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Dealing up in AL Central

This is the final day for teams to add players who will be eligible for postseason rosters, so there could be a couple of last-minute deals.

The level of activity and the sense of urgency has been greatly diminished by runaway races in two of the six divisions, but the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals both made dynamic moves in advance of the deadline.

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The Royals, who originally figured to be shedding veteran players by this point in the season, acquired left-handed pitcher Brian Anderson from the Cleveland Indians and power-hitting outfielder Rondell White from the San Diego Padres. The White Sox beefed up their bullpen by acquiring reliever Scott Sullivan from the Cincinnati Reds.

So, where were the Minnesota Twins during all this wheeling and dealing? General manager Terry Ryan apparently has decided to sit this deadline out.

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"I don't concern myself with what other teams do," Ryan told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Tuesday. "If we do what we're supposed to do, we won't have to worry about that stuff."

The Twins, who were considered the small-market surprise team of 2002, now are viewed as something of an underachiever in the American League Central, even though they are still very much alive in the division race. Ryan did pull off one move by the July 31 deadline for making trades without waivers when he acquired leadoff hitter Shannon Stewart from the Toronto Blue Jays for outfielder Bobby Kielty.

Scheduling imbalance

The White Sox may be one of the hottest teams in baseball, but the remaining regular-season schedule clearly favors the Royals and Twins in the AL Central.

The Royals play only eight more games against teams that have winning records and just one (a makeup game against the Arizona Diamondbacks) over the next three weeks.

The Twins have an almost identical schedule down the stretch, playing the same number of games against the same teams, except for the Royals-Diamondbacks makeup.

The White Sox, meanwhile, entered last night with 22 of their remaining 27 games against winning teams, including eight against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

It doesn't seem fair, until you consider the obvious flip side. The schedule evens out over the course of the entire season. The Royals already have played a lot of those tough games and they're still near the top of the standings.

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Royals GM Allard Baird is happy with the way the schedule has shaken out, but he discounts the notion that his team's remaining competition will necessarily be easier.

"That's great," he said, "but didn't the schedule favor all of those teams that faced us in the first month of the season? So, I don't buy that."

R. Alomar acts out

It's good to see that Roberto Alomar is just as immature and oversensitive as he was in Baltimore. He froze out the New York media for three days when he returned to New York for the first time since the Mets traded him to the White Sox.

Alomar's beef? He was upset because Mets radio announcer Gary Cohen had referred to Alomar's lackluster performance with the Mets as "a disgrace" after the deal.

"I heard what [Cohen] said," Alomar eventually told the The Record of Bergen County, N.J..

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"I heard the tape. He made me sound like some killer or murderer. That really hurt me, because I know I didn't play well for the Mets, but I did the best I could. It just didn't work out."

Cohen's characterization might have been overly harsh, but Alomar eventually is going to have to accept the fact that star-quality major league players get paid extremely well to perform and are subject to some occasional criticism when they don't - particularly in New York. He's only been in the big leagues for 16 years.

Up and in

Remember when Roger Clemens hinted on July 5 that he might throw at big-swinging David Ortiz the next time the two faced each other? Well, today is the day. Clemens is scheduled to start against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, and Ortiz has continued to swing a productive bat.

"His plate coverage is too good," Clemens said after Ortiz homered off him two months ago. "I'm going to have to make an adjustment on that."

The Rocket also might carry a little residual frustration to the mound from Tuesday night's abortive outing against the streaking White Sox, who hit four homers off him in 4 2/3 innings.

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Juan still gone

The relationship between Juan Gonzalez and the Texas Rangers has deteriorated to the point where Rangers GM John Hart has publicly questioned the true severity of the calf injury that has sidelined the two-time Most Valuable Player since July.

Hart feels the calf injury might have been healed by now if Gonzalez had not spent the past two weeks getting further medical opinions. Gonzalez's agent, Alan Nero, insists that the injury is a muscle tear that may keep his client out for the rest of the season.

"This has basically dragged on way too long," Hart said. "We've tried to do everything we can to treat this right. Our people made the right call after looking at all the tests and the history of the injury, this was basically a minor injury, a calf strain. This guy should have been back a long time ago."

Tension between Gonzalez and the club dates to the decision by the outfielder to veto a trade that would have sent him to the Montreal Expos in late June. Gonzalez left open the possibility of approving a future trade, but only if he was compensated for dropping his no-trade protection.

It never came to that, because he suffered the calf injury on July 19 - 12 days before the waiver deadline. He has been sidelined ever since, while the Rangers grudgingly pay off the final year of his two-year, $24 million contract.

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Quick boost

The St. Louis Cardinals can only hope that the return of injured Gold Glove second baseman Fernando Vina will help the club gather momentum down the stretch.

Vina is hoping that he can do enough to persuade them to exercise the $4.5 million option on his contract for the 2004 season.

"I'm just going to play and see what happens," Vina said. "There have been rumors all the time about what might happen with me. We're all men. We're all adults. We can all read the situation. I'm just going to get back and do what I do best."

