Gant has numbers O's covet

THE BALTIMORE SUN

California Angels closer Lee Smith has been doing it in California and now Ron Gant is doing it in Cincinnati.

Doing what? Making the Orioles front office look bad. That's what.

Gant, who was coveted by Orioles owner Peter Angelos last year but ended up signing with the Cincinnati Reds while he was recovering from a badly broken leg, has six home runs -- including one yesterday against the Braves -- and 17 RBIs, numbers that would lead the Orioles in both departments.

Of course, Gant isn't the only one in Cincinnati who has enjoyed a change of fortune. The Reds were 1-8 and in the NL Central basement when owner Marge Schott tried to change the team's luck by rubbing hair from her late Saint Bernard on some of the players. The club -- make that The Hair Club -- responded with a six-game winning streak before the Braves clipped them Saturday.

NL East

Philadelphia Phillies rookie Mike Mimbs was looking forward to facing the Montreal Expos on Thursday. He was taken from the Expos' Triple-A roster in the Rule V draft last December, and took advantage of the big-league opportunity with strong performances in his first two starts (one of which was wiped out by rain after five scoreless innings). The Expos obviously were happy to see Mimbs again, too. They knocked him out with five runs in the first inning and went on to stop the Phillies' seven-game winning streak. So much for storybook endings. . . . What was that thing in Atlanta on Monday? The Braves were trying to do some damage control after manager Bobby Cox was arrested in a domestic violence incident, but ended up looking like accomplices in a cover-up. Earth to Braves: There are some things that can't be glossed over by the PR department, and shouldn't be. The San Diego Padres signed free-agent pitchers Fernando Valenzuela and Ted Higuera because they hoped to spur fan interest in the Hispanic community, but it doesn't appear to be making much of a difference. Valenzuela's start Wednesday against the Southern California rival Los Angeles Dodgers drew just 12,860 fans. . . . It was just starting to look as if it was time to let the thin air out of the Colorado Rockies when they laid a size-three broom on the resurgent San Francisco Giants. Pitching may still turn out to be a problem in Denver, but the Rocks look like they are in it for the duration.

AL Central

Where are all those people who were predicting that Kansas City Royals starter Kevin Appier would wilt under his heavy early-season workload? Appier pitched a three-hitter against the California Angels Saturday night to run his record to 4-1 and is showing little evidence that he has been hurt by manager Bob Boone's decision to go with a four-man rotation. Of course, it's early. . . . The surprising Milwaukee Brewers have been very competitive through the first three weeks of the season, and they might look almost legitimate if they had gotten any kind of performance from starting pitcher Bill Wegman. Wegman, who was supposed to be one of the cornerstones of the rotation, did not get an out in his start on Thursday and is 0-3 with a 10.13 ERA.

AL East

New York Yankees reliever Steve Howe was accused over the weekend of punching an abusive fan in the Fenway Park bleachers. Howe denies the charge, but he may get congratulatory telegrams from former teammate Dave Stewart and slugger Jose Canseco anyway. It was from that same area in the 1988 American League Championship Series that unruly Red Sox fans cruelly heckled Stewart while he was warming up for Oakland and rode Canseco over unsubstantiated allegations of steroid abuse.

AL West

Frustrated fans anecdote No. 326: The Angels moved into first place during a midweek series with the Texas Rangers, but you never would have known it from the turnstile count at Anaheim Stadium. The total for the three-game series was just over 36,000, the smallest three-game total since 1976. . . . A's closer Dennis Eckersley, who will record his 300th save any day now, may be the most versatile pitcher ever. His impressive save total, combined with 188 career victories -- most of them as a starter -- makes him a lock to enter the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. . . . Former Orioles manager Johnny Oates finally got his first home victory in Texas on Saturday. Oates, some may recall, opened his Orioles managerial career in May 1991 with a four-game losing streak at Memorial Stadium. . . . Angels DH Chili Davis turned in a 5-for-5 performance on Wednesday and reached base 10 straight times over three games last week (eight straight hits and two walks). The Angels' record for consecutive times on base is 12, held by former Oriole and Angel Bobby Grich.

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