Sun, Sep 26, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Garciaparra finds peace in Chicago

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra says he's happy being out of the Boston pressure cooker and playing for the Cubs over in the Windy City


While the Red Sox and the Yankees dueled four hours north before an overflow crowd at Fenway Park, Nomar Garciaparra took his spot at shortstop for the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium on Friday night before a crowd that could hardly fill a Boston watering hole.

For Garciaparra, that was not all bad. He found himself comfortable in front of a sparse crowd that was dotted with more Cubs jerseys than Mets shirts. There were few of the taunts Garciaparra used to endure whenever he played for the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.

He smiled when he was asked if he missed the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, and if he kept tabs on his former team.

"No, I'm a Chicago Cub," Garciaparra said before the game. "I love the uniform I'm wearing right now."

It was easy to understand the smile. He is still on a contending team, although no longer compared with Derek Jeter and held up against the glare of the Yankees' championship rings. It took the Cubs 10 innings to beat the Mets, 2-1, putting them a full game ahead of the Giants in the race for the National League wild-card spot pending the outcome of the Giants' game against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

The Mets saw the Expos creep within two games in the NL East as the two teams battled to stay out of last place.

Garciaparra can decide his own fate at the end of the season, when he becomes a free agent. While his departure from Boston in a trading deadline deal might have seemed shocking in a previous season, the off-season machinations that almost brought Alex Rodriguez to Boston, the injuries that sidelined Garciaparra and the criticism he drew from fans and former teammates made the separation seem beneficial.

"I don't have to worry about what comes out of there," Garciaparra said of Boston, where he had long been an icon. "The only thing I have to worry about is where I'm at now, the guys I'm surrounded by and the place I play. That's really what my focus is. That's all I can control."

Garciaparra did not have to control even that Friday night. He left the game for a pinch-runner in the ninth after going 1 for 4, and the Cubs took the game in the 10th after Mark Grudzielanek led off with a walk from Mets reliever Braden Looper and scored on a single by Derrek Lee.

The smile was equally bright at the shortstop position for the Mets on Friday night with Jose Reyes returning after spending five weeks out of action with a stress fracture of his left fibula. Reyes played flawlessly at short, his natural position and one he will reclaim next season.

Kazuo Matsui, who pushed Reyes to second base this season but struggled mightily at shortstop, was also activated Friday, but the team made it clear that the switch would occur as soon as Matsui completed his crash course at second base. "It's like old times," Reyes, who made three assists, said after the game. "I played there all my life. I'm comfortable."

Matsui was not as enthusiastic about the shift, but after working at Port St. Lucie, Fla., while rehabilitating his strained lower back, he said he would continue to work to smooth out the rough edges that are still apparent in his game.

"I would like to play at second base," Matsui, who struck out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh Friday night, said through an interpreter. "It's going to have to be a joint opinion with the manager and the organization. If they feel I'm ready for it, then I'm ready for it."

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