The last time Philadelphia had a five-game lead and didn't win a title was 1964—the year of its famous collapse in the final two weeks of the season. That won't happen this year. There figures to be no drama in the East in the last two weeks of this season.
A Toll on Bell
The best player not invited to the All-Star Game this year was Astro outfielder Derek Bell, who was tied for the National League RBI lead (56) and was third in batting (.337) at week's end. Merv Rettenmund, who was Bell's hitting coach with the Padres before San Diego traded Bell in the off-season, says no one in the league hits the ball consistently harder than his former pupil.
How hard? In the second game of the season, Bell hit a line drive that almost tore the glove off Padre shortstop Andujar Cedeno. "I told the guys on the bench that they just saw something they'll never see again—a shortstop knocking down a homer," says Rettenmund. "It would have gone out."
Bell, 26, hit 35 homers in the 1993 and '94 seasons combined but had only 126 RBIs in that time. Tony Gwynn, his former Padre teammate, told him to stop trying to hit homers and to use the whole field to drive in more runs—good advice to anyone playing at the spacious Astrodome. This year Bell has run up his RBI total despite having hit only five home runs through last weekend.
At the same time Bell has altered his mental approach to hitting: He says he thinks about anything but baseball until he gets in the batter's box, and then he simply reacts to each pitch. By making these adjustments, Gwynn says, Bell "now is the whole package." That includes speed (17 stolen bases through Sunday), defense, a strong throwing arm (he threw out two runners at third base last Friday) and a good attitude.
No one has ever said that Bell doesn't play hard. "He's one of the few guys in the league who runs hard on every ball," says Gwynn. Bell, who was hurt at first when he didn't make the All-Star Game but quickly got over it, agreed. "I'm very laid-back, but once I get between the lines, I'm a freight train."
On the day of his first major league start, Cuban-born pitcher Ariel Prieto, newly signed by the Athletics, went to a Sizzler steakhouse for lunch, looked for an apartment, applied for a driver's license and was handed his signing bonus check—which he flipped into his locker as if it were for $10, not $1.3 million. What's the big deal?
Prieto lost that first start 4-2 to the Blue Jays last Friday, allowing seven hits and four runs in six innings, but he impressed everyone with his stuff and his poise. "Composure is not going to be a problem," Toronto DH Paul Molitor said.