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Mets hand Brewers third straight loss

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Associated Press
April 12, 2008
— Nelson Figueroa’s young daughter climbed up on his lap at the podium, and his face lit up with the once-in-a-lifetime smile of someone who just lived out their boyhood dream.

Coming home never felt so good to Figueroa, who traveled around the world and back again for a chance to experience this very moment.


Pitching for his hometown team after four years of fighting to get back to the big leagues, Figueroa retired his first 14 batters and led the New York Mets to a 4-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on a foggy Friday night at Shea Stadium.


“This journey has been so incredible,” he said. “It’s storybook.”


Figueroa, who grew up a Mets fan in the same Coney Island projects as basketball star Stephon Marbury, tossed six smart innings before a huge flock of family and friends to earn his first major league win since 2003.


After the final out, New York closer Billy Wagner gave the ball to Figueroa, who also took home the lineup card as a souvenir.


“I thought I was going to lose it,” he said. “It was everything I dreamed it would be.”


Carlos Delgado hit one of New York’s three RBI singles and the Mets got a strong effort from their much-maligned bullpen to win their third consecutive game.


Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy each had an RBI double for the Brewers, who dropped their third straight after opening 6-1.


Johan Santana makes his home debut Saturday for the Mets in a marquee matchup against Milwaukee ace Ben Sheets, who has started the year with 15 1-3 scoreless innings over two starts.


New York All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes came out after the fifth with tightness in his left hamstring and said he probably won’t play Saturday.


“It’s sore right now,” Reyes said. “It’s nothing big.”


Once traded as part of a package for Curt Schilling, Figueroa was released by Pittsburgh on the day he had shoulder surgery in October 2004. He needed another follow-up operation during his long road back, but he was outstanding in his first big league start since September 2004.


“Give him credit. He threw the ball well. We hit some balls hard, but he pitched a good game,” Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun said.


After leaving nearly 100 tickets for family and friends on Dog Day at Shea Stadium, Figueroa threw consistent strikes and mixed his pitches well. Working exclusively from the stretch at the spring training suggestion of pitching coach Rick Peterson, the right-hander held the Brewers to two hits in six innings while striking out six and walking two.


His wife was in attendance, along with his parents. His father, Nelson Sr., wore his son’s No. 27 jersey and a Mets cap while speaking with reporters in the corner of New York’s clubhouse.


Figueroa and his family even slept at his parents’ apartment Thursday night.


“Crowded,” he said. “Wagner let me use his suite to stuff ’em all up there. It was an exciting night.”


Figueroa’s previous win in the majors came on Aug. 15, 2003, with Pittsburgh against Milwaukee.


Joe Smith and Aaron Heilman set up Wagner, who completed the two-hitter for his first save this season.


Brewers starter Manny Parra (1-1), who pitched a perfect game for Triple-A Nashville last June, allowed three runs and six hits in four innings.


Drafted by the Mets in 1995 out of Division III Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Figueroa (1-0) gives new meaning to the baseball phrase “journeyman.” He pitched in Mexico, Taiwan and the Dominican Republic over the past year while trying to get back to the majors.


He was cut by New York on the final day of spring training, but called up from the minors on April 2 because of injuries to Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez.


“My daughter’s 4 and has more frequent-flyer miles than most people,” said Figueroa, who turns 34 next month.


He retired 14 straight batters before issuing a four-pitch walk to Corey Hart with two outs in the fifth. Hardy followed with an RBI double, and Figueroa received a warm hand from the crowd.


The Brewers cut it to 3-2 in the sixth on Fielder’s two-out RBI double, but Gold Glove center fielder Carlos Beltran ran down Braun’s long drive to right-center to preserve the lead.


Beltran tracked the ball through the mist and fog for a difficult basket catch on the warning track. Figueroa raised his first in the air and waited by the dugout to thank Beltran.


“I never thought Beltran was going to catch that ball,” Milwaukee manager Ned Yost said. “The air being heavy the way it was, we crushed some balls and it just died. That’s smart pitching. Let your defense play the game for you.”


Figueroa’s batterymate also came full circle with the Mets on Friday night and gave them a lift. Raul Casanova, drafted by New York in 1990, made his first big league appearance for the team and hit an RBI single to make it 3-0 in the fourth.


The 35-year-old Casanova is filling in as the backup catcher while Ramon Castro (hamstring) is on the disabled list.



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