PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - The battle for second base kicks off Friday with Brad Emaus and Daniel Murphy starting in the Mets' only intrasquad game of spring training.

Emaus, a Rule 5 pick, has a slight edge heading into the competition, if only because the Mets will lose him if he is not kept on the 25-man roster all season - and Emaus is not likely to stick in a bench role. As for Murphy, manager Terry Collins is eager to see if his long hours of work at the position will pay off. "Now it's the time to see when the game speeds up, when we get out there and they're actually running the bases, to see how he handles it," Collins said.

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After seemingly settling on three candidates - Emaus, Murphy and Luis Castillo - Collins abruptly threw Ruben Tejada in the mix. His initial plan was to have Tejada start at Triple-A Buffalo as the everyday shortstop. But watching him during these last two weeks apparently planted a seed in Collins' head. Said the manager, "If his bat comes, he may be that guy, who knows?"

Liftoff for Byrdak

Tim Byrdak, who is trying to latch on as a lefthanded reliever, got to be a part of history Thursday when astronaut Mike Massimino, a big Mets fan who grew up in Franklin Square, scored him VIP treatment for the final launch of the space shuttle Discovery. Byrdak first watched a shuttle launch last season, but got only to within seven miles.

"Watching it go up, then getting hit with the sound wave," Byrdak said, "it was a powerful experience."

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With Massimino's help, Byrdak was set up to get within three miles of the launch.