On a night when Luis Gonzalez hit three home runs and Randy Johnson struck out 11, Grace would seem an unlikely subject of dugout buzz. Still, there was the Diamondbacks' first baseman, going 2 for 5, driving in an early run and gaining the attention of his teammates. At week's end Grace, in his first season in Arizona after having spent the first 13 years of his career with the Cubs, was hitting .324 with nine home runs, 38 RBIs and a .418 on-base percentage. He was on pace to surpass his career high of 17 homers, and in nine starts in the cleanup spot in place of injured third baseman Matt Williams, he had batted .375 with 12 RBIs. Thanks in part to Grace, Arizona had gone 16-7 in Williams's absence and built a four-game lead over the second-place Dodgers in the National League West.
Grace signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Diamondbacks last winter after the Cubs decided, despite his popularity with Chicago fans, that he wasn't worth re-signing. Even in a clubhouse stocked with businesslike veterans, he has impressed his new teammates with his quality at bats and well-played games. Says Bell, "You never see him force anything."
If there's a difference in Grace's game in his new home, it's his power surge, which he attributes to playing early-season games in balmy Bank One Ballpark instead of blustery Wrigley Field. "If you hit the ball well in Arizona in April and May, it's a home run," he says. "In Wrigley it's an out Sammy Sosa can hit through that wind, but not the rest of us."
Not that the Diamondbacks count on Grace for power. Brenly is most enamored of his bat-handling ability. The manager has played hit-and-run more often with Grace at the plate than with any other Arizona hitter. "I have that much confidence that he will put the bat on the ball and find a hole," Brenly says.
In other words Grace has become as steadying an influence in Arizona as he was in Chicago. "This is a veteran team, and I knew a lot of these guys before I got here," he says. "They made the transfer a lot easier than I anticipated it would be. I'm the same guy I've always been."
June 18-21, Mariners at A's
It's do-or-die for Oakland, which at week's end was 18 games behind first-place Seattle in the American League West. The As might have to throw four shutouts, because runs are hard to come by against the Mariners. They had the second-lowest ERA (3.69) in the league, had held opponents to the second-lowest on-base percentage (.307) and had allowed the second-fewest hits. When Oakland does have runners in scoring position, its .240 average is the league's third lowest.