NEW YORK -- When Lastings Milledge came tumbling into home plate with the winning run of Thursday's 3-2 victory over the Reds, Shea Stadium erupted with glee. And no one was happier than Milledge, who pounced up and shot a fist-pump -- a sign of the success he'd been missing for months -- into the air.

But make no mistake. Manager Willie Randolph wasn't pleased.

"I really didn't like it," Randolph said. "But it got the job done. He tried to go around the catcher and a lot of these guys do that nowadays; it's so silly. You end up getting hurt."

Yet if Milledge's slide didn't garner acclaim for its textbook form, it certainly turned heads with its twisted acrobatics. After singling to open the fifth inning, Milledge took off for second base two outs later when Ruben Gotay punched a sinking liner into center.

Reds center fielder Ryan Freel went for the catch, but managed to do little more than keep the ball from skidding behind him. Milledge, meanwhile, was cruising past third-base coach Sandy Alomar's windmill, just fast enough to see Freel's two-hopper out of the corner of his eye.

Catcher David Ross braced for contact, but Milledge slid right past him, darting his left hand around Ross' leg for the score.

"I really didn't think I could score," Milledge said. "With a real decent throw home, I would've been out, but it was a chance we took."

And it was a chance that won the game. The Mets offense didn't do much after back-to-back homers opened the game, so Milledge's contribution certainly hit the spot. The ground-ball single was his only tick in the box score, but his screaming liner in the second was perhaps a better indicator of the 22-year-old's refined approach.

Now that he's getting his chance, it's an approach that the Mets will see more often. The outfielder was held to just three pinch-hit at-bats in his season-opening stint with the team, before a Minor League demotion and a foot injury kept him far away from Flushing.

Three at-bats in 3 1/2 months. On Thursday, he had four.

"Willie and the staff know what I can do," Milledge said. "They've been watching me for the last couple of years here. They know what I can do and they have full confidence in me. Right now, the thing I'm working on is just recognizing pitches, recognizing what they're trying to do to me."

What they were trying to do on Thursday was throw him out at the plate. But -- whether Randolph liked it or not -- Milledge's slide made sure that wouldn't happen.

And even if Randolph wasn't pleased, he couldn't help but be impressed.

"You see a lot of guys tiptoe around home plate, but he was fast enough to get there," Randolph said. "Great call by Sandy and a good hustle play by Milledge to score the go-ahead run."

Milledge's philosophy -- "When you really need the run, you don't want to make contact" -- may not mesh with that of his manager. But neither could argue with the result.

And if that result becomes common at Shea, Milledge's philosophy may just warrant a second look.

"I'm very happy with the way the team played," Milledge said. "And I'm happy with myself, how I got in and I was relaxed, how I approached the game tonight. I was real pleased with myself."