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Inside Baseball

By spending more, the Pirates have amassed the talent to be a
spunky wild-card contender

Leftfielder Al Martin cringes when he hears fans comparing this
year's Pirates to the low-on-cash, low-on-talent bunch that made
a surprising run in 1997 before finishing five games behind the
Astros in the National League Central. "I hear how this year's
team is just like that one," says Martin, who has been with
Pittsburgh since '92, "and I always think: I sure hope not."

The 1997 Pirates were spunky, but they finished 79-83. "You know
the difference between then and now?" says Martin. "That team
was loads of fun, but we stunk. Now we're pretty good."

Indeed, while Pittsburgh still may be no match for
Houston--after losing three straight to the Padres last weekend,
the Pirates (34-33) trailed the Astros by seven games--it
appears to have the ability to hang with the crowd (Cubs,
Giants, Mets, Phils, Reds and Rockies) in the run for the
National League wild card.

One bright sign for the long haul is that Pittsburgh, which
hiked its payroll from $13.7 million in 1998 to $22.2 million
this year (27th in the majors), plans to raise it to $35 million
next season and to $45 million in 2001, when the team moves into
a new stadium. This off-season the front office showed it was
serious by signing first baseman Kevin Young to a four-year, $24
million contract extension.

A bigger budget also means that Pittsburgh can afford to make a
mistake or two and not collapse. Last December general manager
Cam Bonifay signed free-agent starter Pete Schourek to a
two-year, $4 million contract in hopes that the lefthander would
anchor the rotation. Through Sunday, Schourek was 2-5 and had
been sent to the bullpen. Bonifay also dealt righty starter Jon
Lieber to the Cubs for outfielder Brant Brown, who was to be the
Pirates' everyday centerfielder; Lieber was 6-2, and Brown had
played his way into a part-time role in right.

What Pittsburgh lacks in starting pitching, it has made up for
with credible middle relief and emerging closer Mike Williams,
who had 12 saves and a 2.48 ERA. On offense the Pirates are no
powerhouse--outfielder Brian Giles led the team with 13
homers--but they were sixth in the league in hitting (.274) and
tied for fourth in doubles (138).

Catcher Jason Kendall (.344, 19 stolen bases) has drawn most of
the ink in Pittsburgh, but as Young goes, so go the Pirates.
Seven years ago Young was Pittsburgh's top prospect, but after
reaching the big leagues, he flopped. "Kevin had a little of the
I'm-the-Pirates'-minor-league-phenom in him," says Martin. Young
hit .236 in 1993 and over the next two years spent as much time
in the bushes as he did in the bigs. Pittsburgh released him
during spring training '96, and he was picked up by the Royals,
then cut again after that season.

The following spring the Pirates gave Young another chance, and
he hit .300 with a team-high 18 home runs and 74 RBIs in only 97
games to lead Pittsburgh's run. Last season, as the Bucs wobbled
to a 69-93 record, he led them again with 27 homers and 108
RBIs. "I learned you can't take anything for granted in this
game--especially your talent," says Young, who was hitting .323
through Sunday. "There are a lot of players here who have been
through tough times and appreciate winning. It was like that in
1997, and it's like that again."

J. D. Drew Struggles

The preseason consensus pick for National League Rookie of the
Year, Cardinals outfielder J.D. Drew, sat in the clubhouse of
the Triple A Memphis Redbirds on Sunday, insisting that
adversity builds character. That was his way of dealing with a
stint in the minors brought on by injuries that put him on the
DL earlier in the season and by his ongoing fizzle at the plate.
"It says in James to thank God for the trials," says Drew, who
was batting only .230 with two homers and nine RBIs in 25 games
before St. Louis sent him down on May 28. "If you never go 4 for
4, you don't know what to shoot for. If you never go 0 for 4,
you don't appreciate the success."

Drew, 23, who hit .417 in 14 games for the Cardinals last
September, knows both extremes. Against the Dodgers in April he
sprained his left thumb while colliding with L.A. righthander
Darren Dreifort; Drew says the injury, his first in pro
baseball, still hasn't fully healed. Then, against the Braves on
May 3, he strained his right quadriceps rounding second; he
played in six of the next 14 games but not effectively, and on
May 20 St. Louis placed him on the 15-day disabled list.

Drew originally went to Memphis on a rehab assignment, but even
after that 20-day stint was completed the Cardinals left him
there to work on his swing. At some point this season, Drew
says, he started having difficulty locking in on the ball and
beginning his stride. To compensate, he recently switched to a
bat with a bigger barrel. "It's going slowly," says Drew. "But I
feel like I'm getting back to where I should be."

