Down goes Piazza: 4th to 5th, now 6th

NL notebook

Baseball Week


A 36-year-old likely Hall of Famer was dropped to sixth in the lineup last week, and this time it had nothing to do with the Orioles.

Like Sammy Sosa earlier this season, New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza said he wasn't bothered by the move, which has been called temporary.

"It's fine," Piazza said. "It is what it is. For me, the bottom line is the team. If we can get above .500 and make a little bit of a surge, that's what's important to me."

Piazza, who was hitting .259 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs in his first 80 games, hadn't batted lower than fifth since May 12, 1993, his first full big league season.

He began the season batting in his customary cleanup spot, but swapped positions with outfielder Cliff Floyd. On Tuesday he moved down one to make room for 22-year-old third baseman David Wright, who had 14 homers and 49 RBIs in 93 games.

In Piazza's first two games in the sixth spot, he had four hits in seven at-bats, including a home run. The Mets won both games.

New York manager Willie Randolph told reporters he thought it was a non-story.

"He's on my team. He's in the lineup. He's playing. Instead of hitting fifth, he's hitting sixth ... " Randolph said. "This is a waste of time to talk about."

Still, there is the pride factor involved for a guy who has been in the middle of his team's offense for a dozen years.

"I'm very aware of where I am. Aside from the [batting] average, the numbers aren't that bad," Piazza said. "I'm trying to be as objective as I can be. I'm doing the best that I can."

They're people, too

With names being tossed around haphazardly before the waiver trade deadline, it's easy to forget that these are real people being shopped. Orioles outfielder Larry Bigbie admits trade rumors are on his mind, and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Ricky Ledee said he nearly quit baseball last July when he was traded from the Philadelphia Phillies to the San Francisco Giants.

Ledee was at an airport waiting for a flight to California, when the gate next to him began boarding for Puerto Rico, his home country. Ledee, a 31-year-old pinch-hitting specialist who had been traded twice before, said a phone call to a friend persuaded him not to exchange his ticket and leave the country.

"I was so sad that I wanted to go back home," said Ledee, who acknowledges that his sadness contributed to a .113 average in 31 games for the Giants. He signed with the Dodgers during the offseason and has rebounded with a .287 average.

Quick hits

Struggling Dodgers closer Yhency Brazoban is keeping his role for now because the team has no better or more seasoned alternatives. ... The Washington Nationals' Livan Hernandez said Wednesday that he was "99.9 percent" sure he was going to get season-ending knee surgery. On Thursday, he said he would pitch the rest of the season in pain. Would have been a nice payoff in Vegas if you had gone with the 0.1 percent chance. ... The combined ERA of the St. Louis Cardinals' five starters dipped below 3.50 last week, the rotation's best mark since 1989.

League notebooks are compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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