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'Pulpo' Non-Fiction, and Other Diamond Tales


Last call for regular-season baseball, which means the local teams go home alone again.

Chatter'll lock up.

Here are the honors:

Kindness Award, public decorum division: By now you probably know the story of Florida's Antonio Alfonseca, the closer with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. His nickname is "Pulpo," Spanish for octopus.

He was scouted and signed by Jesus Alou and Frank Wren, this season's honorees. This is the story, in their words.

Years ago, they're on a field in the Dominican Republic, and Alou shakes the 17-year-old's hand.

"I felt something funny, and when I looked, there was the extra finger," Alou said. "I said, 'Look, Frank, he has an extra finger!' "

Wren gawked and responded, "Maybe he'll be twice as good as Three-Finger Brown!"

Then, presumably, the two of them laughed, threw their arms around each other and went off to stare at handicapped people.

Career Achievement Award, Sutton division: Don Sutton, as Todd Helton appeared poised to make a run at .400: "I don't think I have any past experience I can identify with him. Winning 300 isn't that difficult. When you get to 299, it's not that big a deal. Just stay alive. Or when you get 2,990 hits, just don't have a heart attack. Don't quit, don't die and don't get released."

Sound advice to all you Little Leaguers out there: If you're ever 10 hits from 3,000, cut back on the cholesterol and, for God's sake, watch out for those school buses.

Most Valuable Player, non-contender division: Satan called. He's offering your soul back--at half price.

Helton valiantly pushed the Teddy Ballgame envelope into the season's final month, only to crash where the likes of Rod Carew, George Brett and Tony Gwynn have before him--short of .400, and alone.

The media went off to breathlessly solve other complexities, such as: Technically speaking, does Antonio Alfonseca have a middle finger? And, if not, how could he drive the 405 freeway? Oh, Wren and Alou would have loved that one!

"I'm terrible again," Helton said with typical good humor, "and nobody wants to talk to me."

Cy Young Award, dork division: That would be right-hander Darryl Kile, who was 8-13 with a 6.61 ERA last year in Colorado and 20-9 with a 3.91 ERA this year in St. Louis.

Kile's signature curveball was ineffective in gravitationally challenged Denver, which might explain 109 walks in 190 2/3 innings last season compared to 58 walks in 232 1/3 innings this year.

He's a happy guy. Sometimes, it all gets to be too much for him. Recently, while driving with his wife to a restaurant, he was overcome with joy.

"Here's this skinny, goofy kid from Norco, California, playing baseball, getting to go out to dinner and married to a beautiful woman who I love and who loves me, and I've got two beautiful children," he said. "I couldn't ask for anything more."

Either he's the skinny, goofy kid from Norco or some other guy's due a whuppin'.

Cy Young Award, duck division: Pitchers don't ask for much, really.

A rubbed-up baseball. A little run support. A few inches off the outside of the plate. And the occasional opportunity to pitch to the Twins. That's about all.

When he deflected with his hand a line drive headed for the bridge of his nose this week, Tampa Bay's Paul Wilson reminded us of one more.

"All that field out there," he said, "just don't hit it off my face. That's all I ask."

OK. A good grip. Runs. Wide strike zone. Twins. And, a reasonable buffer zone for all soft-tissue areas.

Cy Young Award, poetic license division: Arizona right-hander Byung-Hyun Kim made his first big-league start Tuesday. The day before, he expressed his eagerness to start after 49 relief appearances.

Through an interpreter he supposedly said, "I'm pumped up."

Probably not the literal translation.

Kim gave up two home runs and four runs in 2 1/3 innings against Colorado.

He was bombed. Again, not the literal translation.

Comebacker Player of the Year Award, 1-6-3 division: When you're named after a really bad mood, these things will happen: Oakland's Ben Grieve grounded into 32 double plays, a club record and, for left-handers, a major league record.

Comeback Player of the Year Award, spring training division: In the past few years, veteran right-hander John Burkett was better known for backing up third base than for any serious pitching.

So, when he was released by Tampa Bay, of all teams, in March, he told a reporter from his hometown near Pittsburgh that he would retire. He gave the reporter a nice interview and said goodbye.

A few minutes later, the reporter's telephone rang. It was Burkett:

"Did you write your story yet? (We're fast, but not that fast.) You might want to wait. I just got signed by the Braves."

Battery of the Year Award, rack division: You know, it's asking for it. It sits there in the corner of the dugout, so smug in its woodenness.

No, not Troy Glaus.

The bat rack, so satisfied with your strikeout, gaping at you. You know, begging for a Louisville Slugger makeover.

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