Originally created 06/27/99

Major League notebook

Curt Schilling still holds the title of staff ace for the Phillies, but Paul Byrd is the team's top winner. Less than a year after being placed on waivers by the pitching-rich Braves, Byrd has two more wins (10) than Schilling (8) and the same total as Greg Maddux (6) and Tom Glavine (4) combined.

The Phillies would love to tell you they knew all along that Byrd would burst onto the scene and go 15-5 with a 2.82 ERA in his first 21 starts for them. But if they did, they know it would be a lie.

Every time general manager Ed Wade tells the story, he openly admits that the Phillies claimed Byrd last August and had every intention of sending him to Class AAA ScrantonWilkes-Barre. Before joining the Phillies, Byrd had been pitching at Class AAA Richmond, where he was a pedestrian 5-5 with a 3.69 ERA in 17 starts.

Byrd was only given a chance to start for the Phillies last year because his waiver claim coincided with Matt Beech's season-ending elbow injury. That forced Byrd into action against Randy Johnson and the Astros. Byrd handed Johnson his only NL loss last season and hasn't returned to earth since.

"We were just looking for a healthy arm," manager Terry Francona said. "We were so desperate."

Now, Byrd has a legitimate chance to be a member of the NL All-Star team next month in Boston.

"I think about the All-Star Game and it would be neat to go," Byrd said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. My wife and I talked about it this morning again. But if I don't make it, I'm not going to be disappointed. Just being in the starting rotation still has me goo-goo eyed. I think when I'm 40 years old I'll still be excited by that." ...

The Dodgers are no longer looking for turning points. They are just hoping they've finally hit bottom. Tuesday's 11-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates easily was the season low so far, dropping them 8 1/2 games behind division-leading Arizona. Dodgers starter Kevin Brown was routed for eight runs (four earned), including three homers in three innings. He entered the game with the third-lowest ERA in the National League (2.69) and left at 2.98. But the Dodgers, who lost their fourth straight and seventh in a row to Pittsburgh dating back to last year, also had a lot more to think about.

Manager Davey Johnson decided before the game to bench struggling catcher Todd Hundley and go with rookie Angel Pena. They also moved Darren Dreifort to the bullpen and promoted Jamie Arnold to the rotation. Then they acquired infielder and former World Series hero Greg Counsell from Florida for a player to be named.

"I'm going to limit Hundley's time," Johnson said. "To me, he's still kind of broken. He feels the pressure to carry the team and hold up his end, and he feels like he's letting the team and the fans down."

The switch-hitting Hundley is batting just .230 with seven homers and 20 RBI and has thrown only 12 percent (7-for-60) base runners. He will continue to work individually with bullpen coach Rick Dempsey. Hundley will remain on the active roster to pinch hit and catch occasionally.

"The bottom line is results," Hundley said. "You have to live in reality. I'm not getting the job done back there." ...

Remember when George Steinbrenner called Hideki Irabu a "fat toad" in spring training? Maybe The Boss knew all along his insults would work, because in his last five starts, Irabu is 2-0 with a 3.57 ERA.

Who knows, maybe Irabu is progressing to the point where the Yankees can actually depend on him. ...

It wasn't so long ago when the Yankees were convinced adding Chuck Knoblauch would solidify their infield into the next millennium. While it's true they set an American League record with 114 wins last season -- Knoblauch's first in the Bronx -- he's slumped badly in 1999. So much so, some Yankee executives are privately ecstatic that a two-year, $18 million contract extension, which was discussed in spring training, was tabled due to Knoblauch's on-going divorce proceedings

In fact, Knoblauch's .249 average has been a billboard of inconsistency. He was batting just .174 in mid-April, before running off a streak that actually put him atop the American League with a .381 average at month's end. But since then, Knoblauch has all but disappeared -- going 21-for-121, which finally prompted Joe Torre to drop the leadoff hitters to the No. 8 spot in the lineup.

Knoblauch has fallen off in other categories, too. In 1997 with the Twins, he stole a career-high 62 bases. Last year, he swiped just 31 and this year is on a pace for only 22, a career low. And then there's the mystery of Knoblauch's inability to throw a consistent strike to first base.

The Yankees have encouraged Knoblauch to look away from Tino Martinez until the very last second before he throws -- thereby forcing him to make the play by instinct and not over-think. They've also experimented with having Knoblauch run a few steps towards first base when there's enough time, allowing him to lob the ball into Martinez' glove.

But nothing has worked, not consistently anyway. Which, Torre admits, has been a source of enormous frustration to the Yankees. ...

