With the Yankees playing their best ball since 1977 -- winners of 25 of 28, 11-of-12 and 11-1 at home, it appears the Bombers are on their way to a 100-win season. The last time a New York team had more than 100 wins was in 1986, when the Mets won 108, and since then, the closest anyone has come to that total was the '93 Braves, who won 104.
So who better to compare the two clubs than Darryl Strawberry, who played on both teams. Asked who would win a seven-game series -- '86 Mets or '98 Yankees -- and Strawberry said, "it'd be a battle, a hell of a battle." That answer should tell you something about Strawberry's zero-ego quotient these days. The brash young Strawberry of the '80s just wouldn't fit in today's Yankee clubhouse -- a quiet, professional atmosphere, if you ignore David Wells. Just as the humility Strawberry displays today would've made him an outsider among the '86 Mets.
"It'd be impossible for me to be on a (Mets') team like that at this point in my life," Strawberry said. "It was a different time. Back then, we had a strut about us. We wanted to take on the world every night and dominate somebody, and we didn't care who knew it. This team here, it has that kind of talent. We're just a lot more quiet about it. And we've done it before.
"In '86, that season was the most exciting thing in the world because we were turning a franchise around. This is different. We just play. You can win 100 ball games and still lose in the playoffs. The bottom line for us is winning the whole thing. That's what we're here for."
GRACE GOES YARD: In Tuesday's game, Cubs first baseman Mark Grace became the first player to hit a homer into the swimming pool beyond right-center field at Arizona's Bank One Ballpark. (Gregg Zaun hit one into the pool area on April 19, but it didn't land in the water.)
"I've hit many balls in the drink in my time -- it's usually with 7-irons and 5-irons," Grace said. "I guess they can call me `Tin Cup."'
Grace came into the two-game series with no homers and left with two.
WONDER BOY WOOD: As you may have heard, Kerry Wood struck out a mere 13 in Chicago on Monday to set the record for strikeouts in consecutive games with 33. How the D-Backs whiffed seven fewer times than the Astros is a question for Robert Stack and the Unsolved Mysteries squad. Wood was throwing "only" 96, but had the nasty curveball. He struck out 11 of 14 in one stretch.
"One thing that he did very well was throw all his pitches for strikes," Jay Bell said. "Guys who throw 95, 96 are a dime a dozen. What makes him good is he throws his breaking balls -- both of them -- for strikes and he throws his changeup for strikes."
Wood had no idea why the fans cheered -- there are lots of Cubs fans and Chicago retirees in the Valley because the team trains in Mesa -- after he struck out Yamil Benitez to end the seventh, which gave Wood the record.
"I had no idea there was a record," he said. Jeremi Gonzalez explained about five minutes after Wood came in the dugout.
BOO BIRDS: Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar was booed heavily at Tropicana Field over the weekend, apparently because fans of the expansion team did not get the opportunity to boo him last year. The booing was in stark contrast to the standing ovation that Cal Ripken received from a large crowd on Saturday night, prompting Miller to promise never to bat them back-to-back in the order again.
"I hate that," he said. "I'll never do that again."
REHABBING ROBBIE: Miller wondered aloud before the game if prejudice was contributing to Alomar's vilification, but that's ridiculous. The only Hispanic players getting booed right now are the guy who spit in the umpire's face and the guy who beat his wife and then signed with the White Sox. Nevertheless, Miller is on a campaign to rehab Robbie's image.
"When is it going to end?" Miller said. "Maybe there is a certain amount of prejudice involved. That's the only thing I can think of. He's certainly not a bad guy. He doesn't like it when I talk about this, but someone has to defend him."
Ripken, never happy to be asked about controversial subjects, gave an ambivalent reply when asked if he thought that the fan reaction was inappropriate.
"He knows how we feel,"' Ripken said. "Sometimes, the lingering effect of his mistake is an unnecessary reminder. The reality of the situation is, he's going to pay for that mistake the rest of his career. We know what kind of individual he is, but he has the burden of living with that mistake. Hopefully, people will judge him on something else, eventually."
PROBLEMS IN BEANTOWN: The Red Sox have had more than their share of injuries to key players, losing Jeff Frye and Butch Henry for the season to knee injuries. Then, there's Tim Naehring, out since last July (possibly for the entire season) after elbow surgery. Then came this week's batch:
-- Nomar Garciaparra suffered a mild shoulder separation when he went tumbling after a ground ball Friday in Kansas City. He was placed on the DL Wednesday, retro to May 9.
-- Rookie right-hander Brian Rose gave up six runs in the second inning at Texas on Tuesday, after which the Sox sent him home, fearing he had an elbow problem.
Rose, it was revealed Tuesday, has been pitching through off-and-on discomfort since spring training. He was waiting for an MRI.
-- Robinson Checo, who pitched his way out of the fifth spot in the rotation last week, was struck in the face by a batting practice liner in Indianapolis. So much for his projected return to the majors. He could be out for the season after surgery to repair facial fractures, including one of the orbital ridge under his right eye.
-- Also, outfield hopeful Michael Coleman had arthroscopic knee surgery Wednesday and will be out four to six weeks.
In the past week the Sox have called up relievers Rich Garces and Ron Mahay and rookie infielder Lou Merloni, who currently is backing up Mike Benjamin at short.
WOOD GOOD WITH THE WOOD: Kerry Wood isn't doing too bad at the plate, either. He's 3-for-13 with three RBI (more than Lance Johnson, 0, Sandy Martinez,b 0, or Matt Mieske, 2, have). A's GM Billy Beane, who was with the Mets when Dwight Gooden had his back-to-back 16-K games in September, 1984, said hitting is another area where Wood compares to Gooden.
"With Doc, it was fun to watch him hit," Beane said. "Wood's like that, too. Those guys are good athletes, not just pitchers."
Beane watched the 20-K game in the A's clubhouse, where the mood was almost reverent. "You've got people who have 10, 15 years in the major leagues, and they're standing around mesmerized," he said. "It was like Doc. You can see how physically intimidating he was. It was like you can't believe it, like you're saying this is the greatest stuff I've ever seen in my life. You're watching on TV, and saying that."