TORONTO – Larry Walker might retire after this season, citing age and injuries.

The 38-year-old Canadian entered the St. Louis Cardinals’ game at Toronto on Monday night hitting just .249 with five homers and 23 RBIs.

“A lot of people say you know when your time is up. I had an inclination last year that my time was up. I just decided to play this year and see what happens,” Walker said. “It’s a grind. The age and the surgeries that I’ve had are what’s pushing me back, eight surgeries and a reconstructed knee. Father time is creeping on me, and I realize that.”

Walker said he’ll retire for sure if the Cardinals win the World Series. He’ll also consider moving to an American League team and becoming a designated hitter.

“I think my heart will still be there, but my body is saying, “Come on buddy,”‘ Walker said.

Walker won the 1997 NL MVP, won the NL batting championship three times and has seven Gold Gloves for his outfield play. He started his career with Montreal and played nearly 10 seasons for Colorado before being traded to St. Louis last season.

“I’ve done some things that I couldn’t have dreamed of. I never did, I dreamt about hockey,” Walker said. “I was able to succeed at a pretty good clip in this game. I guess I got to be proud of that.”

MRI exam on Matsui’s ankle is negative

NEW YORK – An MRI exam Monday on the right ankle of New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui was negative.

Matsui slipped and fell while chasing Jim Edmonds’ double during the seventh inning of New York’s 5-3 loss at St. Louis on Sunday and was assisted from the field by manager Joe Torre and a trainer.

He has played in 387 consecutive games since joining the Yankees and has a streak of 1,637 games in a row, including his years with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan’s Central League.

“I should be OK,” Matsui said Sunday through an interpreter.

New York, which was off Monday, opens a homestand Tuesday night against Pittsburgh.

Piniella doesn’t back off comments owners

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tampa Bay Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella is standing by his words.

One day after ripping the team’s new ownership for not doing enough to win now, Piniella did little to defuse a volatile situation by declining to discuss remarks he made Sunday in Pittsburgh.

“I don’t have any statements except I made the statement yesterday and I’m not going to comment about it any further. You all can interpret it any way you want, but that’s really the bottom line,” Piniella said before Monday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Devil Rays have the lowest payroll in baseball, just under $30 million on opening day.

, and returned to Tropicana Field for the start of a homestand Monday with the worst record in the majors at 21-42.

The team lost 10 of 12 on a road trip that concluded with Sunday’s 7-5 extra-inning victory over the Pirates. But the manager’s comments beforehand figure to remain a hot topic for the rest of the summer.

A group headed by New York investor Stuart Sternberg purchased 48 percent of the Devil Rays last year, and Piniella expressed concern that the new owners seem to care more about the future than winning now.

While managing general partner Vince Naimoli owns 15 percent and remains in charge of daily operations, general manager Chuck LaMar said Naimoli and Sternberg make some long-term decisions jointly.

“As I’ve told you many times before, Lou Piniella truly wants to win …. and he wants to know that this organization is committed to winning,” LaMar said, attributing the manager’s comments to frustration.

Piniella is in his third season with the Devil Rays, who improved from 55 to 63 victories in their first year under the one-time Yankees, Reds and Mariners manager. They followed with a franchise-record 70 wins in 2004.

The payroll has increased each of the past two offseasons, but still is nowhere close to where Piniella feels it needs to be for Tampa Bay to be competitive.

“In Lou’s mind, he had every belief that it was going to be higher. But very candidly, ownership told me this year it was going to be between $32 million and $33 million,” LaMar said. “We haven’t spent all of that, but that’s what the payroll is. If there was a move to be made to get it up to that point, I would make it.”

The general manager said it’s too early to project what the budget will be for 2006. He also disagreed with Piniella’s assessment that ownership has altered the course of a team that finished above last place for the first time last year.

“I don’t think there’s been a change in direction. … (But) Lou, when he came aboard, he truly felt like we’d be further along in our progress. He didn’t take this job to “develop players,’ even though he knew it was going to be done with young players.”

What remains to be seen is how Piniella’s comments will impact his relationship with ownership.

“Obviously there are some questions there. … Can we call up the young players? The payroll for future years. Can I get enough of those pieces to get the job done? Those are going to have to be addressed,” LaMar said, adding that answers likely will emerge in the next month or two.

LaMar said there’s been no talk about trying to buy out Piniella’s contract, which runs through 2006. The manager is earning $3.5 million this season and is due to make $4.5 million next year.

“I think he’s the best manager in this game, and given the talent he will win here or anywhere else,” LaMar said.

“He also knows it can’t be done right now with the payroll that we have and the injuries that we have, and especially if the young players are not able to be called up when they’re ready to play. I think right now we need to win some baseball games and get some clarification on the definite direction of the organization.”

AP-ES-06-13-05 2023EDT

Estrada back in Braves lineup after collision

ARLINGTON, Texas – Braves catcher Johnny Estrada was back in the starting lineup Monday night for the first time since sustaining a concussion in a collision at home plate a week earlier.

Estrada wanted to play Sunday, but team medical officials didn’t clear him to play until Monday night’s game at Texas. The doctors wanted Estrada to have a full week off.

Estrada was hospitalized overnight after the collision with Darin Erstad of the Los Angeles Angels on June 6. The catcher underwent a series of tests before being diagnosed with a mild concussion.

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