Exactly what do Bobby Valentine and Jack McKeon have against each other? We wonder. On Monday, righty reliever Pat Mahomes was forced to change T-shirts, simple because McKeon objected to an orange sleeve that was showing from beneath his Met jersey.

Petty? Valentine thought so, calling McKeon's sensitivity to the rules, "ridiculous ... nonsense." That sentiment was seconded by GM Steve Phillips, who chastised McKeon to, "just play the game."

McKeon swears there's nothing personal here, merely a healthy observance of dress code. But the game of one-upsmanship between he and Valentine has been going on for weeks.

It started on June 3 at Shea Stadium, when the Reds complained that the batter's box had been soaked -- apparently, McKeon believed, by the Mets, in an attempt to slow Cincinnati's runners. Later during that game, the Reds retaliated by complaining that Jason Isringhausen's glove was illegal, because of prominently displayed white markings. The pitcher was forced to black it out with a marker before continuing.

And then came Monday night, when McKeon complained to the umpires about Mahomes. Valentine disgustedly said, "I could have at any time gone out and had (the Reds') white wristbands removed, but I've never done that. I go by the National League edict to speed up games." ...

Barry Bonds had one of his long, soul-searching interviews with two reporters on Tuesday. Here is the gist of what he said:

"Sometimes I feel incomplete," Bonds told the Oakland Tribune's Mark Saxon. "I've never gone through this in my life. I told my wife that I'm dealing with too many emotional things to worry about, `Am I back too soon?' "

Bonds sat out Wednesday's game against the Rockies, and there are those wondering if he came back to soon from his elbow injury. Bonds was expected to miss a minimum of 10 weeks after the April 20 surgery. He was back seven weeks and a day after the surgery.

"My wife (Liz) thinks I'm crazy sometimes. `What are you trying to prove? You're beating yourself up,' " Bonds said. "It's heartbreaking to me because it emotionally affects my wife.

"It hurts her feelings. She sees the hard work I put in, how I'm at home with the kids and the problems with my ex-wife (Sun) all the time that I still battle. I still battle people calling me `abuser.' She sees that and wonders why I still play (through it)." ...

Okay, so Cal Ripken ended his consecutive games streak last September at 2,632 games, which was quite a load off the mind of manager Ray Miller.

Then the Orioles signed sullen slugger Albert Belle, who became baseball's new iron man when Ripken chose to sit down. The streak wasn't in the same statistical league, of course, but it was a curious little convergence.

So what happens, Miller gets miffed at Belle and benches him last weekend after their little tiff in the dugout in Florida. End of streak, which had reached 392 games and would have threatened Ripken's record in 2013.

What are the odds on this? The longest active streak fell to Colorado's Vinnie Castilla, who held the distinction for exactly four days before sitting out Tuesday night's game and -- viola! -- it was right back in Ray Miller's lap.

Orioles outfielder B.J. Surhoff now is baseball's reigning iron man with a string that had reached 226 games. He only needs to play every game until 2014 to challenge Ripken's all-time record. ...

Never count Cal out. Six weeks ago, it didn't look like he would make it to the All-Star break, much less be in anything but an embarrassing position to start the game for the American League, but times have changed.

Ripken, who was batting .179 when a back injury sidelined him for the second time and seemed to threaten his career, has been on a non-stop roll since he came off the disabled list.

He set an Orioles record with six hits in Sunday's 22-1 victory over the Braves and he's churning right along in his quest for hit No. 3,000 and his 400th home run. ...

Striking a blow for Jerry Reinsdorf and underdogs everywhere, the White Sox went to Wrigley last weekend and swept the Cubs. They played their best baseball in the post-Belle era, winning 5-3, 8-2 and 6-4.

"These guys are growing up," Frank Thomas said. "They keep it up and you never know where we might be in September."

Starters Jim Parque, Mike Sirotka and Jaime Navarro were a combined 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA vs. the Cubs. The Sox outhit and outhustled the older Cubs.

It wasn't by accident that the Sox had their best pitchers going against the Cubs. Nor that they seemed to be peaking for the series. Manager Jerry Manuel had been pointing toward those three games since last winter. He was determined to get revenge after being swept at Wrigley last season.

Manuel swears he called pitching coach Nardi Contreras last winter to discuss his pitching rotation for the Cubs' series. He told Contreras he wanted to attack the Cubs with lefties Parque and Sirotka and his hottest right-hander, which turned out to be Navarro.

"When I told Nardi, he said, `What about all the other games?' " Manuel said. "I said, `Yeah, they count, too, but I live here.' ... Last year I couldn't grasp the importance of the series until after the fact. But of the few people I run into (in the off-season), that's what they mentioned. You read papers during the winter, and when it appears that one team is getting favoritism ... you want to get respect." ...

