eventually acquiesced and met with reporters after batting practice, but only after privately discussing the matter with several people, including Franco and Mets vice president of media relations Jay Horwitz.
"I felt like it shouldn't have went this far," Milledge said.
The incident was the latest in an eventful rookie season for the 21-year-old Milledge, who is batting .244 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 54 games.
Milledge's first Major League home run, a June 4 blast against the San Francisco Giants at Shea Stadium, became national news when the outfielder raced down the right-field line after the inning, slapping hands with fans in the front row.
Several smaller incidents popped up periodically, though Randolph defended Milledge when it was suggested that the outfielder has had a trying rookie season.
"He's a great kid, a good kid," Randolph said. "He works his butt off like everyone else. You're trying to make the kid out to be a bad kid, a problem child. It's wrong."
Milledge has often spoken of his rookie season as a sort of educational experience. Earlier this season, Milledge said he had expected to spend all but September in the Minor Leagues, and considered his time in the Majors to be a bonus.
"You learn what to do, and what not to do, and that's it," Milledge said.
Carlos Delgado, whose locker at RFK Stadium borders Milledge's, said that he did not know of any problems between Milledge and the veteran players on the Mets. Delgado said the hand-written sign was not indicative of a larger problem.
"That's all right," Delgado said. "That sign's been around for 125 years in every Major League clubhouse in the world."
Out of action: On Saturday, the Mets announced they would be without Pedro Martinez for approximately eight months.
Then, just before game time, the team learned they'd be without another starter, Steve Trachsel, for the right-hander's scheduled start on Sunday. Trachsel reported to RFK Stadium with his teammates but left quickly on a California-bound flight due to personal reasons. The Mets expect to announce Sunday's starting pitcher shortly.
While Trachsel will miss what would have been his 31st start on Sunday, the situation could have further-reaching impact on the Mets' postseason. Trachsel will make his to-be-determined start in the Division Series having not pitched since Sept. 24, when he hurled five innings against Washington at Shea Stadium.
More sitting out: Cliff Floyd reported no differences with his left ankle, which received a cortisone shot late last week in New York, though he wasn't expecting to feel improvement so soon. Though he was still questionable for live action, Floyd did warm up the ankle in drills.
Randolph said he expected Floyd to play Sunday, but even if not, considered Floyd a good bet to be active for the Mets' Division Series.
"As long as he feels like he'll be ready Tuesday or Wednesday," Randolph said, "he'll probably make the roster."
Meanwhile, Delgado was in Randolph's original lineup for Saturday's game but was scratched due to what the Mets termed "general overall soreness." Franco made the start at first base, with David Wright moving up to the cleanup spot.
Best wishes: Randolph said he was saddened by the departure of Nationals manager Frank Robinson, who has been informed that he will not return for the 2007 season and, thus, will conclude his duties on Sunday.
"[Robinson] is a solid baseball man and he should be in the game, and hopefully will be," Randolph said. "Hopefully he'll land on his feet."
Another link to the Mets' past: Willie Randolph made his managerial debut last season, replacing Art Howe after the Mets has produced a 71-91 record in 2004. The Mets' record under Randolph last season, 83-79, constituted a 12-game improvement. Their victory in Washington on Friday night improved the club to 95-65, another 12-game improvement.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Randolph is the first manager in big-league history to have his team's record improve by at least 12 games in each of his first two seasons (seasons following strike-shortened seasons are not included).
Gil Hodges is the last veteran manager to accomplish improvements of at least 12 games in two successive seasons. The Mets' record in 1967, the year before he replaced West Westrum, was 61-101. The Mets won 73 games in 1968 and 100 games -- and the World Series -- in 1969. Hodges had managed the Washington Senators from 1963-67.
Coming up: The Mets play the final game of the 2006 regular season on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET in Washington. Oliver Perez (3-13, 6.71) gets the start in place of Trachsel. The southpaw will start opposite right-hander Ramon Ortiz (11-15, 5.32).
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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