Rollins is the player to heckle at Shea

Posted: April 10, 2007

NEW YORK - Jimmy Rollins, during the Phillies' promotional tour in January:

"I think we are the team to beat in the NL East - finally."

Mets fans, during yesterday's disastrous eighth inning:

"JIM-MY ROL-LINS!"

When you've proclaimed your club "the team to beat," what else would you expect from 56,227 fans when you go to their stadium for their home opener?

"Jimmy's a good player and [mistakes] are bound to happen," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "Obviously, for it to happen in New York today, the fans weren't going to let him off easy."

Even though Rollins hit into a bases-loaded doubleplay in the fourth inning and committed an error that contributed to the Mets' seven-run eighth inning and the Phillies' 11-5 loss, the All-Star shortstop has no regrets.

No need for clarification. No need to defend himself.

"I said what I said," Rollins told a throng of reporters and TV crews after the loss. "Our record might not show it right now, but yes, I still feel that we are the team to beat."

With a record of 1-6, some would beg to differ.

With the bases loaded and one out in the eighth and the Phillies holding a 5-4 lead, Mets shortstop Jose Reyes sent a grounder to Rollins' right. Rollins bobbled the ball and was unable to get an out as Endy Chavez scored the tying run. That was followed by a wild pitch, and the Mets were well on their way to scoring seven runs.

Most of the fans didn't wait until Rollins committed that crucial blunder. Many fans who showed up early to watch batting practice shouted in Rollins' direction, taunting him about the team's current record and the prediction he set for the Phillies.

"Looks like those Phillies are really the team to beat this year," one fan yelled above the Phillies' dugout during batting practice. "I bet it's going to be tough to catch them way at the bottom of the league this year."

While Rollins recognizes the need to actually get some wins, he also knew exactly what he would endure when the Phillies arrived at Shea yesterday morning. Everyone knew.

"It's great," said Rollins, who went 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored. "It doesn't matter, really. They're fans. They are supposed to root for their team and get on the other guys. It's all a part of the game."

Former Phillie Billy Wagner said neither he nor anyone else inside the Mets' locker room took Rollins' quote as bulletin-board material.

"Jimmy was just speaking what he felt to be the truth," said Wagner, who is expecting to get a similar treatment from Phillies fans when the Mets come to Citizens Bank Park next week. "There's nobody in here with any negative thoughts toward him. I don't think his teammates would have respected him much if he came out and said, 'Hey, we're shooting for second place again this season.' "

And yet, with all of the hype the comment has generated, it's still very early in the season, so no one is getting overly worked up.

"All we tried to do is set the tone," said Wright, who extended his career-high hitting streak to 19 games with a two-run double in the eighth inning. "At the same time, this is one out of 162 games and one out of a number of games we are going to play them this year, so you can't put too much focus on this game." *

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