Manny Ramirez sat out a three-game series against Milwaukee from June 8-10 to serve a three-game suspension for charging Detroit's Jeff Weaver on May 22. Not only did the Indians lose two out of three, but they were not the same team without Ramirez hitting in the cleanup spot.

In Ramirez's first five games back the Indians won all five -- three against the Reds in Cincinnati and two against Oakland. In those five games, Ramirez hit four homers and drove in nine runs. He's hitting .345 with 18 homers and 77 RBI. He's on pace to drive in 201, but since he isn't talking, who knows what he thinks.

"Manny is a great hitter," manager Mike Hargrove said, "and like all great hitters who are strong, he's a good run producer. He knows his own swing better than many hitters I know. He's very intelligent when it comes to that."

In years past, Ramirez shied away from being the No.4. He always said he'd rather stay in the seventh hole. But with Jim Thome in a funk and David Justice more suited to hit sixth or seventh, he's taken charge there. ...

Larry Dierker's prognosis is excellent after having a lump of blood vessels the size of a lemon removed from his brain. Still no word on how long Dierker will be out -- general manager Gerry Hunsicker refused to speculate, but doctors say it will be at least a week before Dierker even gets out of Houston's Methodist Hospital. Meanwhile, the players were relieved to learn Dierker's surgery was a success.

"I think we were all having some anxiety, but after Craig (Biggio) and (Jeff Bagwell) went and visited him and told us how upbeat he was it made us feel a lot better," shortstop Tim Bogar said. "For him to have that much courage facing something like that how could we not feel positive about him?" ...

Like most former players who go into broadcasting, Ron Fairly regularly calls upon his memories of playing the game. And, like most current players, David Segui occasionally gets rankled when hears -- or is told about -- stories former players tell on the air. So when Fairly was in the Mariners clubhouse this week, talking to a young pitcher, Segui began doing a play-by-play bit at his locker.

"Back when I played, the balls were half the size they are now -- just golf balls with stitches," Segui said. "And I never fouled off a good pitch. Back when I played, the balls were dead, you couldn't hit home runs like these kids now. In fact, they didn't play with baseballs, pitchers threw bean bags but it didn't matter because we all knew the game back then. It was a tougher game when I played. Pitchers threw bean bags 120 miles an hour and the bats we used were all broken. But I never made an out when it mattered, back when I played ..."

Segui's teammates were in stitches during the mock broadcast. And Fairly, allowing the players to have fun in their clubhouse, never said a word. ...

Jose Canseco needs five home runs to become the first player in major league history to hit 30 or more home runs in a single season for four different teams (Oakland, Texas and Toronto are the others). Fred McGriff, who has 16 homers this season, could become the second. Canseco is the third-fastest this decade to reach 25 homers. It took Canseco 63 games, while Ken Griffey needed only 55 games in 1994 and 56 games in 1997. ...

Texas desperately needs pitching. Kent Mercker is out there and the Cardinals would love to dump him and his $2.5 million salary. But he's 2-2 with an 7.20. The Rangers would love to bring back Cardinals left-hander Darren Oliver -- a free agent after the season -- and have asked about him. Wilson Alvarez, Scott Erickson and Jaime Navarro are also available, but come with highly unattractive long-term contracts. The Rangers have little interest in Juan Guzman because he's always hurt. The Royals would love to trade Kevin Appier, but at the steep price of two premium prospects. The Rangers continue to monitor him, but refuse to bite. The desired names most often mentioned -- Curt Schilling, Brad Radke, Kenny Rogers, Andy Ashby -- just aren't available, major league officials said. ...

Despite spurning the Brewers twice as a free agent and again last winter when they offered him a front-office job, Paul Molitor proved you can go home again when he announced for the first time that, if elected, he will enter the Hall of Fame in 2004 as a Milwaukee Brewer. The announcement came during a County Stadium ceremony during which the Brewers retired his No. 4, and it was greeted with wild applause by an estimated crowd of 20,000.

"Very fittingly, Robin Yount will be the first Brewer enshrined in Cooperstown this summer ... and, if by chance someday I have that same opportunity, I'll be proud to go in as a Brewer as well," Molitor said, voice quivering with emotion, during the 35-minute pregame ceremony that was held between thunderstorms.

Although Molitor kept his decision quiet until Friday night, the Twins didn't even know about it, it wasn't unexpected.

"It's appropriate," said Twins president Jerry Bell, who attended the ceremony. "He played 15 years in Milwaukee. It's the right thing to do.

"I think it's amazing, when they talk about (Robin) Yount, (Jim) Gantner and Molly playing together for 15 years. What are the chances of that today? It's kind of sad to think that that wouldn't happen."


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