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Milledge Leaving A Lasting(s) Impression On The Mets
NEW YORK — Make no mistake, outfielder Lastings Milledge will be a big part of the future of the New York Mets franchise. However after right fielder Xavier Nady was sidelined with an emergency appendectomy last week, the future quickly became the present.
And, as does every athlete in the Big Apple, the 21-year-old phenom has seen all his actions — bad, good, and in between — undergo major scrutiny. Through it all, the 6-foot-1, 187-pounder from Florida is still feeling his way around.
“Each at-bat and each game, I’ve gotten more and more relaxed,” said Milledge, who had been 1-for-11 entering Sunday’s game against the San Francisco Giants.
After scoring the winning run in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, Milledge gave the New York fans a brief glimpse of why he was drafted 12th overall in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft during Sunday’s 12-inning loss to the Giants.
With the game tied at 1-1, Milledge picked up his first Major League RBIs when he hit a two-out, two-run double in the sixth inning off Giants starter Matt Morris to give the Mets a 3-1 lead.
In the ninth with game tied again, now at 4-4, he flashed his leather. Showing his speed, Milledge sprinted full speed to track down a pop flare by pinch hitter Todd Greene, making a sliding catch right in front of the fans along the right field line.
San Francisco would take a 6-4 lead in the top of the 10th, but as been their calling card all season, the Mets would rally to tie the game. Again, Milledge was right in the middle of it.
With one out in the bottom of the 10th, Jose Valentin hit a solo home run off former Met closer Armando Benitez to make it 6-5. After another out, Millidge came up with the game on the line.
Down to his last strike, Milledge turned on a 1-2 fastball and drove the pitch from Benitez 390 feet and over the left field wall. The rookie’s first career home run tied the game, 6-6, and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
“When I first hit it, I wasn’t thinking that hey, this was my first home run,” said Milledge. “I was more excited to get the team back in the game. It was just a good feeling to get us back in it after Jose’s (Valentin) homer.”
“I was looking away, but he came in with a fastball and I just reacted. They were getting me out on away pitches all during the series. I was just glad to hit a real good pitch.”
In his exuberance following the homer, the rookie ruffled some feathers on both sides when he went back to field his position in the 11th. Milledge jogged along the same right-field line where he had earlier made his catch and slapped hands with every fan along the railing.
To no ones surprise, the some of the senior members of the New York media were aghast at such behavior. Milledge defended his actions by saying “By no means was I trying show anybody up.”
“I just wanted the fans to know that I appreciated them and let them know that they’re the reason why I’m here. I wanted to share the experience of my first homer with them. It was just a rookie mistake.”
Met manager Willie Randolph gave Milledge a firm “talking to” following the incident. “I had a little conversation with him (about the celebration with the fans),” Randolph said. “He got a little carried away and I told him, ‘Everybody will know your name soon enough.’ It won’t happen again.”
However, with veteran players like Julio Franco and Cliff Floyd on the roster, it’s safe to say that it won’t be the last time Milledge will get a “talking to” about major league etiquette.
Floyd, who’s locker is right next to the rookie phenom added that it’s all a part of learning to be a big leaguer. “Even though I heard everything about what to do and not to do, I realized over the years, you can’t be always cluttering someones mind with too much,” said Floyd, the 12-year veteran.
“You gotta let him know when he makes a mistake and you have to help him deal with situations, but you can’t give him too much stuff to process, where his mind is filled with clutter. That’ll just mess him up.”
As the New Yorkers set to embark on an 11-day, 10-game West Coast road trip, Milledge said the main thing he wants to do is stay consistent. “I’m looking forward to going into another park and getting comfortable,” he added.
“I really think it (the road trip) will give me a better chance to relax a little more. It was very disappointing to lose this game. We felt like we should have won this game. But the season is a long grind and we’ll bounce back.”
The education of a phenom continues.