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Tension high as Mets, Dodgers meet for first time since brawl

NEW YORK -- Somewhere in the blank look and "no comment," John Franco was sending a message: The New York Mets still are thinking about the Dodgers' Guillermo Mota.

Mota, who touched off two bench-clearing brawls by hitting Mike Piazza with pitches in spring training the past two years, joins his teammates tonight at Shea Stadium for the first time in the regular season since the March 12 incident in Port St. Lucie, Fla., that led to suspensions for both players.

Franco and the Mets' pitching staff will decide whether they want to retaliate.

"Sure, it's an emotional thing, a guy gets hit," Franco finally said after repeated questions. "We'll just have to wait and see. There is a good possibility (something could happen), then maybe not."

Piazza, the former Dodgers catcher, refused to comment on the incidents or whether bad blood with the Dodgers will continue.

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The Mets have bigger problems right now: They're last in the National League East despite the second-highest payroll in baseball.

Their many problems make the rift between Piazza and Mota seem small. Or, the Mets might see it as a way to vent their frustration.

"I think it's over," Vaughn said. "But it depends on how our guy (Piazza) feels."

Piazza let the baseball world know how he felt March 12 after he was struck on the left shoulder by Mota. Piazza charged the mound but was restrained by Dodgers Adrian Beltre and Brian Jordan. A frightened Mota retreated to the dugout, an act Mets' players called "gutless."

After the game, Piazza charged into the Dodgers clubhouse shouting, "Where's Mota?" Mota already was gone, whisked away in a car driven by Jordan.

Both players were suspended five games. Piazza was fined $3,000 and Mota $1,500.

It was a continuation of a feud between the two that began on the final day of the 2002 spring training in Vero Beach, Fla., when Mota struck Piazza on the left hip with a pitch.

Umpires at tonight's game have been told to speak to Dodgers manager Jim Tracy and Mets manager Art Howe.

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