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AROUND THE HORN / ROSS NEWHAN

It's Not Just Out of the Park, but Really Out of This World

August 22, 2004|ROSS NEWHAN

If this is baseball's golden age, as Commissioner Bud Selig restated Thursday after owners confirmed his three-year contract extension, then this is another season in which Barry Bonds and Ichiro Suzuki represent the long and short of it, stylistically at least.

Bonds added two more pitchers to his list of home run victims and continued his resolute climb up the all-time ladder during San Francisco's four-game series with the Montreal Expos that ended Wednesday, while Suzuki spent another week manufacturing base hits as if he were a one-man assembly line.

There have seldom been two more golden hitters in any era.

Bonds homered off Sun-Woo Kim of South Korea on Tuesday, and homered off Francis Beltran of the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, the 408th and 409th pitchers to have yielded the 692 homers he has.

Amid his 176 walks this season, 92 of them intentional, Bonds has managed to hit 34 homers, and there seems to be little doubt now that before the season ends he will join Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) as the only players to surpass 700 -- a remarkable accomplishment.

Of the home run off Kim, who joined Chan Ho Park as the only South Koreans to give up home runs to Bonds, San Francisco Manager Felipe Alou referred to the infrequency with which opposing teams pitch to him and said: "It was a strike. He's got to take advantage of anybody who throws a strike whether it's a Japanese, Korean or Iraqi."

Along the same lines, Baltimore Oriole third baseman Melvin Mora, trying in vain to keep pace with Seattle's Suzuki in the American League batting race, says he seriously doubts that Suzuki is really from Japan.

Mora has seen the Mariner right fielder go from 30 points behind him to more than 15 ahead in the span of a month and can only conclude that "Ichiro comes from another planet."

Through Thursday, Suzuki had hit .486 since the All-Star break and .508 in August. He has a shot at breaking the one-month record of 58 hits, seems certain to become the first player to collect 200 or more hits in his first four major league seasons and continues on pace to break the major league record of 257 hits in a season, set by George Sisler of the St. Louis Browns in 1920.

"He's the best player in baseball," Mora told the Seattle Times. "He can hit, run, throw, defend, everything, and he's smart. How can you compete with this guy?"

Well, Kansas City pitcher Jimmy Serrano found a way Wednesday night, retiring Suzuki in his first at-bat before hitting him in the back of the head with a pitch in his second, forcing Suzuki out of the game with a mild concussion.

No one claimed the pitch was intentional, but a dizzy Suzuki said, "I'm not happy."

*

The ghosts of a homestand and season that fans in Philadelphia have long attempted to forget reappeared as the injury-riddled Phillies went 1-9 and lost the last seven games during a harrowing engagement at Citizens Bank Park that ended Thursday.

With closer Billy Wagner and other bullpen colleagues either injured or fatigued, the Phillies lost six games in which they led in the sixth inning or later. The finale of the stand was typical as the Houston Astros rallied from a 7-2 deficit for a 12-10 victory in which the Phillies hit into a triple play and allowed a steal of home.

It was the worst 10-game homestand in club history, probably knocked the team out of wild-card contention and revived memories of 1964 when Gene Mauch's Phillies lost a 6 1/2 -game lead with two weeks to play by losing seven in a row at home and 10 in a row overall, a streak that began with a 1-0 loss to Cincinnati on Chico Ruiz's steal of home.

The Phillies are now headed for a second consecutive disappointing season after being remodeled at a high cost in anticipation of this season's move into their new park, and it's hard to believe Manager Larry Bowa will survive.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, in fact, is polling fans as to when they think the firing will take place, bypassing the question as to whether they think Bowa should be fired.

The intense manager seldom hides his emotions, but he handled the homestand failure in a dispassionate manner, even joking that he has rubber walls in his house so he can release his frustrations.

Actually, he said, he has a Scotch or two when he gets home and "you start thinking then that you've won 10 in a row instead of losing 10. The reality sets in when you wake up."

*

How does money talk? In Selig's case it took the form again of a three-year extension. There were other factors motivating the extension decision, but none bigger than the bottom line.

Since 1992, when Selig first became acting commissioner and told his wife he would keep the position for only two to four months, the industry's gross revenues have increased from $1.6 billion to $4.1 billion. Similarly, the total amount of shared revenue among the clubs will have increased from $20 million in '92 to more than $300 million by 2006.

As Selig would confirm, there were decades when the owners wouldn't share handshakes, let alone dollars.

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