Rocker makes Smooth Return to Big Apple


Friday, June 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


NEW YORK (AP) — Back at Shea Stadium, John Rocker was in total control — of his mouth and his pitches.

Surrounded by police everywhere he went and booed for everything he did, Rocker ran in from the bullpen and pitched a perfect eighth inning Thursday night as the Atlanta Braves beat New York 6-4, ending the Mets' seven-game winning streak.

Taunted and called ``stupid'' by Rocker last year, Mets fans had been waiting for this moment long before opening day. Turns out, they saw more of the Braves reliever than they wanted.

New Yorkers, though, did not get to watch him ride the No. 7 subway train to Shea. After an afternoon meeting at the players' union, he rode an unmarked police van to the park and was the last Braves player to arrive, escorted in through the shielded-off picnic area.

About 10 minutes before the first pitch, a videotape of Rocker's pregame statement to the media was shown on the 26-foot-high scoreboard. He again apologized for his bigoted remarks about New York's diverse population that got him a two-week suspension, adding, ``I am not the evil person that has been portrayed.''

On the mound, though, he was nasty.

As Rocker jogged in to replace Jason Marquis to start the eighth, a few objects — including a ball — were thrown from the stands. With an estimated 700 police personnel packed all over the park, the crowd of 46,998 jeered as Rocker warmed up.

Rocker also was booed when he tied his shoelaces and asked for a change of balls. The heckling did not unnerve him, however.

Rocker struck out Robin Ventura and retired Todd Zeile and Jay Payton on grounders. He threw 18 pitches.

Walking to the Braves dugout — police were on top, in front and standing inside — Rocker looked at the crowd with a slight smirk but did not mock the fans as he did during last October's NL championship series.

Braves teammates greeted Rocker with high-fives, and he was finished.

``He's an excitable guy. He was throwing about 96 miles an hour,'' Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. ``He wasn't too distracted.''

Rocker declined to talk after the game.

Up until his appearance, Rocker had a relatively easy night.

Rocker threw a couple of balls into the stands, shook hands and chatted with fans before the game. Once it began, he wandered under cover to the bullpen in the fourth inning and even signed a few autographs for his guards.

Rocker sat beneath on awning especially erected to protect him. There were plenty of other precautions — beer sales were limited and cut off early, surveillance cameras were installed to watch the fans.

Andres Galarraga homered, tripled and drove in four runs as Atlanta won the opener of a four-game series for the NL East lead. The teams met for the first time since the NL championship series, which the Braves won in six tense games.

Mike Piazza hit a two-run single, giving him an RBI in a Mets record 12 straight games. He became the first NL player to accomplish that feat since Rip Collins in 1935 for St. Louis.

Piazza also singled to start a two-run sixth that closed New York to 6-4. Earlier, the All-Star catcher made a rare mental mistake, losing track of how many outs there were with two runners on base.

Winner John Burkett (6-3) started in place of GREG MADDUX, who felt ill after arriving at the ballpark.

After Rocker worked the eighth, Kerry Ligtenberg pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save.

Galarraga hit a sinking liner under center fielder Payton's glove for an RBI triple in the first. Galarraga launched a three-run homer, his 19th, for a 4-0 lead in the third.

Two batters before he served up Galarraga's homer, Mets right-handed starter RICK REED (4-2) sustained a fractured left wrist when hit by Andruw Jones' line-drive single. Reed will be examined further on Friday.

Brian Jordan hit an RBI single in the Braves fifth, right after Piazza's mistake. Piazza walked away from the plate holding the ball after Galarraga struck out, thinking it was the third out, and Jones snuck from second base to third.

Quilvio Veras singled home a run in the sixth for a 6-2 lead.

Notes: At 13-14 in June, the Braves need to win Friday night to avoid their first losing month since September 1996. ... Kansas City's Mike Sweeney had an RBI in 13 straight games last season. ... Maddux will start Saturday. ... Atlanta activated rookie SS Rafael Furcal from the 15-day disabled list. He had been sidelined by a strained right hamstring. ... Reed has won only once in his last 10 starts. ... Braves RHP Rudy Seanez underwent ligament transplant surgery on his right elbow and will miss the rest of the season.