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Inside Baseball | AROUND THE HORN / ROSS NEWHAN

California's Teams Have Golden Glow About Them

September 12, 2004|ROSS NEWHAN

No matter how it plays out, the 2004 season will be remembered as a golden one in the Golden State.

All five California teams seem certain to finish at .500 or better, for the first time since the San Diego Padres were created in 1969.

All five are in playoff contention with three weeks to go, meaning there is the multiple possibility again of an I-5 World Series, and the turnstiles continue to whirl.

The Angels and Dodgers will approach 7 million in combined attendance. The Padres have already set a season record in their new home and could top 3 million for the first time. The San Francisco Giants will surpass that figure for the eighth consecutive year, and even the Oakland A's are averaging close to 30,000.

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It's a chilling development, but with no alternative at an increasingly late date, Expo officials have begun discussions with Montreal officials on a 2005 rental agreement at Olympic Stadium. Major League Baseball continues to insist that the Expos will be relocated by next season, but timetables have meant nothing in this process. The 2005 schedule delivered to the players' union only places the Expos in the National League East again.

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As Johan Santana, who provides the Minnesota Twins with a dominating pitcher of the type they haven't had in the playoffs since Jack Morris, separates himself from the American League's crowded Cy Young award field, Randy Johnson may be closing in on his sixth Cy Young in the NL despite a 13-13 record that is largely the result of the Arizona Diamondbacks' mediocre support. The Diamondbacks have scored 20 runs in Johnson's 13 losses, but he still leads the NL in earned-run average, strikeouts, innings and lowest opponents batting average.

"It's challenging every time you go out there," Johnson said, "but to go out and have a very slim margin to work with every fifth day, it definitely takes a toll on you.

"You realize you have to be perfect, and I've thrown only one perfect game in my career."

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Nearly 11 months after having reconstructive elbow surgery, Andy Ashby, the former Dodger, returned to the mound with the Padres and pitched a perfect inning of relief in Wednesday's 10-5 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the first time Ashby, 37, had pitched since August 2003 and his first time as a Padre since 1999. He received several ovations from a Petco Park crowd remembering his 17 wins for San Diego's 1998 pennant winner.

He said his hand was shaking so badly that he had trouble opening the bullpen gate.

"Here are all these people, giving me one of the best feelings I've ever had, and I can't get out of the bullpen," he said. "I mean, I'm standing there pleading with the gate, 'Please open!' "

If it weren't so late in the season, and Ashby had a little more stamina, he would be knocking on the rotation door instead of the bullpen gate as a potential fifth starter. The Padres have lost all seven games worked by their No. 5 starter since Ismael Valdez (9-6 with a 5.53 ERA) was traded to Florida at the July deadline for a prospect in Class A. Valdez's replacements -- now-retired Sterling Hitchcock, Dennis Tankersley and rookie Justin Germano -- have given up 30 runs and 42 hits in 35 innings.

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Barry Larkin may be headed to the Hall of Fame, but the captain's name won't be found in the Cincinnati Reds' starting lineup over the rest of the season. Larkin was summoned to General Manager Dan O'Brien Jr.'s hotel room in Houston on Tuesday and told they wanted to see what the promising Anderson Machado could do at shortstop in combination with Felipe Lopez. Larkin, 40, batting .300 with only four errors in 98 games, concluded that he was being shown the door.

"I understand ... that they have to see what some of these kids can do, and that's cool," Larkin said. "But I was told flat-out that I'm not going to play, not at all, and that just makes it easier for them in the off-season, where I'm concerned.

"The manager [Dave Miley] was in the room and heard it all, but he just takes his direction from above."

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