Vina rejoined the tight NL Central race last night after spending three months at home in Lake Tahoe, Nev., rehabilitating a severe leg injury. Depending on how he looks, the Cardinals could give him a $1 million buyout to void the option or attempt to negotiate an extension with a lower base salary in 2004.

Not the same old Bowa

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The Philadelphia Phillies have been in a major funk during the season-high 13-game road trip that ends today, but manager Larry Bowa insists that speculation about the effect of his supposedly volatile demeanor on the team's performance is greatly exaggerated.

In fact, he claims that it's time to put the old, in-your-face Larry Bowa to rest.

"You get a reputation and no matter what you do it doesn't matter," he said. "I'm a hothead. I'm a guy you can't talk to. That's the way it is because that's the way I was as a player and my first year and a half in San Diego. I was out of control. I'll be the first to tell you. I wasn't ready to manage.

"When I come to the park I'm ready to go. The thing I can think of that I haven't done is I haven't slept in 10 days for more than three or four hours.

"I'm trying to figure out what we can do different."

That said, Bowa did blow up at his struggling team after the Phillies were shut out by the rival Expos on Thursday.

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"We deserved it," pitching ace Kevin Millwood said. "We deserved to get a stern talking to. We know we've stunk."

Quote of the week

"I'm going to Disney World, right?"

- Detroit Tigers catcher Brandon Inge, after scoring the winning run in both ends of the hapless club's first two-game winning streak since the All-Star break.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

THE SCHMUCK QUOTIENT

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Golfer Phil Mickelson has enough trouble in the majors, so he decided to try his luck in the minors.

Mickelson threw batting practice to 18 members of the Toledo Mud Hens, most of them pitchers, on Friday in the hope of making a pitching appearance for the Detroit Tigers' Triple-A franchise before the season ends tomorrow. Yesterday, the Tigers said they won't give him a minor league contract.

He said in a statement released to the media that he was grateful to the Mud Hens for allowing him to live out a lifetime dream.

Here's a lifetime dream for you, Phil. Win the Masters and leave the baseball to the real professionals.

This stunt rates a six on the Schmuck Stupidity Scale. It would rate higher, but God knows the Tigers' organization can use the publicity.

TEAM RANKINGS

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1. Braves (2)

John Smoltz elbow injury very troublesome. Do you want Kent Mercker closing in the playoffs?

2. Athletics (5)

Pulled soft homestand against Orioles and Devil Rays at just the right time.

3. Giants (4)

Barry Bonds, teammates holding it together at a difficult time.

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4. Yankees (1)

Roger Clemens, David Wells get smoked by White Sox in back-to-back games. Could be a sign of things to come.

5. White Sox (9)

Ultimate survivor Jerry Manuel nearly got voted off the island. Now, he may be headed for World Series.

6. Red Sox (8)

Still focused on AL East title. Wild card can wait.

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7. Astros (12)

'Stros should have taken control of NL Central a month ago. Better late than never.

8. Expos (14)

Who cares where they're going to be next year? They're here now, and it looks like they might be around at the end.

9. Mariners (3)

Suddenly have some unwanted company at the top of the standings.

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10. Diamondbacks (10)

If they survive seven of nine against Giants, they'll make the playoffs.

11. Twins (11)

No fallback possibility in AL Central. Need to stay hot to stay with White Sox.

12. Cardinals (16)

Kerry Robinson has provided much-needed spark in the leadoff spot.

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13. Royals (15)

Bloom should be off by now, but they're still standing.

14. Cubs (13)

Two Chicago teams in the hunt at the same time? Not since 1906 have both been this close this late in season.

15. Marlins (7)

Recent cool streak has allowed Expos back into wild-card hunt.

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16. Phillies (6)

It could be a lot worse, though you'd never know it by Larry Bowa's dugout demeanor.

17. Dodgers (17)

Don't look much like a playoff team, but the math says that could still change.

18. Blue Jays (20)

No need for big roster expansion. Jays are already looking to the future.

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19. Angels (21)

May go shopping in Japan for next year's shortstop.

20. Rockies (18)

Once promising rotation entered weekend 9-20 since All-Star break.

22. Mets (27)

Mike Piazza paradox: Hot catcher is making a difference at a time when it doesn't make any difference.

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21. Pirates (22)

Will the last veteran player to leave PNC Park please turn out the lights?

23. Rangers (19)

Juan Gonzalez situation getting ugly. Club thinks six weeks on DL with calf strain a bit much.

24. Brewers (28)

Big winning streak could lift Brew Crew out of whine cellar.

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25. Orioles (23)

Not the most opportune time to play 12 straight against the top two teams in the AL West.

26. Indians (25)

Jody Gerut (18 homers) deserves some Rookie of the Year consideration.

27. Reds (24)

There are worse things than getting swept by the Brewers, but the Tigers and Devil Rays are in the other league.

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28. Devil Rays (26)

Most dangerous bad team in baseball. Just ask the Mariners.

29. Padres (29)

Brian Giles acquisition points to quick turnaround for flailing friars. New ballpark should help.

30. Tigers (30)

Phil Mickelson minor league tryout makes sense. He can't win in the majors either.

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(Last week's rankings in parentheses)


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