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Trachsel focused for first playoff start

Trachsel focused for first playoff start

LOS ANGELES -- This is the game Steve Trachsel has been waiting his whole career to pitch.

That's just one of the reasons the Mets feel their veteran starter will be solely focused on his start in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Saturday, despite missing several days last week to deal with family issues.

"In playoff baseball you know what's at stake," manager Willie Randolph said. "You go out and gather yourself and prepare yourself, and [Trachsel] is ready to go."

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Trachsel, who will have had 12 days' rest since his last start, said he wouldn't put himself in a position where he wasn't ready to benefit the club, especially not with the importance brought on by the postseason.

He had extensive conversations with Randolph during his absence from the team and while the club was scrambling for a contingency plan in the wake of Orlando Hernandez's season-ending right calf injury. Trachsel said he would help the team any way he could, whether that meant starting any game of the series or even coming out of the bullpen.

Randolph tabbed the longest-tenured Met for Game 3, and Trachsel reiterated that he'd be able to concentrate only on retiring the Dodgers and not his personal issues, which he declined to elaborate about Friday.

"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't [focused], and I made that clear as well with Willie," Trachsel said.

The Mets do not expect the long layoff to hurt Trachsel, with the pitcher having started multiple games this season with extended time between his starts.

"There've been times this year when he's pitched on long rest and times when he's gone on short rest, so there are no concerns at all on that," Randolph said. "I'm looking forward to him going out there and pitching a gem for us."

Trachsel's lone start against the Dodgers this year was more of a lump of coal than a gem. The right-hander was tagged for four runs in 2 2/3 innings on Sept. 10, his shortest start this season.

The Mets need Trachsel, who was 15-8 with a 4.97 ERA in the regular season, to forget about that Dodgers disaster and try to duplicate what John Maine and Tom Glavine did back in New York in the first two games of this series.

"Obviously, I had a poor start against the Dodgers some weeks ago, and I'm not going to dwell on that," Trachsel said. "We have had two great starts from our starters, and hopefully I'm expecting a third."

In 15 years in the Major Leagues, Trachsel has never played for a club as good as this year's National League East champs. He once pitched the Cubs into the NLDS, winning their 1998 Wild Card playoff with the Giants, but Chicago was swept by the Braves, and Trachsel was denied a chance to pitch in October.

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The right-hander threw 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball in that one-game playoff, so the Mets know he is one who can rise to the occasion.

"I'm very excited," Trachsel said of his first postseason start. "I'm trying not to approach it and make it a bigger event than it is -- it's still another ballgame; I prepare the same."

Saturday's 7:30 p.m. ET contest will essentially see Trachsel's career come full circle. He will oppose Greg Maddux, the same pitcher who departed the Cubs the offseason before Trachsel made his Major League debut in 1993.

It's also a battle between cagey veterans in which scouts will be able to set the radar gun aside and watch the counterparts take their turn painting the corners.

"I have a lot of respect for everything [Maddux] has done," Trachsel said. "He's probably one of the top five pitchers, especially for a control pitcher."

Maddux went 15-14 with a 4.20 ERA in the regular season, but that record is a more impressive 6-3 with a 3.30 ERA when counting only his two months with the Dodgers. Plus, Maddux is 3-1 with a 1.76 ERA in six starts at Dodger Stadium this year, so Trachsel doesn't figure to have much margin for error.

Trachsel grew up in Southern California and even attended Dodgers World Series games in the late '70s and early '80s, when, ironically, he cheered against Randolph, then the Yankees' second baseman.

Now, in his first playoff game, Trachsel has a chance to deliver the Mets to the NLCS for the first time since 2000 and inch closer to the World Series -- all while pitching in the same stadium where he found his love for the game.

"I'm going to really go out and enjoy myself tomorrow, because I've been waiting for this for a long time," Trachsel said. "I've done a lot of other things in my career which are nice, but the ring is what you play for."

Greg Wagner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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