Red Sox find it painful at the top


The Boston Red Sox are the winningest team in baseball, but they can only hope they don't have to look back on May 3 as the turning point in their run at the American League East title. That was the day that left-hander Frank Viola blew out his elbow in the third inning and reliever Paul Quantrill left the game with a hand injury after he was involved in an altercation with Seattle Mariners outfielder Eric Anthony. Quantrill already has returned to action, but it isn't hard to draw a parallel with the brawl at Camden Yards June 6. The Mariners instigated that one, too, and the fallout (Mike Mussina's aggravated shoulder injury) did have a direct impact on the outcome of the AL East race. . . . It probably isn't polite to make light of the inner ear problem that sidelined Joe Carter last week, but he has been setting a dizzying pace at the plate. Even after missing a couple of games, he's on pace to drive in 205 runs this year. That's with a case of vertigo and a broken thumb. . . . Best division update: The East was a combined 18-11 last week and 86-60 overall.

AL Central

The two leading AL Central candidates in this year's race for Rookie of the Year did nothing last week to help themselves. Cleveland Indians outfielder Manny Ramirez finished the week in an 0-for-16 slump and Kansas City Royals designated hitter Bob Hamelin went 1-for-17. . . . Nice performance by Cleveland's Kenny Lofton yesterday, taking out his frustrations on a Home Team Sports cameraman after he was called out on strikes. Eddie Murray got into it with another HTS guy a few minutes later. The Oakland Athletics were put on the block last week, for the bargain price of $85 million. That's less than half what Peter Angelos paid for the Orioles eight months ago, but it's a different situation. The A's have been one of baseball's chronic cash burners for years, so they may not be easy to sell even at that price. Consider also that the low price may be a public relations ploy in ownership's campaign to convince the players to accept a salary cap. . . . When are things going to turn around for Texas Rangers "ace" Kevin Brown? He went down again yesterday, losing to the lowly Minnesota Twins and falling to 2-5 with a 6.83 ERA for the year. . . . Worst division update: The AL Worst was a combined 8-17 for the week and the division-leading Rangers have dropped to four games under .500.

NL East

The fledgling Florida Marlins (how's that for alliteration?) are refusing to take their rightful place at the bottom of the standings. They won four out of six last week to stay in the thick of the second-toughest division in baseball. Much of the credit goes to right-hander Dave Weathers, who is 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA. He was the 29th player chosen in the expansion draft, and the Blue Jays have to be wondering how they let him get away. . . . Mets second baseman Jeff Kent finally shook The Sun's Extra Innings jinx when he homered in Friday night's loss to the St. Louis Cardinals -- his first since April 18.

NL Central

Houston Astros starter Doug Drabek appears to be putting his disastrous 1993 season behind him. He went 9-18 last year, but has won four of his first five decisions this season, including yesterday's five-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds. For the week, he was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA. . . . Reds shortstop Tony Fernandez showed up for yesterday's game on time after packing his bags and walking out of the clubhouse in frustration Saturday. He's mad at the world because he was forced to accept a large pay cut last winter and relegated to a third base role in Cincinnati. But he shouldn't be upset at the Reds, who were the one team to show any serious interest in him after he was cut loose by Toronto. . . . Curse lifted. Goat invited to Wrigley Field. Cubs end season-opening 12-game losing streak at home. A goat at Wrigley? A St. Bernard at Riverfront? It's an NL Central thing. You wouldn't understand.

NL West

San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds does not have a broken arm, but he says that Mets pitcher Eric Hillman might end up with a broken jaw if he comes inside again the way he did on Wednesday. Bonds made that threat after X-rays showed he had suffered only a bad bruise when he was hit on the elbow by a pitch from Hillman. No doubt, the incident will be long forgotten by the time those teams get together again on July 4. . . . Thin air update: Going into yesterday's games, three of the top six home run hitters in the National League were playing their home games in Denver and all three hit more than half of their home runs at Mile High Stadium. Ellis Burks had the most decided home-field edge, with seven of his 10 coming up there.

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