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Catching up with Piazza

Frustrating season calls for reflection

Mike Piazza has amassed Hall of Fame numbers: a .308 career average, 424 homers (including a record 399 as a catcher), 1,324 RBIs, a .377 on-base percentage. But he has had a trying year with the Oakland A's, missing 10 weeks with a sprained right shoulder that has relegated him to DHing.

Having passed through waivers, Piazza could be dealt before the playoff-roster deadline (Aug. 31). The Angels have expressed the most interest.

Here are a few questions for Piazza, who turns 39 a week from Tuesday:

How frustrating has this season been for you?

MP: "It's been a little frustrating, obviously, getting hurt. At this point in my career, I'm definitely an optimist. I just haven't been able to come along throwing-wise. I was hoping to get back behind the plate. I was very receptive to catching some and DHing some, but then once I wasn't able to do it physically, it was frustrating because I really wanted to catch. When I got back from the injury [July 20], they were very willing to accommodate my personal situation, put Jack [Cust] in the outfield a little bit. The injury bug on this team this year is like nothing I've ever seen before."

Would you like to be traded into a pennant race?

MP: "I've always considered myself a good soldier. Back when it was being discussed at the deadline, I've never been one to rock the boat either way. If they want me to finish here, I'll do it. If they wanted to trade me, I would have listened and been as accommodating as possible. We never really discussed it, so I never really brought it up. I didn't come here to expect to be traded. I thought about being here the whole year."

In a perfect world, how much would you have DH'd and caught?

MP: "It would be based, I think, on how it flowed with the team. We had this unique situation in San Diego last year where we had this -- the announcers joked about it -- a three-headed monster. Catching-wise, we led the major leagues in average, home runs, and RBIs as a trio. 'The Three Stooges' I called us. Had I been 100 percent physically, it would have been interesting to catch 50 games or so, but that obviously wasn't in the cards. I'm just going to try to finish the year rehabbing and getting as healthy as possible and take it into the offseason and see what comes up in the offseason."

Have you thought about next year at all?

MP: "I don't feel at this point in my career I'm going to make a decision this soon. I just hope to finish strong, healthy, and see if there's any option next year. My wife and I have a baby now, seven months old, so that's something I need to consider. There's potential off-the-field stuff. I've dabbled in some broadcasting and I've gotten some pretty good objective reviews. When you're a catcher, I think you have a unique perspective that some other players don't have. I love guys like Rex Hudler and guys who have fun broadcasting. Jerry Remy is another one who has a lot of fun."

You know what I'm going to ask. You and Roger Clemens. Hitting you in the head in 2000. Throwing the splintered bat at you in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series. Did you guys ever patch that up?

MP: "We're just different people, I guess. I don't carry a resentment or anything like that. Someone made a comment to me the other day in Canada that, 'With all your accomplishments, you're going to be remembered for that.' Are you that shallow that you only remember me for that? If that's true, then you're too stupid and I can't help you. I don't look back in any sort of regret. He's who he is, I am who I am, we're two different people, but we're both very competitive and strong-willed. He does his own thing and he's had a very successful career. I'm sure we can coexist in the future in some way, shape, or form."

What would enshrinement into the Hall of Fame mean to you?

MP: "I've been up there in Cooperstown a couple of times, and just talking to the people . . . it's so much more than just a personal thing. It's a fraternity thing, which in this game is pretty unique. Being able to associate with the greats of the game, the reminiscing . . . Being enshrined is a tremendous honor, but from a personal perspective, it's going to be fun to just go to the events and hang out with the greatest players, and if I make it, feel like, 'Wow, you were one of the best.' "

Any regrets about anything?

MP: "That's a good question. I really don't. I've had a unique career. Getting traded from LA to Florida when Fox bought the Dodgers and that contemptuous sort of [contract] standoff we had was tough. Looking back, it built a lot of character for me. Your life sometimes is like muddy water and you have to wait for things to settle so you can see clear. Looking back, I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. I remember Jim Leyland took me into his office and he said, 'Let me tell you. You're going through a tough time now but you're going to get paid. You earned it. You worked hard for it. It's obviously not going to be here. Just keep yourself in shape. We're going to get you somewhere where you need to go.' That was an experience I wouldn't trade in."

