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KEVIN BAXTER / DOWN THE LINE

Guillen believes American League shows baseball's best

He cites the reclamation of pitchers like Vincente Padilla, who failed in the AL and recently found success in the NL, as a reason why.

September 20, 2009|Kevin Baxter

A league that they own

Vicente Padilla gave up six runs to the worst team in the American League West, joined the Dodgers, and beat two playoff contenders in a 3-0 start in the National League.

The Red Sox released Brad Penny and his 5.61 ERA in August, only to see the right-hander go 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his first three starts for the San Francisco Giants.

And after Boston gave up on John Smoltz (2-5, 8.32) the future Hall of Famer joined the St. Louis Cardinals and has held NL batters to a .232 average in his first four starts.

And that, said Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen, is all the evidence you need to prove the American League is baseball's best circuit.

"The American League is pretty strong right now," said Guillen, an All-Star infielder who played in both leagues before coaching the Florida Marlins to a World Series title, then managing the White Sox to another. "It's a different strategy, a different ballgame. Pitching in the American League is not easy."

It's no secret that the AL has the best players. It hasn't lost an All-Star Game in 13 years and has won 11 of the last 17 World Series. During the last six seasons, AL teams have won 56% of the interleague games during the regular season.

"You have to face nine hitters, very dangerous hitters, no matter what lineup," Guillen said. "With the designated hitter, you have a different ballgame."

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He's now a hit in clubhouse too

As Ichiro Suzuki closed in on a record ninth consecutive 200-hit season, Seattle Mariner teammate Ken Griffey Jr. acted unimpressed.

"Anybody can do that. We do it all the time, don't we?" he said, turning to teammate Adrian Beltre, who nodded in agreement.

Then he added the punch line, which he punctuated with a laugh.

"Add up a few people," he said, "and we have 200."

But when Suzuki set the record last Sunday in Texas, it was Griffey who picked him up like a sack of flour and carried him into the showers, where the rest of the Mariners drenched him in beer.

For all his success on the field, Suzuki had a strained relationship with his Seattle teammates during the last several years. He credits the fun-loving Griffey with helping to turn things around this season, partly by making Suzuki the focus of his jokes.

Catch him in a serious moment, though, and Griffey is unequivocal.

"One of the best players to ever put on a uniform," said Griffey, who has had some success of his own on the field.

Asked if Suzuki does things differently, though, and Griffey's smile returns.

"Yeah," he says, "Two hundred hits. Every year. He just goes out and does it."

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Going where few have gone before

The Cardinals' Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter lead the National League in wins with 18 and 16 victories, respectively. And Joel Pinero, with 14 wins, is just a win back of a tie for third. If the right-handers wind up as the three winningest pitchers in the league, they would be just the second group of teammates to accomplish that after the 1918 Chicago Cubs trio of Hippo Vaughn (22-10), Claude Hendrix (20-7) and Lefty Tyler (19-8).

The Marlins' Hanley Ramirez, who is leading the National League with a .353 average after Saturday's games, is bidding to become the first shortstop to lead the NL in hitting since the Pirates' Dick Groat in 1960.

-- Kevin Baxter

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