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Inside Baseball | AROUND THE HORN

Making a Giant Concession in the Race for the Playoffs

August 08, 2004|Ross Newhan

The white flag of National League West surrender seemed to be blowing in the San Francisco breeze above SBC Park as the Giants entered a weekend series with the Chicago Cubs.

The Dodgers may not be ready to read that into it, but Giant Manager Felipe Alou seemed prepared to accept the reality that August and September are now all about a wild-card fight with the Cubs and others rather than a division scrap with the hated Dodgers.

"I think it makes sense to worry about the wild card now," Alou said. "It's closer to us.

"The team went to the World Series as a wild card two years ago."

However, those Giants went to the 2002 World Series with a reliable bullpen.

The performance of this year's bullpen keeps registering on the Richter scale.

The Giants have been outscored, 72-55, in the eighth inning this year and 64-46 in the ninth.

They have given up 204 runs after the sixth inning, are continuing to conduct open auditions for closer -- Dustin Hermanson most recently replaced the battered Matt Herges -- and the bullpen's earned-run average of 5.16 before the weekend ranked 28th in the majors, ahead of only Colorado and Cleveland.

Amid payroll restraints, General Manager Brian Sabean permitted 2003 closer Tim Worrell to leave as a free agent this year, gambling that Robb Nen would walk off the pages of the AMA yearbook in a comeback from his series of shoulder surgeries.

The gamble failed, and Sabean, a master of the mid-season deal, refused to meet Detroit's deadline price for Ugueth Urbina before he dumped salary by sending one of his own relievers, Felix Rodriguez, to Philadelphia for outfielder Ricky Ledee.

In fact, an exasperated Sabean now says the system needs to be changed and he would encourage fellow general managers to lobby on behalf of moving the non-waiver trade deadline from July 31 to Aug. 31. He said July 31 is too early for teams to know if they're in or out of the race, if they're buyers or sellers, amid baseball's new parity, and if they make that decision in August, they're then handicapped in negotiating a trade by the need to have the players clear waivers first.

"If baseball is going to experience this kind of parity," Sabean said, "I don't see where the [July 31] deadline is good for business any more."

*

Trial lawyers insist that you never ask a question in court without knowing what the answer will be.

In bright green ink on a bulletin board at the entrance to the San Diego Padres' clubhouse at Petco Park on Wednesday, someone posed the question:

"Pretenders or Contenders? Which are we?"

The questioner should have talked to a lawyer first.

The Padres went into a weekend series with Pittsburgh having lost four in a row, swept in three games by the Phillies and looking more and more like the Giants -- pretenders in the division and contenders only for the wild card.

In addition, they were still smarting from the loss of Steve Finley, who went from Arizona to the Dodgers. Finley was the player they wanted most at the trade deadline, an outfielder who wouldn't have been lost in spacious Petco, where the ill-fitting Padres were a modest 30-27 and struggling for runs going into the weekend.

Finley lives in Del Mar and would have preferred returning to the hometown Padres, but San Diego General Manager Kevin Towers is convinced that Arizona was determined not to satisfy their mutual desires.

"I feel like we were a leper colony in San Diego," Towers said of the failed talks. "I don't know what more we could have done. We could have offered every player on our Portland and Mobile rosters and it wouldn't have made a difference to Arizona."

Towers also had to eat about $5.75 million when he released Jeff Cirillo, whom he had acquired in a January exchange of foolish contracts, with Seattle agreeing to take on Kevin Jarvis and Wiki Gonzalez, two San Diego mistakes subsequently released by the Mariners.

*

Amid the dreadful Seattle season, there is no stopping Ichiro Suzuki.

Again the American League batting leader, the amazing Ichiro had 51 hits in July, marking the first time in 68 years that a player has had two 50-hit months in the same season.

And he hasn't slowed in August, collecting 15 hits in the first seven games.

He should easily become the first player ever to collect 200 or more hits in each of his first four major league seasons, and he was on pace through Thursday for 255 hits, which would be the second-highest total in major league history and only two hits shy of the 1920 record, set by George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns.

"I feel I have become part of baseball history," Ichiro said in reference to the two months of 50 or more hits this season. "It definitely makes me happy but it is difficult to compare it to the other great moments of my 3 1/2 years here."

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