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Mets winning over New York

Omar Minaya is borough-bred: a son of the Corona section of Queens, N.Y. And as such, he's too smart to declare victory in the Battle of New York. But he knows his New York Mets are making in-roads.

"We're playing a style of baseball -- National League baseball -- that the fans in this city like: speed and defence," Minaya, the general manager of the Mets, said on Thursday. "Speed and defence. Yes, New York has always liked speed and defence.

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"But," he added, "I think we're close to the Major League lead in home runs, too. Aren't we?"

Heading into this weekend's three-game, interleague series at Rogers Centre against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Mets were indeed fifth in the majors with 99 homers. More to the point, they have a middle of the order that has a distinct American League feel to it.

Wright, whose remarkable over-the-shoulder, barehanded catch of a pop-up in San Diego last year was the play of the year in baseball and earned him an invitation to ESPN's ESPY Awards, is the best third baseman in New York City this year -- sorry, A-Rod -- and in Thursday's 6-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds, he was serenaded with chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!"

Wright batted cleanup in that game with Carlos Delgado resting against left-hander Eric Milton, and in the last eight games in which he's filled that role, he's hitting .710 (22-for-31). Wright is just 23, as is the electrifying Jose Reyes, the Mets' leadoff hitter and shortstop who has raised his batting average 39 points over his current 10-game streak.

But Minaya says that "there's no doubt that we are what we are because of Carlos Delgado."

Delgado became the fourth player in Mets' history to reach the 20-homer plateau in the team's first 70 games of a season, joining Dave Kingman (52 games in 1976), Darryl Strawberry (64 games in 1987) and Mike Piazza (68 games in 2000).

"David is a young, developing slugger and Carlos Beltran is a speed guy with power, but he [Delgado]is a force -- a true slugger," said Minaya, who was GM of the Montreal Expos for a little less than three years before joining the Mets in 2004. "He's been great in the clubhouse, and I think he's really helped David in terms of his preparation. I always said Canada had the two best-kept secrets in baseball: Vladimir Guerrero and Carlos Delgado."

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Former Youppi! going strong

Tommy Lasorda gets around. Today, the former Los Angeles Dodgers manager will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., as the pitcher with the most wins in the history of the venerable Montreal Royals and maybe some day he'll get down to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to see the Atlanta Braves Single-A affiliate play.

If he does, he'll notice a similarity in some of the routines between Splash, the seven-foot tall mascot of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, and what he used to see at Olympic Stadium whenever Youppi! was up to no good.

A victim of the morphing of the Montreal Expos into the Washington Nationals, Youppi! is now the property of the Montreal Canadiens. But Pierre Belisle, a former MUC police officer who was one of the 10 or so individuals who filled Youppi!'s uniform while he was the Expos mascot, is back in baseball -- this time, in the Carolina League.

"Actually, when I showed the general manager my résumé he looked at me and said: 'Hey, you're overqualified for this,' " said Belisle, whose last official stint as Youppi! was in 1995 and who worked as the resident security agent for Major League Baseball until 2003.

Belisle is now a real estate agent, in addition to being Splash -- a role that he says earns him "something less than $10,000."

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Lasorda was an easy foil for mascots. He is also known as the man who had a role in Youppi! being ejected by home-plate umpire Bob Davidson in a 22-inning game in Montreal in 1989, after the mascot's constant dancing on the dugout drove him to distraction.

But on that occasion, it was Claude Hubert who was in Youppi!'s fuzzy orange uniform. Belisle was on police duty. "The day after the ejection, I had to make sure Tommy knew it wasn't me. He said: 'I sure to hell hope it wasn't you,' " Belisle said. "At first, Tommy didn't like Youppi! all that much, but then I met him one time and told him that my dad was a big Montreal Royals fan. From that point on, everything was okay. I just sort of, you know, made sure he knew before each game what I was going to do."

Being Youppi! wasn't always easy. Belisle suffered a broken arm and shoulder during one particularly memorable fall during a rehearsal. But -- fittingly -- it was Lasorda who figured in what could have been Youppi's greatest hit.

"One time, I was doing a dance routine with a female on top of the visitor's dugout and I fell right into the Dodgers' dugout," Belisle said. "I just missed landing on Orel Hershiser. He was pitching that night. He told me: 'Hey, I just came this close to owning this place.' "

As for Lasorda? "All he did was look down at me, shake his head and say: 'After all these years of doing this, you still don't know the distance to the edge of the dugout?' "

Joining Lasorda as inductees are Ron Stead, considered the greatest pitcher in the history of the Intercounty Baseball League, Ron Hayter, and Larry McLean, a catcher who played for five major-league teams between 1901-1915.

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Zimmerman eyes rookie record

The Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman has set his sights on one of the franchise's longest-standing records: the 83 runs batted in by rookie Coco Laboy in 1969.

"It's tough to get that many RBIs in any season, never mind your first year, but while it's nice to get a franchise record there's still, you know, a long way to go," said Zimmerman, who along with the rest of the erstwhile Expos will be at the Rogers Centre from Tuesday to Thursday.

Zimmerman's 46 RBIs led all rookies going into last night's games and he was on pace for 103 RBIs. His 10 home runs in 74 games also leaves him on pace to eclipse that rookie record, set in 2002 by Brad Wilkerson.

Zimmerman credits Nationals manager Frank Robinson with much of his success. But give Zimmerman credit, too, for having enough common sense to listen to a guy who amassed 1,812 career RBIs during his Hall of Fame career.

"Frank's awesome," said Zimmerman. "First of all, the guy just has so much knowledge that it's just great to talk to him about anything. But more than that, it's like he uses a little bit of everything to teach you things: criticism, praise, strategy. He'll pull you aside some time and just say: 'Hey, relax. Don't be so excited.'

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"He'll come down with me during extra batting practice. But the biggest thing is he stresses that when you come up with men on base, you need to be patient. If you want to drive in runs, you can't give in to the pitcher's pitch."

CARLOS BELTRAN

.287 Batting average

19 home runs

56 Runs batted in

CARLOS DELGADO

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.261 Batting average

20 home runs

52 Runs batted in

DAVID WRIGHT

.337 Batting average

17 home runs

60 Runs batted in

11

Number of Blue Jays career batting records held by Carlos Delgado: home runs (336), extra-base hits (690), runs batted in (1,058), runs (889), doubles (343), walks (827), intentional walks (128), hit by pitch (122), strikeouts (1,242), total bases (2,786), slugging percentage (.556).

389

Home runs for Delgado, tied with Johnny Bench for 47th on the career list.

13

Number of hitters Delgado has passed in the career homer list this season. (Dwight Evans, Harold Baines, Larry Walker, Jim Rice, Frank Howard, Albert Belle, Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, Matt Williams, Norm Cash, Carlton Fisk, Rocky Colavito, Gil Hodges).

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