Through Sunday, Drew was hitting .278 in 17 games for the
Redbirds, but in two outings against the Iowa Cubs last week he
went 0 for 7 with five strikeouts. Otherwise, Drew doesn't seem
all that bothered to be back in Triple A, where he played only
26 games last year, hitting .316 before moving up to St. Louis.
"I'm less of a Hyatt guy, more a Motel 8 guy," he says. "A Motel
8 has more channels on the TV, and the air conditioner is
usually better. I don't need the glamour. I don't need the hype.
I just want to get back."

Sportswriter's Son

When the Padres called up second baseman David Newhan, 25, the
son of Ross Newhan, national baseball writer for the Los Angeles
Times, every ink-stained scribe suddenly had someone to root
for. "I received so many E-mails from my colleagues," says Ross,
a Timesman for 31 years. "They were all very proud."

Though his stay will likely end when first baseman Wally Joyner
returns sometime this week from a shoulder injury, David, a
5'10" converted outfielder, has made the most of his time in the
majors: In 12 at bats through Sunday, he was hitting .250 with a
double and a stolen base. In his first start, against the A's on
June 8, he went 3 for 4 with an RBI. Ross calls it one of the
most exciting days of his life.

That said, David's success is the Times's dilemma. Ross has
earned a reputation as a fair-minded reporter. He no longer
writes about the Padres. He has not mentioned--and insists he
never will mention--David in print. Still, can he objectively
cover, say, the players' union? "It's a delicate situation,"
Ross says. "Blood is thicker than water and thicker than

Although he was a solid student while growing up in Yorba Linda,
Calif., and later at Pepperdine, David never considered
following in Ross's journalistic footsteps. "Playing seemed a
lot more fun than writing," he says. "My dad writes at home, and
one thing I've seen a lot of is his cussing up a storm, yelling
at the laptop. I understand what the sportswriter goes through.
I don't think anyone has to worry about me pulling an Albert
Belle." He pauses. "Oh wait--I don't know if you should write

If anyone knows the rules, it's David. Sorry kid. Too late.

Tony Fernandez Redux

There's no fat in Tony Fernandez's day. From the minute he
arrives at the ballpark, Fernandez (above), the Blue Jays'
soon-to-be 37-year-old third baseman, is either busy or rushing
to someplace where he'll be busy. Running stairs hours before
game time. Stretching. Taking BP. Hitting off a tee. Jogging to
the indoor cage for pregame swings. Scurrying to a postgame
lifting session. Says Toronto first base coach Lloyd Moseby,
Fernandez's teammate with the Jays in the mid-1980s, "His
preparation is unbelievable."

Mapped out with all the flexibility of a military operation, the
regimen, which the 6'2" Fernandez has followed throughout his
career, has him playing at a wiry 195 pounds and in the best
shape of his 16-year career. It also makes him all but
inaccessible to reporters, a throng of which will be following
his every move later in the season if he continues to hit at his
current pace. Through Sunday, Fernandez had a 10-game hitting
streak and was leading the majors with a .411 average. It's a
bit early to entertain thoughts of his exceeding the hallowed
400 figure for the whole season, but Fernandez on Sunday
surpassed another mark: His 1-for-1 performance in a 2-1 win
over the Royals gave him 2,178 hits in his career, the most by a
major leaguer born in the Dominican Republic (Julio Franco had

That record and his torrid streak are crests in a tumultuous
sine curve of a career. A three-time All-Star shortstop by the
time he was 28, Fernandez had his right cheekbone shattered by a
fastball from the Rangers' Cecilio Guante in April 1989. He
missed only 21 games and returned to hit .257 for Toronto that
season. Over the next six years he would play for five teams and
make another All-Star team, in '92, but would never finish above
.279. When he missed the '96 season with a broken right elbow,
his career appeared over.

The Indians took a flier by signing Fernandez before the 1997
season, and he became their everyday second baseman. He put
Cleveland in the World Series with an 11th-inning homer in Game
6 of the American League Championship Series against the
Orioles. Eleven days later he booted a grounder that opened the
door for the Marlins' 11th-inning World Series-winning Game 7

A free agent after the season, the switch-hitting Fernandez
re-signed with the Blue Jays and has enjoyed a renaissance. A
career .285 hitter when he returned to the Jays, he had batted
.350 for them through Sunday. That improvement is partly a
result of experience and a knowledge of the strike zone gained
in his 16 seasons, but Fernandez's fountain of youth is his
dizzying daily routine, which combines a Puritan work ethic with
a mad scientist's resourcefulness. "We've always called him
Professor Gadget," says Moseby. "You wouldn't believe the things
he carries with him--marbles, grips, broken bats he uses to do
wrist curls. He'll turn anything into a strengthening or
stretching tool."

"He's so focused, on his workouts and on every at bat," says
Jays manager Jim Fregosi. That concentration has meant increased
run production for the gap-hitting Fernandez, who has spent most
of this season in the fifth spot in the order. His .473 average
with runners in scoring position led the American League, and
with 49 RBIs he was on pace to eclipse his career high of 72 set
last year.

