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Mets add veteran Conine to bench

CINCINNATI -- The New York Mets got Jeff Conine from the
Cincinnati Reds for two minor leaguers on Monday, adding a
41-year-old player who has two World Series rings and knows how to
contribute off the bench.

Conine can play first base or outfield and is adept at
pinch-hitting -- he led the Reds with nine hits in that role. Conine
is batting .265 overall with six homers and 32 RBIs.

"We've had our eyes on him for a while," Mets general manager
Omar Minaya said.

The move came one day after the Mets put infielder Damion Easley
on the 15-day disabled list with a severely sprained left ankle,
the latest blow to the NL East leaders.

Easley is expected to miss at least a month, Minaya said. He
added the Mets probably would not have made the trade if Easley had
not been injured.

Conine won World Series titles with Florida in 1997 and 2003. He
plans to retire after this season, and was delighted to spend the
last months of his final season in contention.

"My initial thought is: First place," Conine said, in the Reds
clubhouse. "I get to go back to another pennant race."

The Reds acquired 20-year-old shortstop Jose Castro and
22-year-old outfielder Sean Henry, who were playing for Class A
Port St. Lucie. They called up infielder/outfielder Jorge Cantu
from Triple-A Louisville to take Conine's roster spot, and he got a
pinch-hit single in the eighth inning against Atlanta.

Cincinnati got Conine from Philadelphia last December for a pair
of minor leaguers, trying to bolster their bench and provide
leadership. Conine decided this season would be his last, no matter
how it finished.

He hasn't changed his mind.

"I think this is it," he said. "I can't think of a better way
to go out than doing it in the playoffs in New York."

The Mets were off Monday. Conine had a flight to New York on
Monday night and expected to be with the team for the start of a
series against San Diego on Tuesday. At the time of the trade, the
Mets had the best winning percentage in the NL and led their
division by five games.

Conine appeared in 32 playoff games for the Marlins in 1997 and
2003, and was an important contributor to their titles. He batted
.308 in the two division series, .310 in the two NL Championship
Series, and .294 in his two World Series.

While with the Marlins, Conine played with about a half-dozen
current Mets, including Moises Alou, Luis Castillo and
Carlos Delgado.

"This is like the Marlins North," Conine said.

Several teams were interested in acquiring Conine before the
trade deadline, but none of their offers thrilled the Reds. When
Easley hurt his ankle, the Mets' interest intensified.

"Damion Easley's injury might have accelerated things,"
general manager Wayne Krivsky said. "They've had interest in him
for quite a while, as did other teams."

Conine started 49 games at first base for the Reds. He also
finished one game at third base.

He turned into one of Krivsky's favorite players during his stay
in Cincinnati. Krivsky was glad to give him the chance to finish
his career with a contender.

"I'm kind of becoming a pseudo Mets fan," Krivsky said.