BASEBALL TONIGHT EXTRA

Shining away from spotlight


On a night when one-run games were so prevalent, we thought it would be worthwhile to pay tribute to a group of unheralded standouts this season -- set-up men. During an era in which most starters finish their days after six innings, a number of middle relievers have become increasingly valuable. This season, two have stepped into the spotlight as rookies, Joe Smith of the Mets and Hideki Okajima of the Red Sox.

Both have funky, unusual manners of getting the ball to the plate, but both have had significant success in their debut seasons. Smith was integral in the Mets avoiding a series sweep against the Marlins, pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings. And Okajima has proven to be very proficient in delivering a lead to closer Jonathan Papelbon, as he showed in Boston's win over Oakland.

Smith and Okajima are just two of a number of middle and set-up relievers who don't get a lot of press, but whose value has emerged to the point that you could argue that they are irreplaceable. The standard for such may be set by Braves reliever Mike Gonzalez, who preserved an eighth-inning lead and eventual win over the Phillies by striking out both Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. The Braves didn't get those kind of performances often enough last season and with there being such a fine line between victory and defeat, it's all the more important that Gonzalez has been successful.

MEN IN THE MIDDLE
2007 notables:
Joe Smith Mets Sixteen scoreless appearances; has stranded all but one of 15 inherited runners.
Hideki Okajima Red Sox Already has eight hitless appearances of 1-plus IP in 2007.
Mike Gonzalez Braves Right-handers are just 5-for-24 against him; he has 1.59 ERA.
George Sherrill Mariners Opposing hitters are 2-for-23 against him; he has three holds.

FORWARD THINKING: THURSDAY
• Yankees at Rangers, 3:35 p.m. ET: This will be the first game of a doubleheader, necessitated by Wednesday's rainout. Andy Pettitte (1-1, 3.00) will start the opener for the Yankees. He's coming off perhaps his worst start of the season, allowing five runs in 4 2/3 innings in a loss to the Red Sox this past Friday. He'll be opposed by Kevin Millwood (2-3, 5.88).

Tom Gorzelanny
Gorzelanny

• Pirates at Brewers, 8:05 p.m. ET: Tom Gorzelanny (3-1, 3.06) will look to shut down the NL Central-leading Brewers. The lefty has allowed just one home run in 32 1/3 innings. Dave Bush (2-2, 6.23) will get the start for Milwaukee. Batters are hitting a whopping .328 against him in five starts.

• Mets at Diamondbacks, 9:40 p.m. ET: Tom Glavine (3-1, 2.80) will bid for career victory No. 294, and is unbeaten in his past four starts for the Mets. Rookie Micah Owings will get the nod for the Diamondbacks. It will be his first start since injuring his right hamstring in a game against the Dodgers on April 17.

• Thursday's complete list of probable starters

NEWS AND NOTES
• Tigers RHP Jose Mesa (groin) pitched two shutout innings Tuesday night for Triple-A Toledo and the team plans to activate him from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday, taking RHP Aquilino Lopez's roster spot.

Jose Reyes
Reyes

• Mets SS Jose Reyes was chosen the National League player of the month for April, and Mets RHP John Maine got the honors for NL pitchers. Reyes hit .356 with 26 runs scored and led the majors with 17 stolen bases in April. Maine went 4-0, and his 1.35 ERA led the majors for the month. The tandem became the first Mets teammates to win the awards since Dwight Gooden and Gary Carter in September 1985.

• Reds OF Josh Hamilton was named the National League's rookie of the month in April, after hitting .266 with six home runs and 13 RBIs in 64 at-bats.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
Twins catcher Joe Mauer has no idea where the ball is after losing sight of it in the domed ceiling at Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field.
IN THE ZONE
Alfonso Soriano Alfonso Soriano went a combined 6-for-10 with two home runs (his first two of the season) and two doubles in two games (the first was the completion of a suspended game from Tuesday), both wins over the Pirates.
FIRST TO SIX W'S
Josh Beckett leads the Red Sox over the A's.
NOTEWORTHY PERFORMANCES
GOOD
Gary Sheffield Gary Sheffield went 4-for-4 and drove in two of the Tigers' three runs in Detroit's comeback 3-2 win over Baltimore.
BAD
Carlos Quentin Carlos Quentin struck out three times in four at-bats, the last time coming in the top of the ninth inning with the tying run on first base, in the Diamondbacks' 2-1 loss to the Dodgers.
UGLY
Ervin Santana Ervin Santana dropped to 0-4 with a 7.97 ERA in four starts on the road this season after giving up three runs on 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings in the Angels' 3-1 loss to the Royals.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"I think we are kind of finding our rhythm. Maybe our identity."
-- Mariners closer J.J. Putz
ELIAS SAYS
Roy Oswalt • Roy Oswalt was the winning pitcher for the Astros against the Reds on Wednesday night. Oswalt now has a career record of 18-1 against Cincinnati. Since 1900, only four other pitchers won at least 18 of their first 19 decisions against a particular team: Ed Reulbach against the Reds, Larry Jackson against the Mets, Juan Marichal against the Mets and Tom Seaver against the Padres.

• Complete Elias Says


 

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