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Games Transcend Rocker Hype

John Rocker, whose big mouth caused him much trouble the past year, succinctly summed up his return to Shea Stadium.

"I'm glad it's over," he said Sunday after Atlanta beat the New York Mets 10-2 to earn a split of the four-game series.

Rocker - the most hated player in the city after his remarks last December disparaging gays, minorities, foreigners and women - ended the weekend with little fanfare, playing catch in left field and not taking the mound the final three games.

"I think he had a great weekend," said teammate Brian Jordan, who called Rocker a "cancer" last month after his run-in with the Sports Illustrated reporter who wrote the article that caused all the commotion around the reliever.

"He did a great job apologizing on the big screen to the fans. I don't know how it went over, but it was good he did it."

Jordan, who said last October that he "couldn't stand New York," also had praise for Mets fans, who did little more than boo loudly and throw a couple of balls from the stands Thursday night.

"In the back of my mind, I thought something might happen," Jordan said. "New York did a great job with security and the fans were really studious. They love their Mets and they showed it."

Rocker entered the weekend talking about taking the No. 7 train to Shea and mingling with the same commuters he insulted. He settled for a police escort to the stadium, although he did go out on the town with his girlfriend - Staci Sutton, daughter of Braves announcer Don Sutton - for dinner on Saturday night.

"It all happened perfectly," teammate Tom Glavine said. "He got into the first game and the 300 people covering the game was cut in half. That alleviated a lot of it. I don't think the fans will ever forget and that's fine. But both teams just want to talk about baseball and it got a lot calmer after Thursday night."

Rocker opened the weekend by reading a statement to Mets fans on a 26-foot high screen and pitching a perfect inning of relief. He dodged a few balls on his jog to the mound and smirked at the fans as he left, but little else happened.

"It's a credit to New York fans," said Kevin Hallinan, the head of security for baseball. "They took the high road this weekend."

Rocker, unavailable to pitch the past two games after splitting open a callous on his left thumb Friday, wasn't needed Sunday because the Braves broke out to a big lead.

"I could have pitched," said Rocker, who warmed up in the nnth inning. "I was ready to pitch but they didn't need me. I think in the long run they do need me."

The despised reliever - whose presence this weekend brought out about 700 police officers and a media circus - made a brief appearance on the field by warming up left fielder Reggie Sanders before the eighth inning.

The crowd of 45,261 booed as Rocker played catch with police protection. He then tossed the ball into the stands and walked back to the bullpen and sat down under Rocker's Roof the specially constructed awning to protect him. A fan threw Rocker's ball back on the field, drawing cheers from the Mets fans.

Much preparation went into the weekend. There were more than 10 times as many police officers at Shea, surveillance cameras were placed around the stadium, and the visitor's bullpen was protected by awning and a 6-foot high picket fence.

Mets manager Bobby Valentine, who dodged questions about Rocker much of the week, was happy about only one thing: "That it's over. We had to deal with a lot of nonsense this weekend."

For once, Rocker and the Mets were in agreement.

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