BATTERED HALOS
Burdened by a frightful legacy, the Angels are battling for the
playoffs

So here's a prediction: Anaheim will stay neck and neck with
Texas until the final week of play in September, whereupon it
will sweep a three-game set with the Rangers, only to then lose
four straight to the A's and miss the playoffs. The dispirited
Angels will climb on a plane to go home; the 13 of them who opt
for steak over chicken will be felled by mad cow disease; and
lefthander Chuck Finley will step on a Game Boy and twist an
ankle.

All of this--or something like it--is bound to happen, because
the Angels, who were 12 games over .500 through Sunday despite
an array of injuries and only modest talent, are hexed. "I'd
like to think that other teams go through what we do," says
shortstop Gary DiSarcina, "but they don't."

DiSarcina, an Angel for parts of 10 seasons, is all too familiar
with his team's sad history. It started with outfielder Lyman
Bostock, who was shot to death in September 1978. Then came the
'86 club, which was within one strike of reaching the World
Series before reliever Donnie Moore, who would commit suicide
three years later, surrendered a homer to the Red Sox' Dave
Henderson. "We had the bus accident in '92," says DiSarcina,
alluding to the crash that sidelined manager Buck Rodgers for
three months. In '95 the Angels led the Mariners by 11 games
with 48 to play, only to miss the postseason by losing a
one-game playoff with Seattle. "We also had the death of Rod
Carew's daughter [from leukemia] a few years ago, and [three
years] before that, our [former] bench coach, Deron Johnson,
died too."

This season has been a trying one as well. Through Sunday the
Angels had used the disabled list a major league-high 19 times.
Anaheim's best hitter, first baseman-outfielder Darin Erstad,
landed on the 15-day DL when he strained his left hamstring
while beating out an infield single. Just four days after the
Angels released Cecil Fielder, their slumping RBI leader,
because they had too many infielders, third baseman Dave Hollins
was placed on the DL with an inflamed right shoulder. ("Would I
have let Cecil go if I had known what would happen to Hollins?"
says general manager Bill Bavasi. "Probably not.")

Finley hasn't been on the disabled list, but he has suffered all
the same. While pitching against the White Sox on May 2, he was
struck on his throwing arm by a line drive off the bat of
catcher Chad Kreuter and left the game with a bruised elbow. On
July 15 against the Devil Rays, Finley was covering first when
he slid across the base path and opened a gash in his right knee
that required eight stitches. At Baltimore on July 18, he was
sitting in the dugout when he was nailed on his right forearm by
a foul. Finally, on July 24 at Kansas City, he was forced out of
the game when a Jeff King liner hit his pitching elbow. "If we
could hide Chuck somewhere, we would," says reliever Troy
Percival.

Don't bring up the subject of a hex with Bavasi, though.
"There's no such thing as a curse," he says. "Curses are just
excuses for not winning."

Anaheim embarked this week on a brutal 10-game road trip against
the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians, and if the Angels are
eventually outdistanced by the Rangers, it will be
understandable. While Texas picked up shortstop Royce Clayton,
righty Todd Stottlemyre and third baseman Todd Zeile at the
trading deadline, Anaheim did virtually nothing. "We weren't
going to deal just for the sake of dealing," says Bavasi. "Randy
Johnson was never coming to us. There wasn't much we were
interested in."

That Anaheim is in contention is a marvel. Through Sunday it
ranked eighth in runs scored and ninth in homers in the American
League. Yet it had won 11 of its last 15 games at week's end and
is getting healthy again. Manager Terry Collins recently
welcomed back from the DL Erstad and righthander Jack McDowell,
who pitched seven shutout innings in a win over the Tigers last
week after missing nearly four months with an elbow injury.
Collins is hopeful that righthanded ace Ken Hill, who's been out
since June 10 with bone spurs in his elbow, will make it back
soon, too. "It feels like we've acquired some big-time players,"
Collins says.

Darryl and Eric Revisited
STILL RAKIN' AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

When Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry were kids in Los Angeles,
playing baseball together and dreaming of their futures in the
game, it's safe to say that they never imagined Strawberry
suffering a precipitous, self-inflicted decline that would land
him in a near-beer league in St. Paul. Nor did they envision
Davis's hanging up his cleats because he was sick of spending
all his time in post-op. Those circumstances, however, were
where the two old friends found themselves before the start of
the 1996 season. At that juncture they could only look back at
disappointing careers--disappointing because they weren't as
phenomenal as had been forecast when Davis and Strawberry had
burst onto the scene in the early '80s.

Then something happened. Strawberry, who had been on a downward
spiral of heavy drinking, drug abuse and run-ins with the law
since 1987, got his act--and his game--together. Meanwhile,
Davis's health improved, albeit temporarily. Now, three seasons
later, the 36-year-old childhood chums are playing like kids
again, much to the chagrin of American League pitchers.

When Davis and Strawberry met as Little Leaguers in South
Central L.A., it was natural for them, as the two best players
around, to form a bond. "My park played his park in the
championship, and we won," says Davis of their initial meeting.
Over time they became best friends, playing baseball and
basketball together and doing their best to steer clear of the
pitfalls that lurked in the neighborhood. Neither viewed
baseball as a way out of the mean streets. "It was easy to get
out," says Davis. "The hard part was to stay out."

