Back with a Bang
Ken Caminiti has returned from the DL to restore the Astros'
swagger

Astros third baseman Ken Caminiti, who missed 79 games this
season with a strained right calf, was not a happy man in the
first few days after he came off the disabled list on Aug. 16.
"I had a spring training body, and every bit of me was sore,"
says Caminiti, who was hitting .292 with two home runs when he
was disabled in May. "I was unsure how I was going to make a
play defensively, and I was scared offensively."

Even a struggling Caminiti was a welcome presence for Houston,
whose once power-laden offense had been curtailed by the
season-long absence of injured Moises Alou and further sapped by
stints on the DL for Derek Bell, Carl Everett and Richard
Hidalgo. After a slow start (two singles in his first 13 at
bats) the switch-hitting Caminiti played himself into shape and,
in the process, restored some power to the Astros' lineup. Since
his return he was hitting .299 with nine homers and 32 RBIs in
31 games through Sunday. With Caminiti back, Houston went 22-10
and was clinging to its lead in the National League Central over
the tenacious Reds, who were 3 1/2 games back.

The Astros, who haven't coasted to a third straight division
title as expected, had also missed the swagger they hoped
Caminiti would bring when they signed him to a two-year, $9.5
million deal in the off-season. "That's a good word for it,
swagger," says manager Larry Dierker. "He has a presence; you
know the other team looks across the field, and it's
intimidating."

Most intimidating have been the three game-winning homers
Caminiti has hit since coming back, including an eighth-inning
grand slam against the Mets on Aug. 31 and a two-run shot
against the Phillies on Sept. 9 that gave Houston a 3-1 win and
its first-ever sweep of a seven-game road trip. He will also be
an emotional presence down the stretch for a team that comprises
mostly reserved guys like Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. "When
those guys hit home runs, they don't like to show their
emotions," says Caminiti, who indulges in thudding chest bumps
with teammates after clouting a dinger. "When I hit home runs, I
like to hit people, and I want them to hit me."

New Bat in the Order
Sam Takes On The Slugger

Karim Garcia breaks bats. Last season with the Diamondbacks, he
says, he snapped two dozen while taking cuts in 333 at bats and
in batting practice. The year before, with Triple A Albuquerque,
he broke nearly as many. This season, with the Tigers? "Two,"
says Garcia, smiling. "I use my bat in BP, I use it in the game.
I never break it. You can't break the Sam."

Some 30 major leaguers are swinging the Sam Bat, a maple
(instead of the traditional ash) bat produced individually in
the garage of Ottawa woodworker Sam Holman. Sluggers like Barry
Bonds and Carlos Delgado use the Sam Bat, as do gap hitters like
Royce Clayton and part-timers like Garcia. The consensus among
Sam swingers, says the Rangers' Clayton, is clear: "Soon,
everyone will be using the Sam. To be able to use the same bat
for months, in games and in BP, is unheard of. As far as being
comfortable at the plate, it's a huge advantage."

Holman, a 54-year-old former stagehand at Ottawa's National Arts
Centre who grew up in South Dakota, got the idea for his bat
three years ago when Bill MacKenzie, a friend and Rockies scout,
complained to him about the alarming number of broken bats.
"Wooden propellers are maple because it's a very hard, very
durable wood," Holman says. "So are bowling pins and drumsticks.
Why not bats?"

Holman got a 32-ounce Louisville Slugger from MacKenzie and made
a duplicate out of maple. It weighed 37 ounces; too heavy.
Holman reworked the bat four times, making it lighter. In
September 1996 he got the Triple A Ottawa Lynx to use his bat,
which now weighed 33 ounces. In a month of BP by a handful of
players, it never broke. The next April, Holman asked three Blue
Jays--Joe Carter, Carlos Delgado and Ed Sprague--to use a Sam in
batting practice. Carter liked it so much that, later that
season, he sneaked one into a game against the Brewers. He
homered, and a legend was born.

