IS EDGAR A HALL OF FAMER?

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera calls him the toughest hitter he's ever faced, and scores of other players and managers call him the epitome of a professional hitter, but will the baseball writers vote Edgar Martinez (right) into the Hall of Fame? The game's greatest designated hitter announced last week that this will be his final season, touching off a debate about the merits of the DH that will heat up even more when Martinez goes on the 2010 Hall ballot. He faces an uphill climb.

Martinez, 41, was the most respected righthanded hitter in baseball during his prime and has always been a class act. But in his 18-year career he did not come close to 3,000 hits (he had 2,213 through Sunday), had only six 100-RBI seasons and was among the top 10 in MVP voting only twice. He's borderline in my early book, but deserves strong consideration if only because his peers held him in high esteem as a master of his craft. Such regard is more persuasive than his raw numbers.

NOT SO SLAMMIN' SAMMY

Cubs fans have been booing rightfielder Sammy Sosa (left), now that his National League--record streak of 100-RBI seasons (nine) is in jeopardy (he had 56 at week's end) as well as his streak of six years with 40 homers (he needed 15 to tie Babe Ruth's record of seven straight). What most baffles Cubs manager Dusty Baker is why Sosa can't hit lefthanded pitchers. Sosa entered this season a career .297 hitter against lefties with one homer every 14 at bats. But amid speculation that he's standing too far from the plate, Sosa has hit a meek .214 against lefthanders this season with only one homer in 70 at bats.

AN A-PLUS ADDITION

Can 21-year-old righthander Jairo Garcia (right) do for the A's what Francisco Rodriguez did at 20 for the 2002 Angels and Dontrelle Willis did at 21 for the '03 Marlins? Anaheim and Florida, the last two world champions, received critical boosts from the two hard-throwing rookies who arrived ahead of schedule. Last week Oakland called up Garcia, who began the year in Class A, to fortify their bullpen after he whiffed 91 batters in 53 innings. With a 96-mph fastball and a biting slurve, Garcia has K-Rod kind of stuff and similar poise. After his major league debut on Aug. 9, Garcia said, "It's the same thing, baseball. You need to throw strikes."

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS

No team has been tougher to beat in one-run games this year than the Dodgers. Their 23--12 record in cliffhangers (.657) gives them a rare shot at winning 70% of such games for the season. Only 13 teams have played .700 baseball in one-run games since 1900 (excluding strike years), and all but two teams in that group (1908 Pirates and '13 Senators) reached the postseason.

Here are the only five teams in the last 40 years to play .700 ball in games decided by one run, and how they fared in the postseason.

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Team

W--L

Pct.

Fared in Playoffs

2003 Giants

28--12

.700

Lost Division Series

1986 Red Sox

24--10

.706

Lost World Series

1980 Royals

29--12

.707

Lost World Series

1977 Royals

31--13

.705

Lost ALCS

1970 Orioles

40--15

.727

Won World Series

THREE STRIKES

1. After spending most of the last nine years in the minors, the Reds' Ryan Freel (.383 on-base percentage, at least 10 games started at five positions) has made an impression with his all-around performance, especially on defense. "Find where he is on the field," Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell said, "and hit it somewhere else."

2. The Phillies are fading again under manager Larry Bowa. In his four seasons in Philly, the club is 187--165 (.531) before the All-Star break and 124--127 (.494) after it.

3. With another season lost because of injury--a torn right hamstring ended this one last week--Ken Griffey Jr. will have missed 348 of the Reds' 810 games in his five years with Cincinnati, or 43% of the games.

COLOR PHOTOJOHN CORDES/ICON SMI (MARTINEZ) COLOR PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (SOSA) COLOR PHOTOBRAD MANGIN (GARCIA)
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)