Lastings impressions made
Pedro Martínez points the finger at Jose Reyes after the Mets shortstop failed to cover third base on a comebacker to the pitcher with runners on first and second in the first inning. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)
The place: The visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park. The time: About 10:45 last night, about 45 minutes after the Sox-Mets game had ended. The situation: Lastings Milledge, chomping on a piece of chicken, reporters awkwardly waiting for him to finish his dinner to commence a single-themed line of questioning.
Milledge, on Tuesday, lost a bead on a ball hit to him in left field feet shy of the Monster, attempted to turn back at the last moment, and corkscrewed himself into the ground. The ball landed on the warning track for a two-run double. Last night, in the first inning, with the Sox ahead, 2-0, with two outs and two on, Mike Lowell lofted a ball to nearly the same spot. This time, Milledge settled under it, only to watch it pop out of his glove for a two-run error that doubled the Sox lead to 4-0 in a 10-2 win. The line of questioning: painful.
Reporter A: ``What happened?"
Milledge: ``What you see, I dropped it. That's it."
Reporter B: ``That Wall must be a major difference . . ."
Milledge: ``I mean, I was right under it, but I just dropped it."
Reporter C: ``Was it the wind, like the night before?"
Milledge: ``A little bit. I was under it. I looked a whole lot better than [Tuesday] night. But I just didn't come up with the catch again."
Reporter D (just arriving at the scene of the interview): ``What was it? Wind? Lights?"
Milledge: ``Nah, I was under it. I was right under it. I just missed it."
Reporter E: ``Were you feeling the Wall there?"
Milledge: ``Yeah, I knew where the Wall was. I didn't come up with the catch. I don't know what else you want me to say."
He laughed and added, ``I looked horrible on it."
This, it seems, was just another evening in the evolving education of the young and superbly talented outfielder. But the missteps, literally and figuratively, seem to be building for Milledge, who's played in just 24 games but has made headlines for the wrong reasons on a handful of occasions.
Two such occasions occurred the last two nights in the Monster's menacing shadow.
On June 15, Milledge rolled into the Mets clubhouse at 11:55 a.m., with a game scheduled for 1:05 p.m. First base coach Sandy Alomar pulled him aside. Later, Alomar told reporters, ``I just gave him a lot of advice about what this life is all about. One of the things that I just told him was that he has to learn, because he doesn't want anybody just to pin a label on him."
Milledge, for the record, explained his tardiness by saying it takes less time to get ready for day games than night games.
That came a day after he was thrown out at home attempting to score from first on Julio Franco's double to the gap. Mets manager Willie Randolph said he thought Milledge was ``spectating" on the play and had a talk with him.
The most memorable moment of his young career, though, is the one that garnered the most debate: Were his actions appropriate or were they not? On June 4, Milledge hit a game-tying homer in the 10th inning at Shea Stadium off Armando Benitez. It also was the first home run of his big-league career. On his way back out to play right field he high-fived some fans in the stands along the baseline.
Randolph, who wasn't impressed, said that day, ``It will not happen again."
Milledge also looked lost on a second-inning ball hit to left center by Kevin Youkilis last night. Center fielder Carlos Beltran said he was shifted toward right center and didn't call for the ball because he didn't think he could make it.
``As soon as the ball was hit I was looking at him," Beltran said. ``And he was going around."
Translation: Milledge was not running in a straight line. So Beltran took off, running and diving. He made the catch but deliberately got up slowly and appeared displeased.
That won't be a concern for much longer. Cliff Floyd, on the DL with a sprained left ankle, could be ready in time for the weekend series at Yankee Stadium. If so, it's likely Milledge will be headed back to Binghamton (N.Y.) to keep learning.
Has this all been a bit much?
``It's cool," Milledge said. ``Everything's fine. I've just got to learn. That's what you're here for. All the great players have got to figure it out. You don't get born with it, with the exception of David Wright and Jeff Francoeur and those guys. All the big-time guys struggle. Just gotta learn man. I'm only 21 man. I've got a lot to learn and a lot ahead of me."