Understated Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams is used to playing in the shadows of more heralded teammates like Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi and, now, Alfonso Soriano. "He's a guy you take for granted," New York manager Joe Torre said last week But the spotlight was on Williams during a streak of nine multihit games, when he also had hits in 11 straight at bats from last Wednesday through Sunday, one short of the major league record set by the Red Sox' Pinky Higgins in 1938 and tied by the Tigers' Walt Dropo in '52. Another streak, in which Williams reached base in 13 straight plate appearances, three short of the mark set by Boston's Ted Williams in '57, ended on Saturday when he went 2 for 5 in an 8-3 win over the Mariners.
Yet even while he was on that tear, Williams had to share top billing with two of the game's megastars. Last Friday against the Twins, Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez extended his streak of scoreless innings to 35, the most in the American League since Kenny Rogers's run of 39 for the Texas Rangers in 1995. Even though Minnesota eventually touched him for three earned runs in a 5-0 loss, Martinez (16-3) led the majors with a 2.20 ERA through Sunday. At the same time, Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez was having his way with the Blue Jays. In Texas's 10-7 win on Sunday, A-Rod blasted two home runs, giving him five in two games, which tied a major league record. Rodriguez led the majors with 44 homers and was on pace for a career-high 58. Said Texas manager Jerry Narron, "I don't think we appreciate what we're seeing. He's the best player in the game today."
Still, there was no ignoring the mild-mannered Williams, who has been sizzling over the past two months—a far cry from early in the season, when he was mired in an 0-for-19 slide that dropped his average to .180. Williams took a series of cortisone shots to relieve the pain in his chronically sore shoulders, a condition that has sapped him of some of his power. With 16 home runs at week's end, he was on track for 22—which would be his lowest total since '97—but he still led the Yankees in hits (163) and on-base percentage (.424). He was also batting a major-league-leading .400 since the All-Star break.
By going 2 for 4 on Sunday, Williams raised his season average to .340, third in the American League behind Kansas City first baseman Mike Sweeney (.355) and Seattle rightfielder Ichiro Suzuki (343). "From where I was, I'd never have believed the season I'm having," Williams said last week. "Early on I was just trying to stay in the lineup."
Mariners' Joel Pi�eiro
Just Plug Him in Where Needed
Joel Pi�eiro was almost too good for the Mariners' rotation. The 23-year-old righthander became Seattle's fifth starter late in spring training, but before his first outing manager Lou Piniella shifted him to the bullpen. Piniella decided Pi�eiro should be dazzling hitters with his low-90s fastball and sharp curve more than once every fifth day. He was right: Pi�eiro, who had an 0.63 ERA in six relief appearances as a rookie last season, allowed one run and struck out 23 in 18 innings of setup work in April.
But with righthander Paul Abbott faltering, Piniella put Pi�eiro back into the rotation on April 30. It was another correct call: Since then Pi�eiro has been one of the American League's best pitchers. After striking out five and giving up just two earned runs in 6? innings to beat Roger Clemens and the Yankees in a 5-2 win on Sunday, Pi�eiro was 13-4 with a 3.57 ERA in 21 starts, and his overall ERA of 3.20 was sixth best in the league.