Tom Verducci's View

June 27, 2004

PINIELLA'S STING RAYS
The Devil Rays appear serious about making good on manager Lou
Piniella's promise that for the first time in club history, they
won't finish last in the AL East. From May 20 through Sunday they
had the best record in baseball (22-6), including a
franchise-record winning streak that had reached 11 games. Led by
ace righthander Victor Zambrano (above) and a hard-throwing
bullpen that was 10-0 during the run, Tampa Bay had allowed the
fewest hits in the AL this season. The pitchers are backed by
what is the best defensive outfield in baseball: Carl Crawford,
Rocco Baldelli and Jose Cruz Jr., who give the Devil Rays three
centerfield-quality fly chasers.

METS' DESPERATE DEAL
With $3 million and a durable reliever to burn, the Mets made the
kind of trade for slumping Astros rightfielder Richard Hidalgo
(right) that speaks to their market size and their desperation to
be relevant. When the deal was made last Thursday, Hidalgo had
not hit a home run since April 13 and had lost his job to
27-year-old rookie Jason Lane. But New York could afford to take
the risk that Hidalgo, a streaky hitter, can run into a hot spell
based on change of scenery alone--even though Shea Stadium is a
graveyard for hitters. The trade cost the Mets righthanded
reliever David Weathers and middling pitching prospect Jeremy
Griffiths. But for a club that was the second-worst-hitting team
in baseball at the time of the deal, Hildago is merely a small
upgrade, not someone who will take it to the playoffs.

STREAK HITTERS
Carlos Lee (left) knocked Hall of Famer Luke Appling out of the
White Sox record book last week by extending his hitting streak
to 28 games. Appling's 27-game streak had stood for 68 years--it
was tied by Albert Belle in '97--making it the fourth-oldest such
record in the majors. Here are the clubs with the
longest-standing hitting streaks:

Team Player Games Year

1. Tigers Ty Cobb 40 1911
2. Cardinals Rogers Hornsby 33 1922
3. Phillies Chuck Klein 26 1930
4. Yankees Joe DiMaggio 56 1941
5. Braves Tommy Holmes 37 1945

UNNATURAL BORN SWINGER
Royals first baseman-DH Ken Harvey (right) batted .478 as a
senior at Nebraska and .328 in 1,307 minor league at bats, so
K.C. hitting coach Jeff Pentland is not surprised to see Harvey,
26 and in his second full big league season, among the AL leaders
in batting, at .354 through Sunday. What's odd is how the
righthanded-swinging Harvey grips the bat: His left hand is on
the bat, and he wraps his right hand atop his left. "To hit with
almost no top hand," Pentland says, "you've got to be really
strong." Says the 240-pound Harvey, "Been swinging like that
since I was born."

THREE STRIKES
*The Twins' Michael Ryan has provided yet another example of why
the headfirst slide into first base is a dumb play. On June 13
Ryan put himself on the DL with a nerve injury in his left
shoulder by diving into the bag; he was out.

*The nightmare season for leftfielder Chipper Jones (left) might
not get much better. The Braves fear Jones's balky right
hamstring might nag him all season. Through Sunday he was batting
.209, and his run of eight straight 100-RBI seasons is in
jeopardy; he had 20 at week's end.

*With the idea that Arthur Rhodes could be a closer looking like
a mistake--and with a bullpen lacking power arms--Oakland may
work rookie righthander Justin Lehr into some save situations.

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER (ZAMBRANO) COLOR PHOTO: BILL KOUSTROUN/AP (HIDALGO) COLOR PHOTO: JEFF ROBERTSON/AP (LEE) COLOR PHOTO: MARK DUNCAN/AP (HARVEY) COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO (JONES)

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)