The New York Daily News™ Peter Botte reports that germphobic con artist Donald Trump and Mets 2B Kaz Matsui have a special bond. And no, it has nothing to do with Trump bunting against orders.

Donald Trump said in a television interview last year that the one major-league player he™d want to slap with his infamous catch-phrase would be Mets second baseman Kaz Matsui. But Trump didn™t say œYou™re fired when he talked briefly with Matsui while filming an episode for the next season of œThe Apprentice yesterday at Shea.

Instead, Matsui said the mogul only encouraged him during their brief encounter on the infield dirt.

œHe just told me good luck with the season and that I™m looking pretty well right now, Matsui said through his interpreter before last night™s game against the Braves. œI think I™ve seen the program before, but obviously I don™t really understand it.

Trump had taken shots at Matsui during a June 2004 segment of the ESPN™s œThe Hot Seat, saying œI would certainly say Kaz Matsui of the Mets has been a bust. There™s no doubt about that.

Kaz shouldn™t worry about it. I™ve seen œThe Appentice”, too, and I don™t understand it, either.

Is there some sort of legal action pending against Aaron Heilman in the State of New York that requires the Mets to put an imposter on the mound at Shea each time the Notre Dame graduate™s turn in the rotation comes up?

The Bergen Record™s Bob Klapisch previews tonight™s Pedro Martinez/John Smoltz matchup.

Every so often baseball delivers a scheduling gift to its loyalists – a matchup so compelling it makes you forget these are the early, chilly weeks of the season. When Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz go one-on-one tonight, everything else will come to a halt at Shea. Even April™s gusts will cooperate and feel like a soft, August flutter.

Think these two power pitchers aren™t already surging on adrenaline? The last time Pedro and Smoltz collided, they combined for 24 strikeouts, flattening everyone in their path. No wonder Braves manager Bobby Cox likened the encore to œ[Sandy] Koufax against [Juan] Marichal.

œIt™s a good old National League matchup, like [Gaylord] Perry against [Don] Drysdale, Cox was saying Monday night. œPeople love matchups. They™re fun.

They™re irresistible, actually, especially this one. The Mets have the National League™s hottest pitcher in Pedro, averaging almost 12 strikeouts a game, keeping opponents to a ridiculous .119 average.

Smoltz™s numbers are almost as gripping. Since an opening-day meltdown against the Marlins, the right-hander has surrendered just five earned runs in his last 211/3 innings, striking out 24.

It™s inevitable Pedro and Smoltz will go deep into the game again tonight. The at-bats will be over in a hurry, the innings turning into a blur. The hitters will be helpless bystanders to a much larger struggle between two future Hall of Famers.

It™s the kind of matchup that makes the Mets™ ticket office breathe heavily, but in the clubhouse, there are other, longer-range dividends being considered, too.

Willie Randolph is imagining facing Smoltz in the heat of the pennant race, when the 80-something-win Mets will be trying to make a wild-card fantasy come true.

If they can beat Smoltz twice in the first month of the season, that memory could last all summer. Remember, the Mets are like a baby chick emerging from its shell, fragile and impressionable. That™s why they treat Pedro like their guardian every fifth day, especially tonight.

It may not be as apocalyptic as Game 7 in the 2003 AL Championship Series, at least not to Pedro, but he knows these are all late-summer moments for the Mets.

To them, facing Smoltz represents a trip up Mount Olympus. Even in April, it™s an irresistible journey.