MEN IN MASKSVYING TO BECOME HIT KINGS
Only two catchershave ever won a major league batting title (Bubbles Hargrave did it whileplaying for the Reds in 1926 and Ernie Lombardi won it with the Reds in '38 andthe Boston Braves in '42), yet two are contending this year. Twins catcher JoeMauer (.357 through Sunday) held a healthy lead over Yankees shortstop DerekJeter (.337) in the American League, while Braves catcher Brian McCann (.346)had an outside chance to catch Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez (.352) inthe National League. McCann (left), who missed two weeks with an ankle sprainin May, needed 149 plate appearances in the team's final 39 games to reach theminimum 502 plate appearances, a difficult task given the rest normallyafforded catchers. In any case McCann, 22, can flat out hit. He batted .321 inhis first 153 major league games.
MAJOR GAINS AFTERMINOR STRUGGLES
Who needs minorleague success to make it in the bigs? Not Tigers outfielder Brent Clevlen orCubs lefthanded starter Ryan O'Malley. Clevlen (pronounced CLEEVE-lan) wascalled up to Detroit on July 29 after hitting .224 and 10 home runs in 101games at Double A Erie, then hit .364 with three homers in his first 13 majorleague games. "The lights are better," he explained. Clevlen (right)was drafted by Detroit in the second round of the 2002 draft and has big-timepower and a bright future. The 26-year-old O'Malley, though, was an undraftedfree agent signed by Chicago in 2002; he was 7-7 and had a 4.08 ERA at Triple AIowa when the Cubs needed an emergency starter on Aug. 16. With about sevenhours' notice before his big league debut-and the apostrophe missing from hishastily arranged jersey-O'Malley gave up only five hits in eight shutoutinnings to beat the Astros 1-0.
•The A's, the ALWest leader by 4 1/2 games through Sunday and a terrific second-half team,aren't home free just yet-not with closer Huston Street on the DL with astrained groin and a smoke-and-mirrors offense that is the league's secondworst.
•Is there aluckier starter than Mets righthander Steve Trachsel (left, 12-5)? New Yorkscored at least five runs in 16 of his 24 starts, including 10 of his wins.
•The torridhitting of rightfielder Luke Scott (.421) made the disappointing Preston Wilson(.269, 94 strikeouts, .309 OBP) expendable in Houston. But Wilson, who signedwith the Cardinals last Friday, hits lefthanders well (.308 average againstthem this season) and could become a useful role player for St. Louis.
BRAD MANGIN (MCCANN); MIKE CARLSON/ICON SMI (CLEVLEN); KATHY WILLENS/AP (TRACHSEL)