Padres' winning December deal looks like tie with Blue Jays in April

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The consensus of the December winter meetings in Chicag had the San Diego Padres taking the cake in the blockbuster trade that sent Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar to the Toronto Blue Jays for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, but the early returns seem to indicate that it was one of those rare deals that helped both clubs.

The Padres have streaked into the lead in the National League West, in part because Fernandez has adapted quickly to NL pitching. But McGriff still is feeling his way around the new league.

The Blue Jays, who came out of the deal with an apparent run-production deficit, entered the weekend leading the American League East, their standing even more related to the performances of the players they got in the deal with the Padres.

Carter didn't have to adapt to AL pitching. He hadn't been out of the league that long. He ranks among the league leaders in hits (15), doubles (5) and RBI (8). Alomar started slowly but put together a six-game hitting streak as the Blue Jays climbed to the top of the standings.

If San Diego got the best of the deal from a run-production standpoint, it hasn't shown up in the box scores yet. Fernandez hit safely in the first 10 games, the longest streak in the majors, and has become a crowd favorite at Jack Murphy Stadium. But McGriff had one home run and four RBI through the first 10 games and through Thursday's game had 15 strikeouts in his first 35 at-bats. However, in Game 11, he went 4-for-4.

The Padres have risen to the top of the standings on the strength of a balanced attack, with five players who had reached double figures in hits by the seventh game of the season. The club batted a combined .322 during that span.

* The New York Yankees' Kevin Maas continues to get amazing respect from opposing pitchers, who aren't terribly worried about the rest of the Yankees lineup.

In the club's first nine games, Maas walked 15 times, a pace that would give him 301 walks over an entire season. The record for walks is held by Babe Ruth, who walked 170 times in 1923 with a pretty fair lineup around him.

* This exchange reportedly occurred in the stands at Comiskey Park after the Detroit Tigers' Rob Deer hit a two-run homer in the Chicago White Sox's park opener:

"Throw it back," yelled one fan, referring to the Wrigley Stadium tradition of tossing opposition home runs back onto the field.

One White Sox traditionalist had a better idea.

"Keep it," he said. "Throw the Cub fan back."

* Remember all that talk about how Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda was going to motivate pitcher Kevin Gross and turn him into another Orel Hershiser?

Lasorda nicknamed Gross "Pit Bull" after he arrived at spring training, but he was only half right. Gross has been the pits, going 0-6 with an 8.72 ERA since the start of the exhibition season and 0-2 so far in the regular season.

This, after the Dodgers signed Gross to a three-year, $6.4 million contract and pushed Fernando Valenzuela out of the picture to make room for him.

* Now for a delightful alternative to the traditional hot dog: The moth-eaters have returned to Anaheim Stadium, where large nocturnal moths (wingspans up to 3 inches) have been dive-bombing fans in the upper deck for years.

California Angels fans began to fight back in 1989. Perhaps buoyed by strong drink, they began intercepting the moths and munching them like so many tortilla chips, but everyone figured it was just another Southern California fad until a new wave of insect snackers was spotted last week.

"It was terrible," a disgusted fan told Orange County Register columnist Randy Youngman. "The guy next to me dared the guy next to him to do it. He offered him $5 to eat one, so he put it in his mouth and crunched it."

"Personally," Youngman quipped, "I wouldn't consider eating one without nacho cheese sauce."

* Cleveland Indians pitcher Tom Candiotti and Boston Red Sox designated hitter Jack Clark have become friends due to the proximity of their homes in the San Francisco Bay area, but that friendship was strained last week when Candiotti struck out Clark all three times they faced off Sunday at Fenway Park.

"At least he could have let me foul a couple of them off," Clark said afterward.

Candiotti's knuckleball fooled a lot of people that day. He combined with the Indians' bullpen to pitch a 6-0 victory. But Clark had the toughest day, striking out in all four of his at-bats.

"Jack and I talk a lot on the phone during the off-season," Candiotti said. "We live near each other. Now he'll probably hang up on me."

* The only thing that kept the Texas Rangers' Brian Downing from having a 5-for-5 day at Cleveland Stadium on Tuesday was the new fence dimensions. The Indians have moved the fences back 10 to 15 feet this year to take advantage of a more speed-oriented lineup.

Downing had hits in his first four at-bats, and Indians outfielder Mike Huff had to crash the wall at the 400-foot sign to rob him of a double. The ball would have been a home run last year, when that fence stood 387 feet from home plate.

But even without that hit, Downing batted .667 (8-for-12 through Thursday) in his first four games with the Rangers and reached base 16 times in his first 20 plate appearances.

* More epicurean delights: Milwaukee Brewers reliever Julio Machado has an interesting claim to fame. His nickname is "The Iguanaman" -- just look in the club's media guide. Why, you ask, would anyone be so monickered? That's right in the media guide, too: "Nicknamed 'The Iguanaman' because of his fondness for eating iguana."

Machado says the big lizards are quite a delicacy in his native Venezuela.

"It tastes a lot like chicken," he said.

* The Indians devoted a lot of time and effort toward building their future around promising outfielder Alex Cole, but he apparently has been replaced as the regular center fielder by Huff.

Cole dislocated his shoulder during spring training and says he aggravated it on Opening Day. The club, he said, does not want to take chances with him.

But that isn't the official version. When told of the shoulder problem, manager John McNamara said he knew nothing about it.

"It's news to me," he said. "Huff is playing because he's doing a better job. Cole is not getting on base, and he's not making good contact."

* Chicago Cubs pitcher and Dundalk native Mike Bielecki gets the Good Sport of the Week" award for the way he handled the news that he had been demoted to the bullpen to make room in the starting rotation for veteran right-hander Rick Sutcliffe.

"Rick is one of my best friends on the team," Bielecki said. "I hope he comes back and wins 22 games."

* Tigers pitcher Frank Tanana, who threw a shutout in the first game at the new Comiskey Park, also was on the mound when the Angels defeated the Seattle Mariners, 7-0, in the first regular-season game at the Kingdome in 1977.

"I'm big on stadium openers," Tanana said jokingly. "Those are my favorite games to pitch."

* Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jose Rijo feigned dismay recently at failing to win the California lottery on a recent trip West.

"I kept telling everyone, if I win the lottery, I'm going to buy this team and buy a power hitter and a starting pitcher," he said, "so we can put [Norm] Charlton back in the bullpen so we can be ready to repeat."

* Reds reliever Rob Dibble was unrepentant after he received a three-game suspension for throwing at the Houston Astros' Eric Yelding. He even suggested there might be a replay when the Reds visit the Astrodome this week.

"I'm going to pitch the same way at Houston and everywhere else," he said. "If they don't like it, they can come out and see me again."

* Padres reliever Mike Maddux wouldn't even have gotten an invitation to the club's minor-league camp if he hadn't run into general manager Joe McIllvane at a banquet in February. He didn't get his first look at the major-league level until 10 days before the start of the season. But he made the club and has been in six games already, pitching seven shutout innings to win two games and record a save.

"It's like a Cinderella story," he said, "only better."

* Since Deion Sanders didn't do anything this week to warrant a Neion Deion update, here's a Houston Orioles update: Right-hander Curt Schilling leads the team in saves with three, which means he has had two more save opportunities than Gregg Olson. Starter Pete Harnisch has pitched well in his first two games but only has one victory to show for his 2.38 ERA. Outfielder Steve Finley is hitting .256.

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