Feel you can still hit at a high level?

MP: "Yeah, I do [Note: after our interview, Piazza went 4 for 5 with two doubles and a home run vs. Tampa Bay Thursday night]. At this advanced age, I have to be 100 percent healthy. That for me has been tough this year. This game has a way of telling you when it's time to go. You have to kind of know it and feel it. It's a decision you really can't make unless you feel you're at a good place. I've enjoyed it in Oakland. The young guys have been very respectful and inquisitive and asked me questions, so that part is fun for me. I still have fun playing the game."

Pedro about to meet the Mets

Mets general manager Omar Minaya isn't expecting miracles when Pedro Martínez returns to the rotation sometime next week. Martínez will likely make one more start for Port St. Lucie (tomorrow) and then be recalled.

Minaya is definitely looking at it as short-term help, but more long-term benefit.

"There's no doubt that when he puts that uniform on again and shows up in our clubhouse ready to go, it's going to give our team a lift," said Minaya. "But he knows and we know that surge only lasts if he pitches well. That's the bottom line.

"Our guys are focused enough that they're already locked in on the race. Pedro has been through a lot and we had always hoped we were going to get him back toward the end of this season. So we have to be realistic about it. We know it's like the beginning of the season for him, so we're not expecting Pedro to be Pedro for a while."

In his last start, Martínez dominated Single A hitters but felt his changeup and curveball were still lacking. It's also obvious that his arm slot is lower.

"I'm sure, having seen him in Boston, he looks different now," Minaya said. "I think as he gets more comfortable and stronger, that arm angle is going to elevate more and more. But we've seen even when his shoulder wasn't 100 percent he was still able to go out there and be dominating.

"He's a special pitcher in this game, and with all of his experience, he knows what it takes to get hitters out. We're in a pennant race, and Pedro loves to be in a pennant race. We have to make sure he's not doing too much, but for us to get him out there on the mound will be a big boost for our team."

Minaya felt he shored up the offense with the addition of 41-year-old first baseman/outfielder Jeff Conine, a professional hitter who has won two championships and should add insurance to the bench.

"I think it's something we needed to do and I'm glad we did it," Minaya said. "We've had some injuries and I think we've come out of them pretty well.

"But you always need to make sure you have enough pitching and enough hitting. Especially over the last month of the season and into the playoffs."

Webb isn't the only Diamondback who is zeroed in

Josh Byrnes always tries to play down his exuberance over his team, but the Diamondbacks are in first place in the National League West with a young team that was the sexy pick, in some prognosticating circles, to win the division. But seeing it play out at this juncture has been pretty satisfying for the general manager.

"I think a lot of credit goes to [manager] Bob Melvin, who has really got our guys playing hard every day and believing in our team," said Byrnes, who was once Theo Epstein's top lieutenant with the Red Sox. "We've done a nice job playing the game for nine innings and giving ourselves a chance to win games.

"We have younger players who are starting to become young veterans and things are starting to click for them. They're starting to find themselves as players. We know it's a long year and we know that there's no let-up. I think the guys have a terrific attitude about knowing that they have to keep playing at a high level."

Defending NL Cy Young winner Brandon Webb (14-8, 2.63) has been amazing and could win the award again. His 42-inning scoreless streak -- the 12th-longest in major league history -- ended last Wednesday in the first inning of a 3-2 win over Milwaukee.

What's amazing about the streak is that Webb is considered a sinkerball pitcher, which means there's more of a chance that a few balls might trickle through the infield and score runs.

But Byrnes believes that label is too narrow.

"There's a lot more to him than a sinker/slider guy," Byrnes said. "I think sometimes pitchers get labeled. You look at his body of work and he's second in the league in strikeouts. You don't think of a sinker/slider guy as a strikeout pitcher, but Brandon is just an excellent pitcher, period.

"He's an ace in every way. He gives us a lot of quality innings and can be a real shutdown guy. He throws a lot of strikes, and right now he's just incredibly locked in."

Etc.

Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Shades of Greg Maddux. Cleveland's Fausto Carmona threw a 77-pitch complete game and lost to the Tigers last Tuesday night. He's 3-4 with a 1.70 ERA in his last seven starts; 2. Chris Carter, above or below Wily Mo Peña's defensive skills? I asked an NL GM. "Below," he said; 3. Have to consider Seattle's John McLaren for AL Manager of the Year, don't you?; 4. Billy Beane is trying to bring a version of Moneyball to professional soccer. The A's GM is heavily involved in running the San Jose Earthquakes, who are also owned by A's owner Lew Wolff; 5. He's 17 RBIs away from going .300, 30 homers, and 100 RBIs for the first seven years of his career. And Mr. Albert Pujols is doing it on a bum right leg.

DiNardo is going strong
Lenny DiNardo described the difference between pitching in Oakland and Boston this way: "If we lost a game in Boston, people didn't eat." He says Oakland fans are more relaxed, but the biggest factors in having a successful season are "opportunity and health." DiNardo had a neck injury that nagged him much of last season with the Red Sox, but a new in-season workout regimen with weights has kept him strong. "I feel as refreshed right now as I did at the start of the year," he said. "It's something I felt I needed to do on my own and for me it's made quite a difference."

Ghost of a chance
The topic was the presence of ghosts at the Renaissance Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg. "One dude told me that he opened the blinds in his room and there was this thing floating right in front of him," said A's outfielder Nick Swisher. "I've heard people have been lying in bed and the covers are taken off them without anyone touching it." Dave Yoakum, special assistant to White Sox GM Kenny Williams, remembers being in his room when he suddenly heard the toilet flush. He ran over to see if someone was in his bathroom, then watched as the water came back up into the bowl. He yanked the shower curtain open -- nothing. The door to the room was locked.

Insurance policy
The Blue Jays released 37-year-old Royce Clayton Aug. 7, and he was signed recently by the Red Sox, who plan to call him up from Pawtucket when rosters expand Sept. 1. "We felt that John McDonald was a better defender and we wanted to give him the job as well as look at Ray Olmedo," said Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi. "Royce is a terrific guy and an excellent guy on a team. He's really a very good pickup for a team in contention in September. He's a veteran guy who can definitely protect you at shortstop."

Scoring in double time
For former Sox outfielder David Murphy, the odd part of Wednesday's 30-3 win over Baltimore was that he and his Rangers teammates didn't have much of a chance to reflect on it. "It was the first game of a doubleheader, so we were out there playing another game almost instantly," said Murphy, who had five hits and scored five runs in the game. "While it was going on, it felt like a Little League game. It was crazy. We had our share of bloop hits, but we also hit the ball really hard. It's like nothing I've ever been involved in and I doubt I'll ever be a part of again." Asked whether the Rangers ever felt sorry for piling on so many runs, Murphy said, "We weren't trying to run up the score. We weren't out there taking the extra base or anything like that. We were taking our swings and the hits kept coming."

Extra bases
The Tigers dealt Craig Monroe to the Cubs this week and are looking to add a hitter before the Aug. 31 playoff-roster deadline, especially with Gary Sheffield's right shoulder ailing . . . Garret Anderson was hitting at a .204 clip (20 for 98) with runners in scoring position before his 10-RBI game last week . . . Twins righthander Carlos Silva, who has been pitching well of late, could be an option in a last-minute deal for a contender needing a starter . . . In this space on Feb. 9, 1999, Peter Gammons wrote in his "young players to watch" feature: "J.D. Drew, OF, St. Louis -- He can hit, hit for power, throw and play the outfield. Hitting in front of Mark McGwire is going to help get a lot of fastballs, too. He will need some adjustments since he only has 147 professional at-bats, but he has a chance to approach his hype." Gammons also wrote: "Mike Lowell, 3B, Florida -- Several teams, including the Red Sox, tried to acquire this 25-year-old, but the Yankees got three arms from the Marlins for him. He hit 26 homers, keeps improving and can be an adequate defender. Suddenly, the Phish have Lowell, Clifford Floyd, and Derek Lee in the middle of their order, a nice start." . . . Happy 42d birthday, Carlos Quintana.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com

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