As for his possible run at .400, Fernandez won't say much. "Wait
till September, when it means something," he said last Saturday.
He had politely answered a few questions about the .400 barrier
and was gulping a protein shake as he inched toward the weight
room. "Now, I'm sorry, but I really have to go. I have work to

For complete scores and stats, plus more from Tom Verducci and
Jeff Pearlman, go to

THREE COLOR PHOTOS: V.J. LOVERO (3) With righty Kris Benson at 5-5, maturing first baseman Young (29) batting .323 and Martin hitting .296, the Bucs are afloat.


the HOT corner

Dodgers manager Davey Johnson has told struggling catcher Todd
Hundley that he will be used only as a pinch hitter while the
team gives rookie Angel Pena a chance to win the job. Hundley's
limited production at the plate (.230, seven home runs through
Sunday) was concern enough, but it was his inability to throw
out base stealers (only 11.7%)--not to mention whip the ball to
the third baseman after a strikeout--that forced Johnson's

Several Dodgers were miffed at $105 million righthander Kevin
Brown, who, in an 11-1 loss to Pittsburgh on June 15, rang up
the press box to argue that four of the six runs charged to him
should have been deemed unearned. Brown was correct, but his
teammates questioned his priorities....

Russell Branyan (.228, 23 homers, 50 RBIs for Triple A Buffalo)
may be baseball's top third base prospect, but the Indians chose
not to recall the 23-year-old Branyan to replace the injured
Travis Fryman, who went on the DL on June 16th with muscle
spasms in his lower back. "We don't think Russell is ready to
play in the big leagues, much less for a contender," manager
Mike Hargrove said. "It wouldn't be fair to him or us."...

Outfielder Reggie Sanders, who rejoined the Padres last Friday
after a stint on the 15-day DL for a strained rib cage muscle,
has a novel theory to explain his injury-plagued career: He's
not fat enough. Says Sanders, who has only 5% body fat, "I've
heard that people with low body fat have a harder time staying
limber. I'm hurting muscles I didn't even know I had."

The Standings

In this season of big-ticket pitchers some journeyman hurlers
have become mainstays in their team's starting rotation. Here's
our ranking of 1999's most delightful pitching surprises, with
their records through Sunday:


1. Paul Byrd, Phillies 10-3, 3.24
Outdoing Schilling in wins and ERA should keep him out of minors
for first time in nine pro seasons

2. Kent Bottenfield, Cardinals 10-3, 3.94
True stopper: Nine of 10 wins came after losses by Cards, his
10th pro team since April 1992

3. Brian Bohanon, Rockies 9-3, 5.77
Southpaw, 30, has already passed career-high victory total of
seven, attained last year

4. Omar Olivares, Angels 6-5, 3.45
Barely made rotation in spring training but leads Anaheim in
wins and ranks seventh in league in ERA

5. Omar Daal, Diamondbacks 7-4, 3.29
Last year's 2.88 ERA no fluke; at $2.6 million, he's cheap
compared with most others in Arizona rotation

6. Todd Ritchie, Pirates 6-5, 4.35
Hadn't started on any level since 1996; five wins shy of tying
career best 11, set in Class A in '92

7. Mike Oquist, A's 6-5, 5.21
After horrid 6.22 ERA last year, went to spring training as
nonroster invitee; now Oakland's top winner

8. Jeff Suppan, Royals 3-4, 3.38
Just 24, he has been with three organizations; entered this
season with career ERA of 5.90

9. Steve Parris, Reds 4-1, 4.72
Paid dues, having been claimed on waivers twice, released twice,
injured two times in six-year span

10. Frankie Rodriguez, Mariners 2-1, 5.40
Sprung from Twins in May, former phenom celebrated with two fine
starts for pitching-starved Seattle

in the BOX

June 17, 1999
Rangers 4, Yankees 2

New York designated hitter Chili Davis called it "a bad
biorhythm day." Whatever the cause, the Yankees wasted a
13-strikeout night from Roger Clemens and learned that the game
just isn't fair. With runners on first and second and none out
in the second inning, Davis smoked Aaron Sele's 3-and-2 pitch
toward rightfield--and right at second baseman Mark McLemore. He
grabbed the line drive and flipped to shortstop Royce Clayton,
who stepped on second and threw to first for Texas's first
triple play since 1977. In the eighth, Davis hit a shot that
reliever Mike Munoz stabbed. Munoz then doubled Paul O'Neill off

Contrast Davis's rocketry with the feeble way the Rangers scored
the winning run in the seventh: Gregg Zaun reached base on an
infield hit, got to third on a bunt and a groundout and scored
on a Roberto Kelly dribbler.