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Reese has a big fan in McKeon

JUPITER, Fla. -- Jack McKeon, 73 years young and in line to receive an enormous World Series ring that is setting a new standard for athletic bling, stood in front of the Florida Marlins' dugout yesterday and gestured at the day's shortstop for the Red Sox.

"There's my man," McKeon said.

As if on cue, Pokey Reese looked over and smiled.

"He's my man," Reese said after the Red Sox' 4-0 exhibition loss to the Marlins yesterday at Roger Dean Stadium. "He gave me an opportunity to play every day. He lets the players play, and the coaches coach."

When the Marlins were concerned they might lose second baseman Luis Castillo to free agency, McKeon told general manager Larry Beinfest he should go after Reese, who played for McKeon in Cincinnati from 1997-2000. Castillo elected to stay with the Marlins, and the Red Sox should realize their good fortune in signing Reese as a free agent, McKeon said.

Better with Reese? "Oh, you bet," McKeon said. "Are you kidding? Don't worry about what he hits. If he hits .260, that's good. He'll save you 45 or 50 runs a year. If he knocks in 35 runs, tack them on and say he knocked in 85.

"Pokey and the kid I've got [Castillo] and Robbie Alomar, they're the three best I've ever been around and the best I've ever had. He plays second base like he's a short fielder in softball. He'll catch everything hit to right field and center field. Your right fielder can play with his back to the wall in right and Pokey will catch it."

How about Jorge Posada's blooper to center in Game 7 of last season's ALCS, the one that fell for a two-run double and tied the score against Pedro Martinez? Does Reese get to it?

"No question," McKeon said. "If you line him up at shortstop, he'll be the best you ever had at the position. Same at second and third. He's a Gold Glove second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman. I'm not saying anything about his bat, but he's a Gold Glover.

"If you get [Nomar] Garciaparra back at short, those two are going to save you a lot of runs."

Reese is expected to play second base for the Sox, but with Garciaparra ailing, Reese played short yesterday and in the first inning gave a sample of what McKeon was describing by barehanding the swift Castillo's chopper and throwing him out.

"Plus he makes the double play," McKeon said, "because he's got such a great arm. He's got a gun. He may not hit, but you win championships with pitching and defense."

Hope on Garciaparra A hopeful sign regarding Garciaparra and his troublesome right Achilles' tendon: Physical therapist Chris Correnti called manager Terry Francona from Fort Myers and reported Garciaparra had a good day working out yesterday, and depending on how he feels when he shows up at the ballpark this morning, Francona said Garciaparra may have some at-bats in a minor league game this afternoon. The shortstop won't do any running, Francona said, but if he feels OK, he'll do some DHing. Garciaparra remains a long shot to be ready for Opening Day, but Francona said he may hold off on making final roster cuts until this weekend in Atlanta when Garciaparra's status is clarified . . . Third baseman Bill Mueller, who aggravated his hyperextended elbow while swinging a leaded bat one-handed in the on-deck circle against the Yankees last Wednesday night, probably will get some at-bats tomorrow in a minor league game, Francona said, adding he has no doubts Mueller will be ready for Sunday night's opener . . . Byung Hyun Kim is expected to do some long-tossing today and may throw off a mound by Thursday, Francona said . . . David McCarty extended his spring hitting streak to eight games with a second-inning single off Marlins starter Brad Penny. McCarty also had an infield hit in the fourth and is batting .550 (11 for 20) during his streak . . . Of the five lefthanded relievers to make the trip, only Alan Embree (three hits and a run in an inning) pitched. Francona said he hopes to get some work for the other lefties this afternoon at City of Palms Park against the Orioles. Tim Wakefield is the scheduled starter, and Francona said he plans to have Mike Timlin finish an inning . . . So, if McKeon hadn't come out of retirement last season and managed the Marlins to a World Series title at age 72, where might he have wound up? Would you believe Lynn? McKeon said that before John Kennedy was hired to manage the independent North Shore Spirit in the Northeast League, he was asked if he'd be interested in the job. "I knew the general manager when he was in Burlington, N.C.," McKeon said. "He asked me about the job, and I said, `No, I'm not ready for that yet. Maybe in a couple of years.' "

Sounds like a plan Francona said the Braves are amenable to having both clubs use a DH for exhibitions in Atlanta Friday night and Saturday afternoon, and he expects major league baseball will sign off on the plan . . . Former Red Sox outfielder Wil Cordero doubled off Embree and scored the Marlins' run in the eighth . . . Francona renewed acquaintances with Marlins broadcaster Tommy Hutton, a teammate on the Montreal Expos. Francona said in September 1981, he took Hutton's spot on the roster and went to the playoffs with the Expos. "It was Terry and a righthanded hitter named Bob Pate," Hutton said. "Not many people get released in September; those two guys they kept for the playoffs. The best part about it, I got released on a Sunday and [GM] John McHale knew I was interested in broadcasting, and I worked a game on the radio on Wednesday." Twenty-three years later, Hutton is still broadcasting. "We just always got along, because we were similar type players," Hutton said of Francona. "I actually was working the game on the radio the night he got hurt in St. Louis. Chasing down a fly ball, he went into the wall and tore up his knee. Maybe there was a connection between us, because as a kid I had a Tito Francona baseball card, because he was a lefthanded hitter. [Terry and I] were similar. We both had fun and we played hard. He should be a great players' manager. If you can't play for Terry, you can't play anywhere." . . . Mike Port, who interviewed two weeks ago for an assistant GM spot with the Mets and Jim Duquette, remains on hold.

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