Strawberry will attest to that. After starting his big league
career in 1983 with 26 homers and following that with eight more
seasons of 25 homers or more, Strawberry, at only 34, was out of
the game when he signed to play with the St. Paul Saints in the
independent Northern League in 1996. Two months later the
Yankees gave him a shot, and he played well down the stretch and
in the playoffs as New York won the World Series. Last year,
though, an injured left knee limited him to 29 at bats, and in
the off-season the Yanks signed Chili Davis to be their DH. But
when Chili went down with an ankle injury early this season,
Strawberry stepped in and began swinging like the Straw of old.
Through Sunday his 22 homers, in only 248 at bats, tied him with
Tino Martinez for the club lead. His home run frequency of one
every 11.3 at bats was fourth in the majors to Mark McGwire's,
Sammy Sosa's and Greg Vaughn's. It wasn't just the sheer number
of his taters that had been impressive, either. His homers had
been both timely (a pair of ninth-inning pinch-hit grand slams)
and mammoth (a 465-footer that was the longest ball ever hit at
Camden Yards).

Chili's return from the DL last week figures to cut into
Strawberry's playing time, but Straw is content with his status
as a role player. "Baseball teams don't need to label guys
superstars," says Strawberry. "Too much is expected from just
one player. This team here, we don't believe in that. We believe
in a team concept."

Unlike Strawberry, Eric Davis has been able to keep his nose out
of trouble. The rest of his body is a different story. Neck,
knee, kidney: You name it, he's been hospitalized for it. His
return from colon cancer last season was baseball's feel-good
story of the year, but in 1998 Davis's newsmaking exploits have
been strictly on the field. His .331 batting average through
Sunday ranked fourth in the American League, and his 30-game
hitting streak, which ended on Aug. 15, was the longest in the
majors this season. More impressive, Davis had hit .384 with 13
homers and 42 RBIs since the All-Star break. Not coincidentally,
Baltimore had the best record in the majors over that time.

Orioles manager Ray Miller used Davis sparingly early in the
season, fearing that the chemotherapy Davis received until
February would cause him to tire. "I think it really took its
toll for a month or two," says Miller. "You'd see him play three
days in a row, and his bat would slow down. But he's gotten
beyond that. He's gotten comfortable in the DH role. I would
think after a life experience like that, being a DH doesn't
bother you so much." It's not as if Davis can't move around
should the need arise. When Brady Anderson went down with a
strained right patella tendon last week, Miller used Davis in
center.

"You can't call him an igniter or a spark," says the Orioles'
Cal Ripken Jr. "It's bigger than that. To have him put the team
on his back, as he has in the second half, you just can't say
enough about his impact."

These days, Davis and Strawberry aren't able to speak to each
other as often as they used to. "We talk more in the
off-season," says Strawberry. "Every year, when it's over, we
sit down and joke about how everybody thinks we're not able to
produce. But we always seem to find a way."

Boppin' the Bipster
ROUGH SAILING FOR MR. ROBERTS

When Bip Roberts signed with the A's on June 23, they became the
fourth team he had played for in 12 months. If history is any
indication, he should soon wear out his welcome in Oakland too.

Roberts started the 1997 season with the Royals and was picked up
at the trading deadline by the Indians, who let him go at the end
of the season, whereupon he signed with the Tigers. When
Cleveland tried to deal outfielder Geronimo Berroa to Detroit
this season and the Tigers offered Roberts in return, the Indians
said no way. The Tigers then shopped him elsewhere to no avail
and designated him for assignment in June before trading him to
Oakland.

On the A's recent visit to Detroit, Roberts lamented that none of
the Tigers' young players took any of his advice during his stay
in the Motor City. Detroit manager Buddy Bell, whose team can use
all the help it can get, assessed his complaint and admitted that
maybe he should have handled things differently. "There's one
thing I should have done," said Bell. "I should have put up a
sign in the clubhouse saying, 'Don't pay any attention to Bip
Roberts.'"

For complete scores and stats, plus more news from Tom Verducci
and Tim Crothers, go to www.cnnsi.com.

COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO HANGING IN THERE Long-suffering Angel DiSarcina now may be able to exorcise the past. [Gary DiSarcina in game]

THERE'S NO I IN BARRY

On June 10 the Giants were riding an 11-game winning streak and
a serene Barry Bonds was preparing for that day's game against
the Mariners--until a reporter asked if an injury to Giants
cleanup hitter Jeff Kent the night before now left Bonds
"unprotected" in the batting order. "My hitting depends on the
guy behind me?" an irritated Bonds began. "Who's ever been
behind me? Jeff's a good player, but, c'mon, he's not Frank
Thomas, he's not Albert Belle.... I mean, give me some
respect.... I've protected a lot of players. No one ever
protected me. And that ain't a downgrade on anybody. It's just
the truth."

A look at the stats tells a different story. San Francisco was
in first place in the National League West, a game ahead of San
Diego, when Kent went on the disabled list after the June 9
game; it was five games behind the Padres when he returned to
the lineup on July 10. And, through Sunday, here's how Bonds has
done this year when Kent has had a plate appearance after
him--and when he hasn't.

AB H HR RBI AVG.
With Kent 314 99 19 76 .315
Without Kent 118 25 7 18 .212

STATISTICS: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)