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Queens’ Karsay traded in deal for Rocker

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Steve Karsay knew he was coming home. It just happened two days earlier and in a different borough than he expected. Karsay, the hard-throwing reliever from College Point was slated to return to New York when the Cleveland Indians took on the Yankees Monday, but instead Karsay was wearing an Atlanta Braves uniform when he took the hill at Shea Stadium Sunday, thanks to a trade Friday that sent controversial closer John Rocker to Cleveland.

“We were supposed to be in New York to play the Yankees, but I’m here in Shea Stadium, here with a new team and I’m looking forward to it,” Karsay said. “It’s a new chapter, a new road and I just can’t wait to get the first one out of the way and get back to Atlanta and move on and get everything done.”

For the 29-year-old former Christ the King standout, the trade came as a bit of a shock because Karsay is having his best season since he joined the major leagues in 1993. In 45.1 innings, he has a 1.19 earned run average with 45 strikeouts and allowed just 79 hits as a setup man for closer Bob Wickman. Karsay, who has a career 4.04 ERA, said the addition of a splitfinger pitch has been the difference in his game.

“I’ve just been basically doing what I’ve been doing the last couple of years but just everything’s coming together,” he said. “I have three pitches I’m throwing for strikes at any particular time; I’m keeping the hitters off balance because they can’t look for a certain pitch. When those ingredients are there, the success factor is going to be there also.”

After beginning his career as a starter for Oakland, Karsay was used primarily in the bullpen when the Indians acquired him in 1997. He became the club’s closer last year, picking up 20 saves in 29 appearances. But when the team acquired Wickman last July, Karsay was moved back as a setup man.

“I accepted the role. It’s part of the job, they pay your check and you pretty much go in and do what they want,” Karsay said. “They acquired Bob Wickman and my versatility worked against me and they pushed me back into the setup role. It’s just something I’ve grown to accept.”

Karsay, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, was one of the last to learn of the trade Friday. He pitched a scoreless eighth inning in Kansas City and was on his way to the locker room when one of his teammates informed him he had been shipped to Atlanta.

Stunned, Karsay walked into the Indians’ clubhouse where he received confirmation from the locker room television that he and fellow reliever Steve Reed were traded for Rocker and minor-leaguer third baseman Troy Cameron, the Braves’ No. 1 pick in 1997.

“I’m definitely grateful for the opportunity, it’s an awesome opportunity for me as far as coming to another winning ball club,” he said. “If you’re going to get traded off a winning ball club, you want to go a team that’s going to win and the tradition here has been unbelievable.”

And Karsay will again get a chance to be the closer.

“We feel like Karsay can step back into the role of closer that he filled last year with dynamite stuff,” said Atlanta General Manager John Schuerholz. “We’ve had two major league scouts see him pitch very well lately. We’re making the assumption that Karsay can jump back into the role of a closer and show dominant stuff in that role.”

It was a hectic 48 hours for Karsay, whose flight into Newark Airport was delayed Saturday afternoon. Karsay and Reed jumped in a limo bound for Shea, but it took two hours for the limo to fight through traffic to get to Flushing. Karsay, who was not activated for Saturday’s game, was dropped off at the team hotel while Reed continued on to Shea where he pitched one inning and earned the win in the Braves’ 9-3 victory. On Sunday Karsay got a ride to Shea and met his teammates for the first time.

“I turned my cell phone off, to tell you the truth,” Karsay said when asked if any family or friends requested tickets. “The days have been so hectic and crazy, being with a new team, I just want to get settled in, I want to make a good first impression, I want to go out and do my job and not worry and hassle about ticket requests.”

Karsay, who said he last pitched at Shea during a high school all-star game and who used to go to 15 to 20 Mets games a year in the late 1980s, got his first taste of the National League Sunday against the Mets, entering the game in the eighth inning with an 8-4 lead.

He fanned the first batter he faced, buckling Todd Zeile’s knees with a nasty curveball. Karsay retired the side in the eight inning on just nine pitches. He allowed just one hit, a Timo Perez single in the ninth inning, before getting Desi Relaford to fly out to centerfield to end the game.

“I was definitely nervous, especially going in the eighth inning,” Karsay said. “But the first one is out of the way, that’s what I wanted.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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