MONTREAL - Opening The Gazette Thursday morning, Montreal's English-language newspaper, Bobby Cox read some blistering criticism from Expos second baseman Mike Lansing about his All-Star picks.
Said Lansing, "Who's managing the team? Bobby Cox, Atlanta. Yeah, he's a big fan of our team, isn't he? He wouldn't want to give us too much credit, would he?"
Lansing was upset that Pedro Martinez was the only Expos' All-Star. He felt pitchers Jeff Juden and Carlos Perez deserved to be picked also. The second baseman wasn't chosen either, though Cox indicated he wanted to take him, but had to take a Pirates player and chose second baseman Tony Womack.
"Look, I know that I'm not going to get picked for that team," Lansing said. "I could hit .300 and have 20 homers and not be picked because of where I play. Montreal, Canada. That's the bottom line."
Nonsense, Cox responded. "I love Mike Lansing," he said. "I've admired the way he plays for years. You'd be crazy not to love Mike Lansing. He's one of the cogs that makes your team go. But with the format the way it is with a guy having to make it from every team, it hurts some guys."
Hearing criticism for leaving off some good players is nothing new to Cox. This is the fourth time he's picked an All-Star team and every year he hears an outcry.
"You can go to a lot of teams and say there's some tough decisions," Cox said. "If they could sit down with us in a room two weeks ago when we start talking about the decisions they might be able to understand. So many guys are deserving and you can't get them all on."
NO LOFTON: Kenny Lofton was eligible to come off the disabled list Thursday, but remained sidelined with a pulled left groin.
He tested the injury several hours before the game by running in the outfield at Olympic Stadium, then indicated to Cox and trainers that it didn't feel 100 percent yet.
"It's not there yet," Lofton said. "That's all I can tell you. It's getting better day to day, but it's a hard little area to get too. I don't want to push it and reinjure it. That's why I'm being cautious. This weekend doesn't make a whole season."
After watching Lofton test his groin, Cox said, "There's no sense in activating him if he can't steal bases."
Lofton indicated that if he doesn't play this weekend, he will not play in the All-Star game. Cox sat down with him Thursday and told him he needs to know whether he'll play Tuesday. If Lofton feels he can't play, Cox must decide who to name to the team to replace him.
"It's part of life," said Lofton, who plans to return to Cleveland for the first time since the March trade regardless of whether he plays or not. "You can't let one game affect your whole season. It would be fun to go back and play in Cleveland on the other side."
SMOLTZ UPDATE: John Smoltz pitched Thursday's game against the Expos, his last start before the All-Star break. At the traditional halfway point last year, he was 14-4 with a 3.16 ERA and started the All-Star game in Philadelphia.
This year he's planning to spend part of the three-day break at his parent's house outside Michigan and take a brief vacation with his wife and children at a lake in Canada.
"It's truly a great honor (to be an All-Star), but for me it's a very welcome three days off," Smoltz said. "I've been to four and I loved every one of them, but at this point I'd like to relax."
Smoltz will have a chance to kick his second half off on the right foot when he starts against the Mets Thursday, the first game back and the opener of a 12-game homestand, the Braves' longest of the season. That means he'll have a week off between starts and he plans to throw Saturday and Sunday in the bullpen, then play catch with his brother-in-law Tuesday to keep loose.