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.
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:
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
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."
?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.