La Russa gets most from A's

Might as well wrap up the AL Manager of the Year trophy right now and send it to Tony La Russa. No matter what happens the rest of the way, he has done a tremendous job to keep the banged-up A's from quitting on the 1994 season. They were left for dead a month ago but have gone on a scorching run that has put them back in contention in the mild, mild American League West. Personnel-wise, it's still not a very good club, but it may not take much to get to the playoffs in that division. . . . Desperate situations call for desperate measures, which explains why the Texas Rangers recently signed veteran right-hander Tim Leary to help bolster their awful pitching staff. Leary earned the contract by going 2-4 with a 5.40 ERA for Triple-A Ottawa. Enough said. Tab the A's. . . . Worst division in history update: The AL Mess entered yesterday's games with its four teams averaging 34.8 victories.

AL Central


Cleveland Indians outfielder Albert Belle has everything going for him. He's young. He's making a lot of money. He's having a great year for a first-place team. So when is he going to lose the chip on his shoulder? He hit game-winning home runs in two of the four games against the Orioles last week but stiffed reporters afterward and -- on one occasion -- orally attacked a Cleveland columnist who approached him with a very non-threatening question. Too bad. He could own that town. . . . The bloom is off the Minnesota Twins, who staged an impressive AL Central comeback earlier this season, but are beginning to slip toward the bottom of the standings again. They have lost eight of their past 11 games and continue to give up an average of six runs. . . . Best division update: The Central entered yesterday's games with an average of 42 victories and a higher overall winning percentage than any other division.

AL East


New York Yankees right fielder Paul O'Neill's .400 challenge came to an end with a very cool week. He went 0-for-16 in one stretch as his average slipped into the low .360s, but he still is having a monster year. . . . When Aaron Sele recorded his first Fenway Park victory since May 11 on Saturday, it was the fifth victory by a Red Sox starter in the previous 34 games. . . . Tom Brunansky's return to Boston has been triumphant. He has four homers and 14 RBIs since the trade that brought him back from Milwaukee on June 19. Brunansky took some heat from Red Sox fans during his first incarnation there, but he got a standing ovation Saturday after he hit a grand slam in a 10-2 victory over the A's.

NL West

Every time the Los Angeles Dodgers begin to look vulnerable atop the NL West standings, the once-favored San Francisco Giants start stumbling all over themselves again. The Giants are 8 1/2 games back, and it is starting to look as if they aren't going to get their act together. Meanwhile, the second-year Colorado Rockies remain in second place, a couple of consistent pitchers out of contention. . . . The Giants also are a couple of arms short, as evidenced by Montreal's five-homer performance Saturday. . . . Worst NL division update: The West teams are averaging 37 victories.

NL Central

Somebody put a muzzle on this Geronimo Pena guy. He was looking for a pitch he could sink his teeth into on Thursday but settled for a pitcher instead. Pena reacted badly to an inside pitch from Rockies pitcher Darren Holmes and charged the mound, setting off a bench-clearing brawl. During the resulting pileup, he bit Holmes below the ribs. . . . If pitcher John Roper is for real, the Cincinnati Reds may be in very good shape for the second half. Roper pitched into the eighth Friday night to break Pittsburgh's eight-game home winning streak and improve his record to 5-0. In his past five starts, he has four wins and a seven-inning no-decision in which he gave up only one hit. . . . The Pirates continue to play decent baseball, but they need to get a handle on opposing runners. In a three-game stretch last week, they gave up 12 stolen bases. They also need to get a handle on their finances. The Pittsburgh City Council approved a second bailout measure, lending the club $8 million to keep it solvent through next season.

NL East

The Orioles may live to regret letting veteran left-hander Fernando Valenzuela get away. He returned to the major leagues Tuesday with a six-inning performance in which he did not give up an earned run. The Philadelphia Phillies signed him after Valenzuela went 10-3 in a half-season with Jalisco of the Mexican League. The Orioles' decision to bring him to spring training last year was based on far less-impressive Mexican League numbers, but they did not make a serious play for him this time -- even though they were looking for a fifth starter to replace injured Sid Fernandez.