Title in sight for Mets

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 9, 2002

Sports Editor

Lloyd Shillabeer went the distance in his first official start of the season to help the Mets beat the Reds 14-2 in Dixie Minor action on Saturday.

Shillabeer pitched the complete five-inning contest, striking out 11 batters and surrendering only two hits.

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The Mets improved to 13-0 and remained a half-game ahead of the Yankees for the league championship. The two teams meet on Monday night at Sauers Field with the Mets returning on Tuesday for a make-up game against the Red Sox.

Mets’ head coach Billy Hixon was pleased with Shillabeer’s performance.

"He was going to be my No. 3 going into the season but he hurt his arm," said Hixon. "He sort of throws the ball sidearm sometimes and that may have caused it. At the first of the year, we couldn’t even play him at shortstop or second base because his arm was giving him so much trouble. We played him at first base."

Hixon said he’s relied on the pitching of his son, Ross, and Will Starling for most of the season.

Kyle Flowers has also seen some time in the rotation.

"Pitching’s been our strong point this season," said Hixon. "I think that’s the reason we’ve done so well."

Ross and Starling form a unique and potent combination. When Ross is pitching, Starling’s catching and vice versa.

"They know each other so well and they’re so close," said Hixon. "To them, it’s like playing catch in the backyard somewhere."

Shillabeer’s only real trouble came in the top of the fifth as the Reds scored one run and were looking to add more with the bases loaded. But the Mets’ pitcher struck out the next two batters and fielded a short ground ball himself, beating the runner to home plate with the throw.

Starling ended the game in the Mets’ half of the fifth, launching a three-run triple into the outfield. He also had a double and single during the game. Flowers had two singles and Kane Meredith added a basehit also.

The Mets jumped out to a four-run lead off Reds’ starter Cody Sanders and added three more runs in the third to go up 7-0.

The Reds cut into the lead with one run in the fourth, but the Mets countered with three of their on in the same inning.

Martinez Larkin and Gerard Pollard contributed the Reds’ two hits.

Hixon said the Yankees will bring a talented team to the field on Monday night.

"They’re a great team," said Hixon. "They’ve got good hitting, fielding and pitching. We’ll have to play our best."

A win gives the Mets the title outright. A loss would mean the Mets have to beat the Red Sox on Tuesday to claim a share of the championship.