MATTINGLY BACK: Don Mattingly, sidelined since July 25 with a stiff lower back, was activated by the New York Yankees yesterday. Mattingly has been in a rehabilitation program under the supervision of Robert Watkins in Los Angeles and Yankees trainer Gene Monahan. He is batting just .245 in 343 at-bats with five home runs and 35 RBI. He has not homered since May 20.

Mattingly's last appearance was July 24 at Texas. He was placed on the 21-day disabled list the next day. "I was sure I would be back; that was never a question," Mattingly said prior to last night's game against the Rangers. "In fact, I thought I would be back before this, but it took more time than I expected to come around. I have no goals. I'm not looking to do anything offensively or defensively very special. All I want to do is play and stay healthy and not experience any more pain."

The Yankees also said they were purchasing the contract of RHP Rich Monteleone from Class AAA Columbus (4-4, nine saves, 2.24 ERA).

NEW MAN: Pat Tabler got his first hit for his new team, the New York Mets, Monday night -- with the bases loaded, naturally. His two-run, pinch-single in the eighth inning helped put away St. Louis, 10-1, and kept the Mets 3 1/2 games behind Pittsburgh in the NL East.

Since the Mets got him from Kansas City for a minor-leaguer on Aug. 30, one day before postseason rosters were set, Tabler had languished on the bench, the role most people expected him to fill. He'd batted only twice and made outs in both pinch hitting appearances. But, in one of the most remarkable streaks of skill and luck in baseball history, Tabler is 39 for 79 (.494) lifetime with the bases loaded. Included are two grand slams and 95 RBI.

REEDY TRIAL: A Detroit bar owner charged with drunken driving in the wreck that killed Billy Martin was behind the wheel when the baseball manager's pickup truck crashed, witnesses said yesterday. However, William Reedy's defense lawyer said he would prove that his client only told investigators he was the driver to cover for Martin.

Reedy, 53, owner of Reedy's Bar near Tiger Stadium, is charged with driving while intoxicated in the accident that took Martin's life on Christmas Day last year. Reedy and Martin had a longtime friendship and "as a result of that friendship, there was nothing he wouldn't do for Billy Martin," defense lawyer Jon Blechman told a six-member jury as Reedy's trial got underway in the Town of Fenton (N.Y.) Court.

"When the accident, happened Bill Reedy thought, 'Billy's got himself in trouble again. I've got to help my friend,' " said Blechman, who added that Reedy didn't learn until several hours later that Martin had been killed when the pickup truck slammed into a concrete culvert at the entrance to Martin's driveway. Martin had a history of alcohol-related problems.