Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Baseball's new faces starting to turn heads


No-names merit extra attention for abilities

By MIKE LOPRESTI
Gannett News Service

Notice all the strangers hanging around the headlines in baseball? If nothing else, this season is forcing us to meet different faces, and lots of them.

It took six Houston pitchers to no-hit the Yankees, thereby making room in the history book for such less-than-headliner Astros as Brad Lidge and Pete Munro.

The leading hitter in the American League batted .233 last season and is the father of quintuplets.

Melvin Mora was an amateur boxer and a professional soccer player, but now he's hitting .361 for the Baltimore Orioles, and chasing after the same batting crown that Ted Williams used to win.

The top home run hitter in baseball is a cancer survivor. Mike Lowell has never had more than 24 homers in a season. But five years after testicular cancer surgery, he already has 23 this season, and general managers of contenders from sea to shining sea have the Florida Marlins on autodial, trying to pick him up for the stretch.

The winningest pitcher in the National League works for the Colorado Rockies, where earned run averages go to die.

The Rockies have never had a 20-game winner. But Shawn Chacon, who grew up on the outskirts of Denver and must be accustomed to throwing fastballs in thin air, is 11-3.

The top RBI man in the National League is stepson of the old Met, Mookie Wilson. Preston Wilson, who has 67 RBI, hasn't gotten this much attention since he set a national high school record with seven grand slams.

While other teams empty the checking account for high profile free agent imports, the Toronto Blue Jays try to rattle the American League with homegrown weapons. That's Roy Halladay who is 11-2. That's Carlos Delgado and Vernon Wells who are on a pace to combine for 373 RBI.

The second-leading home run hitter in the National League turned down a scholarship to play quarterback for Texas. Adam Dunn threw 44 touchdown passes in high school but instead of trying to beat Oklahoma, decided he'd rather try to hit John Smoltz. Now Dunn has 22 home runs for Cincinnati.

The earned run average leader in baseball had to hunt for a job in the spring.

Toronto had tossed out Esteban Loaiza with the used tape rolls after going 9-10 with a 5.71 ERA last season. The Chicago White Sox brought him to camp as a non-roster invitee. Pending Tuesday night's game, he was 10-2 with a 2.15 ERA.

Albert Pujols should ring a bell. He is well beyond a no-name. But he is only 23 years old, still a little green to be a full-blown sensation, and already has 92 career home runs and 323 RBI for St. Louis. He leads the National League in batting, is second in RBI and tied for third in home runs, so this might be a good time to mention the National League hasn't had a triple crown winner in 66 years.

Tony La Russa called him the best player he has ever managed. And he used to write the name Mark McGwire on his lineup card.

The season demands we better get to know fresh faces, because they are doing startling things. The likes of Pujols and Mora. Lowell and Chacon and Lidge, who managed to be the winning pitcher in a no-hitter despite working only two innings.

"I can't find a reason for what happened today," New York manager Joe Torre said after the half-dozen Astros stuffed his Yankees.

It's a different world with different names, and that stretches even back to campus. The College World Series was won by Rice, which has never been a champion at anything. This is the season for it.




REDS
Reds 7, Cards 4
Reds notebook: Riedling will pitch on Friday

MORE BASEBALL
Baseball's new faces starting to turn heads
NL: Wilkerson's cycle seals Expos' win
AL: More perfection for Garciaparra
Members in Bonds' new club: 1
Former Negro Leagues star Max Manning dies
Rangers trying to deal Gonzalez to Expos
Choi returns to action after collision at Wrigley
All-Star voting
Rice adjusting to life as national champs

FOOTBALL
Once cut, O'Donnell returns to Tennessee
Miami taking on artificial turf
ACC to pursue Miami, Virginia Tech only
Archie Griffin to head OSU alumni association
Ex-Bama coach getting help from friends

BASKETBALL
Ex-UC hoops player Donald Little gets jail
Rumors swirling about Kidd
LeBron stays cool in stardom's glare

PREP SPORTS
Kesselring fills Amelia High School football post

WIMBLEDON TENNIS
Smiling Serena is back on track
Set the speed gun: It's Roddick vs. Rusedski

GOLF
Leaderboard looking more youthful at Met

BOXING
Holyfield sets sights on Toney

HOCKEY
The Dominator pondering comeback

SOCCER
Green U.S. team gains experience, no wins

ON THE AIR
Wednesday's sports on TV, radio

Return to Reds front page...