The Sam Bat was approved by Major League Baseball before last
season. Holman has made about 3,000 bats this year. (Hillerich &
Bradsby, makers of the Louisville Slugger, will churn out more
than 1.4 million.) Batters have complained that the barrel of
the Sam is too thin, that two bats of the same model are often
too dissimilar and that the wait is too long between order and
delivery (up to eight weeks, compared with three to four for a
Slugger).

Yet Clayton, who began using the Sam in games five weeks ago,
offers the ultimate endorsement. Though he bought a dozen of the
bats, so far he has used only one, in games and during batting
practice. He also shares it during BP with teammates Tom
Goodwin, Rusty Greer and Mark McLemore. "Hasn't broken," Clayton
says. "The Sam, it's my baby. It's my sweet potato pie."

The Clemens-Wells Trade
Call It a Wash(out)

Roger Clemens for David Wells (and a couple of friends): It was
the trade of the year. Yet with the season drawing to a close,
it's safe to say that neither pitcher has lived up to
expectations. With Clemens, the Yankees are not where they
wanted to be, steaming toward the World Series as a clear-cut
favorite. With Wells, the Blue Jays have fallen from the
American League wild-card race.

In February, when Toronto general manager Gord Ash called Brian
Cashman, his New York counterpart, with his offer of Clemens for
Wells, second baseman Homer Bush and lefthanded reliever Graeme
Lloyd, Cashman says, "[it] made my knees buckle." Presumably,
the reaction was to the image of a playoff rotation featuring
the Rocket followed by David Cone, Orlando Hernandez and Andy
Pettitte. As the Yankees closed in on the East Division title,
however, what they had was an erratic Clemens, one whose 13-9
record through Sunday belied a 4.57 ERA and just 148 strikeouts.
The five-time Cy Young winner still throws hard, but his command
has been shaky, his confidence fleeting. Since winning his first
five decisions, he hasn't won three in a row.

All this would spell embarrassment for the Yankees had Wells,
who was 18-4, including a perfect game, for New York in 1998,
not performed even worse. His record (14-10) also was deceptive
given his 4.98 ERA and bafflingly limited success against
lefthanded hitters, who had batted .294 against him.

So which team got the best of the deal? Well, Bush has gone from
obscure utility infielder to one of the American League's
biggest surprises this season, batting .311 with 52 RBIs through
Sunday and playing a smooth second base. Lloyd, meanwhile, was
5-3 with a 3.51 ERA as the primary lefthander out of the Toronto
pen.

Over the long haul, perhaps the answer will be Toronto.

COLOR PHOTO: DEHOOG/TDP With his good glove and nine home runs in 31 games, Caminiti rearmed Houston for its stretch drive. COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN GREEN Erratic all season, Clemens hasn't been the horse the Yankees traded for.

the HOT corner

Despite the Blue Jays' nosedive from wild-card contention,
Toronto general manager Gord Ash says manager Jim Fregosi's job
is secure. Fregosi came under fire earlier in the season after
he ripped Carlos Delgado for not being a leader and then got
into a pair of bar incidents (a fight in June and a loud tirade
two weeks ago). "Fregosi is not in any kind of tenuous
position," says Ash. "Overall we've done well, and I think Jim
has done a lot of positive things."...

The Marlins are annoyed with shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who went
from All-Star and National League Rookie of the Year candidate
to benchwarmer. Gonzalez had not only hit just .261 in the
season's second half but also had angered manager John Boles by
not running out ground balls. "I don't believe in doghouses,"
says Boles, "but if I did, this one could house Marmaduke."...

Although he has declared lefties Mike Sirotka (10-13, 4.13 ERA)
and Jim Parque (9-13, 5.03) untouchable, White Sox general
manager Ron Schueler says he won't hesitate to trade some of his
other young pitchers for offensive help this off-season.
Chicago's $24.6 million payroll at the start of the season will
be increased to $36 million next year....

The Reds are negotiating with closer Mel Rojas, 32, who's out of
baseball after getting released by the Expos in July. Cincinnati
general manager Jim Bowden, who considers the once-dominant
Rojas (36 saves for Montreal in 1996) a prime candidate for
reclamation, wants to sign him to a minor league deal.

For complete scores and stats, plus Tom Verducci's mailbag, go to
cnnsi.com/baseball.

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)