Sunday, August 15, 2004

Around the majors: Look who's contending

Young, rebuilt Indians unlikely challengers in AL Central

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Ticket sales are brisk and television ratings are on the rise.

Expected to contend in the American League Central next season, at the earliest, the Indians instead went into a weekend series against the Twins second in the division behind Minnesota and fourth in the AL wild-card standings.

"We never thought that we'd be in this spot," infielder Ronnie Belliard told The Plain Dealer. "I think we're just playing free. We have nothing to lose."

The three-game series against the Twins, which concludes today at Jacobs Field, signals the beginning of a significant stretch of games. Cleveland's next 19 games are against the Twins, Yankees, Angels, Rangers and White Sox.

"It gets deeper every day," manager Eric Wedge said. "We're in this thing."

The Indians had won 19 of 29 second-half games entering Friday and stabilized what was their most glaring weakness.

Indians relievers blew 22 saves before the All-Star break. Bob Wickman inherited the closer's role July 20 and converted six of his first seven save opportunities.

"If we had Bob all year," outfielder Matt Lawton said, "we'd be 10 games up right now."

VARYING OPINIONS: When the Blue Jays hired him as their manager in June 2002, critics scrutinized Carlos Tosca's lack of professional playing experience.

His ability to get the most from his players, however, was a well-known attribute Tosca honed during 1,759 games as a minor-league manager.

Yet it was a lack of motivation Blue Jays officials cited when they fired Tosca last week.

"We have six or seven weeks left in the season," Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said, "and the team showed signs of not playing hard."

Tosca, who compiled a 188-191 record as the Blue Jays' manager, took exception.

"I would think that the majority of the team, when a team looks lethargic, it's probably because a lot of pitches are being thrown during the course of that game and the tempo of the game is going to be slow," he said. "The one thing I've always prided myself in is that the players gave a good effort."

DREAMS TO REALITY: As children, the brothers often mimicked the pitching stances of Don Gullett and Jack Billingham.

"But I don't think we ever emulated standing on the mound needing one out to get your 300th (win)," said Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux, who compiled a 39-37 record as a pitcher from 1986-2000. "That's something that was so far-fetched."

Not anymore.

Younger brother Greg became the 22nd pitcher in major-league history to win 300 games, doing so with the Cubs on Aug. 7.

"What can you say? It's an awesome accomplishment," Mike Maddux said. "Words can't really describe it."

NO CELEBRATION: Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of the 1994 strike and the end of Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon's major-league playing career.

The politics behind the work stoppage contributed to his early departure.

"I was horse (manure) that year," McClendon said. "But in all honesty, I didn't have the focus. I didn't want to play the game anymore."

THE LAST WORDS: The Marlins are trying anything to gain a playoff return.

Resting on manager Jack McKeon's desk following a 1-0 loss against the Cardinals on Wednesday was a bottle of holy water from a Catholic church in Miami.

"I sprinkle the bats once in awhile," McKeon said. "I'll have to get it blessed again. Maybe a double blessing.

"Maybe what I need now is some of Schottzie's dog hair."


Information from other news organizations and submitted by other baseball writers was used in this report.

Barry by the numbers

Players with most consecutive 30-home run seasons:

13: Barry Bonds (1992-2004)

12: Jimmie Foxx (1929-40)

9: Mike Schmidt (1979-87)

9: Eddie Mathews (1953-61)

9: Lou Gehrig (1929-37)

8: Sammy Sosa (1995-2002)

8: Albert Belle (1992-99)

8: Mickey Mantle (1955-62)

8: Babe Ruth (1926-33)

Bonds recently reached base for the 5,000th time in his career, joining six others who have accomplished the feat:

5,929: Pete Rose

5,534: Ty Cobb

5,343: Rickey Henderson

5,304: Carl Yastrzemski

5,284: Stan Musial

5,205: Hank Aaron

5,001: Barry Bonds

Yanks taken?

Early returns show the White Sox got the better of their deadline arms swap with the Yankees, Esteban Loaiza for Jose Contreras.

Contreras' starts for the White Sox:

• Aug. 3 at Kansas City: 6 innings, 5 hits, 2 earned runs.

• Aug. 8, vs. Cleveland: 8 innings, 5 hits, 1 earned run.

• Aug. 13, at Boston: 6 innings, 4 hits, 4 earned runs.

Loaiza's starts for the Yankees:

• Aug. 4 vs. Oakland: 6 innings, 6 hits, 5 earned runs.

• Aug. 9 vs. Toronto: 6 innings, 10 hits, 4 earned runs.


• Indians third baseman Aaron Boone was scheduled to start a rehabilitation assignment last week but experienced swelling in his surgically repaired left knee. The setback probably will push back Boone's rehab two weeks.

• Marlins catcher Paul Lo Duca, who was acquired from the Dodgers on July 30, said last week that owner Jeffrey Loria told him the Marlins want to sign him at least through next season. Lo Duca is arbitration-eligible after this season.

• The Expos became the first team to face Cy Young Award winners Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson in consecutive games (Aug. 8 and 10). They beat both.

• Cubs starter Mark Prior, who has failed to win back-to-back starts this season, is still searching for his first win at Wrigley Field this season.

MLB power rankings

1. St. Louis CardinalsAll that offense, and Larry Walker, too.
2. New York YankeesTrying a six-man rotation.
3. Los Angeles DodgersWill bullpen be same without Mota?
4. Atlanta BravesHave they lost a game since, like, May?
5. Boston Red SoxBest 10-games-back team in majors.
6. Oakland AthleticsMulder, Hudson keys to stretch run.
7. San Diego PadresOffense looked pretty good Friday.
8. Chicago CubsStill baseball's sleeping giants.
9. Minnesota TwinsSantana may be best pitcher in AL.
10. Texas RangersKenny Rogers chasing 20 wins.
11. San Francisco GiantsBonds, Schmidt carrying club.
12. Anaheim AngelsColon takes another step back.
13. Cleveland IndiansBroussard has Tribe closing on Twins.
14. Philadelphia PhilliesAdded Lidle, but lost Burrell.
15. Chicago White SoxTwins, Tribe haven't heard last of them.
16. Florida MarlinsCan McKeon pull off another miracle?
17. Houston AstrosUnderachievers can't get over hump.
18. Baltimore OriolesQuietly making a charge.
19. New York MetsLosing ground quickly.
20. Cincinnati RedsLadies and gentlemen, Darren Bragg!
21. Tampa Bay D-RaysFell out of third place in AL East.
22. Milwaukee BrewersBen Sheets may be best pitcher in NL.
23. Pittsburgh PiratesJason Bay emerging as a top young OF.
24. Detroit TigersFallen off, but haven't collapsed.
25. Colorado RockiesSuddenly a strong road team.
26. Toronto Blue JaysTosca got the ax.
27. Kansas City RoyalsBrian Anderson finally pitching well.
28. Seattle MarinersEnd of an era: Edgar retiring.
29. Montreal ExposTen years since franchise doomed.
30. Arizona D'backsNo humidity, we hear.

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