Even the mighty AL East has some weaknesses but not many

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Orioles went 5-2 on a three-city West Coast trip and lost two games in the standings to the Boston Red Sox.

That doesn't mean they are whining.

"I'm not worried about the standings," Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said. "So what if someone wins the West with 80 games and we win 90 and are not in it? You've got to deal with what you've got."

Palmeiro prefers to look at the upside of playing in baseball's glamour division.

"It keeps us sharp," Palmeiro said. "We don't have room to relax. We have to go after it, go after it, go after it."

But even baseball's best division isn't free of question marks.

Toronto closer Duane Ward is expected to be out at least another three weeks. His replacements have made good on just three of eight save attempts.

Juan Guzman, holder of the highest winning percentage among active pitchers, didn't make it out of the third inning in his last start, prompting questions about the fitness of his shoulder.

Boston lost left-hander Frank Viola for the season to elbow surgery.

The Yankees were successful on nine of their first 11 save attempts, but with Xavier Hernandez holding down the closer job, will the success last?

The Orioles' bullpen depth remains a problem.

Still, moles or no moles, it's hard to take your eyes off this division.

This rookie's a kick

Take away power hitters, power runners and power pitchers, and the game of baseball wouldn't be such a blast.

It's always exciting to see a young power player break into the majors. Paul Shuey of the Cleveland Indians, welcome to the bigs. Hope you stay around for 10 or 15 years.

The Indians made Shuey the second pick of the 1992 draft, two selections before the Orioles nabbed Jeffrey Hammonds.

Both figure to be around for awhile.

Not only did Shuey burn the radar gun at 98 mph Thursday night in Charlotte, where he pitched against the Indians in an exhibition game, but he also has a personality.

He has never hit triple figures on a gun, but he won't stop trying.

"Oh yeah, it's a goal of mine," Shuey said.

Hold on there, rook. Back up. Here's how you answer that question: "I'm not worried about what any gun says. I'm just trying to get the hitters out. When's the last time a radar gun has gotten a hitter out? Now if you'll excuse me, I've got work to do."

The guy throws faster than Jose Canseco drives, but that doesn't mean he will shy away from coming inside for fear of drilling someone.

"I pitch inside some, and I like to come way inside when I do come in," Shuey said. "I like to make a point by it."

Again rook, back up. Here's how you answer that question: "If you want to start something, take your keys out of your pocket, go start your car, and drive it out of Dodge because you're not starting anything in here."

Shuey was called to the Indians from Single-A Kinston and joined the team Friday night at Camden Yards. He is noted for a high leg kick. During his days as the closer for the University of North Carolina (220 strikeouts in 172 innings) Shuey found the higher ,, he kicked, the better he pitched.

"I got away from it last year when they had me starting," Shuey said. "There is no way I would be able to start and pitch that way. It takes a lot out of you, but it also gets a lot out of you as far as velocity and nastiness."

The Indians blew eight of their first 16 save opportunities while Shuey was blowing away Carolina League hitters. He made eight saves, struck out 16 and walked three in 12 innings.

Shuey is one of 13 active major-leaguers to make the jump from Single-A to the majors.

The others (with their current teams listed): Ben McDonald and Alan Mills (Orioles), Chuck Finley (California), Scott Radinsky (White Sox), Edwin Nunez (Oakland), John Cummings, Tim Davis and Goose Gossage (Seattle), Hector Carrasco and John Smiley (Cincinnati), Greg Swindell (Houston) and Dwight Gooden (Mets).

Nice company, don't you think?

Shuey will get sound advice on how to ply his trade from Indians pitching coach Phil Regan, back in uniform after seven years as a scout for the Dodgers.

For advice on how to handle reporters after saving games, he need go no further than right here.

Paul, here is how you endear yourself to we who bring pens and paunches to the ballpark every day: "Can't you see I'm eating?"

Desperate times in Chicago

Tom Trebelhorn went across the street from Wrigley Field for a firehouse chat. Some among the angry masses burned the Chicago Tribune to protest Tribune Co. ownership's payroll trimming. Others chanted, "Kill Larry Himes," aiming their venom at the Cubs' general manager.

As the home losing streak droned on, Billy Goat Tavern owner Sam Sianis cooperated with a local radio station, which dressed a goat in a Cubs jersey and marched it around Wrigley Field before Wednesday's game, a superstitious move aimed at breaking the Cubs' 12-game home losing streak.

The history: Sianis' father, angered that his mascot goat was refused entry into the 1945 World Series, placed a curse on the Cubs, who have not won a pennant since.

The Cubs broke the streak on the day of the stunt, but rookie starting pitcher Steve Trachsel, whose pre-game bullpen warm-up was interrupted, was not amused.

"I didn't like that very much," Trachsel said. "I was upset when they brought him by the bullpen when I was warming up. It was a distraction. The goat was kind of in my way. It was more laughs for the fans than anyone else. If they believe that's the way it is, they should have him sit in the front row."

At least the goat of the day was not sitting in the Cubs' dugout for a change.

Move of the Week

San Francisco Giants manager Dusty Baker had the guts to go against the grain Tuesday in New York when he sent two left-handed pinch hitters into the game to bat against Mets lefty closer John Franco. Dave Martinez and Jeff Reed rewarded Baker with singles and went on to score the tying and winning runs.

"I remember from my playing days facing guys like Jim Brewer, Tug McGraw, Al Holland," Baker said of the left-handed relievers.

"It seemed like they gave right-handers more trouble than left-handers."

Baker reacted to Franco's screwball, which breaks in toward left-handed hitters. Kudos to Dusty for having the guts to make the move he thought gave the Giants the best chance of winning, instead of making the move that could be explained most easily.

Closers in demand

Randy Myers of the Cubs, Minnesota's Rick Aguilera, and Florida's Bryan Harvey figure to be in huge demand, and all are obtainable for the right steep price.

It's no secret Seattle manager Lou Piniella craves Myers, who pitched for him in Cincinnati.

If the Mariners could find a way to pry Myers from the Cubs, they not only would become the prohibitive favorites to win the AL West, but also might even finish above .500.

Myers wouldn't look too shabby in an Atlanta Braves uniform either. If Ward doesn't bounce back, Aguilera could end up in Toronto.

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