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Baseball Notebook: Meanwhile, back home in Montreal ...

Sunday, June 22, 2003

By Steve Ziants, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

About 150 people massed in the terminal at St. Hubert's Airport well into the evening Thursday. And surprise, surprise, they weren't waiting for the first shipment of the new Harry Potter book.

No, these folks were even loonier. They gave up a glorious late spring evening in one of the most glorious cities in North America to wait at this regional airport terminal outside Montreal for The Baseball Team No Want Wants to arrive home. Three consecutive one-hitters, Roger Clemens' effort at Yankee Stadium, Albert Pujols, Mike Hampton's lost no-hitter ... none of it this week was as intriguing to The Guy In The Stands. But then, The Guy has a perverted surprise meter.

Without prompting. Without pay. Without rhyme nor reason nor a single pennant to cheer. They came, about 150 of 'em, like aliens returning to the mother ship, hearing a signal only they could hear.

The long, some say cruel, 22-game, 25-day, 8-win, 14-loss odyssey ended for the Expos earlier in the day. With a 5-2 win at PNC Park. With the last length of runway in an 11,131-mile Trip Tik From Hell. Manager Frank Robinson said after the game that "the win was what we definitely needed for our psyche."

And so were the faces at the gate. Who'd have believed? To paraphrase Sally Field: They remembered. They really remembered. (Of course, it could also mean: They're sick. They're really sick. The Guy will, as always, leave it to his own unbalanced readers -- or their attendants -- to make up their own minds.)

But isn't it amazing? So long away that even the players seemed caught in some time warp as they packed Thursday. "We didn't bury ourselves," outfielder Brad Wilkerson was saying. "We're still pretty much in the same spot we were when we started."

Someone interrupted. In fact, the rude soul interjected, the Expos were two games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East Division when they left and returned home seven back. That they were 2 games up in the wild card and were now 2 1/2 behind.

Wilkerson paused.

"Really?" he asked.

No, Brad, it is not the same world as when you departed Montreal May 26. A lot of life has been lived (and died) in these 25 days:

The entire NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Final and French Open were played. Didn't know that? Don't worry, no one else in North America realized it, either.

Your Expos won eight games, or just one less than the Pirates.

A combined 6,625 pitches were thrown in your games, or just slightly more than it seemed Kip Wells threw Thursday afternoon.

You were rained out three times and played three doubleheaders as a result (getting swept in all three) -- or as many doubleheaders as the franchise had in 2000-02 combined.

Kids movie "Finding Nemo" debuted and earned $160 million at theaters. Maybe you guys could schedule a doubleheader.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 579 points. But don't get your hopes up. That doesn't mean a buyer will be coming along anytime soon to rescue the franchise.

The Jessica Lynch story went from real-life Audie Murphy to "Wag The Dog"? You should be familiar with this, though, seeing as you've been having your tails wagged -- among other parts -- by 29 dogs for 19 months now.

Sammy Sosa went from beloved to bedeviled. Except, of course, in your clubhouse, where it will take more than a little scandal to knock Jeff Loria off that toilet seat.

And one last note, The Guy is sad to report:

Spectacular Bid, David Brinkley, Larry Doby, Gregory Peck and Hume Cronyn all died. Unfortunately, as is the way of the world, so did a few more diehard Expos fans. Otherwise, that crowd Thursday might've swelled to, oh, at least a good 157.

One by one by one

Upon conclusion of the third consecutive game in which the Mets were involved in a one-hitter Tuesday, were you as stunned as The Guy? Could it be ... no ... no ... it couldn't be ... the Elias Sports Bureau -- guardian of all things geeky and true and Endy Chavez's batting average with a 3-2 count in day games in months beginning with the letter 'J' -- could not certify that this was a record?

Oh, say it ain't so, Elias. What? Next we find out that as a boy Sammy Sosa once saved himself from drowning by lashing his bats together?

How often has Elias come up empty? So rarely, doesn't it seem the sky isn't so blue nor Iron City so cold thereafter?

It's not that Elias hasn't tried. Elias' Bob Waterman says research began on the phenomenon even before Mets closer Armando Benitez finished off the last of the three one-ones Tuesday night. As of Wednesday afternoon, "we devoted probably more hours than we'd like," Waterman said.

But when the mystery requires information that (gasp!) is of "paper and pencil" from the Dark Statistical Ages before windows became something other than to look through, well, "it's probably not one of those questions that we'll be able to answer definitively.

"People are used to every throw to first when the catcher grabs his crotch being recorded," Waterman said. And "we're not talking about something on the level of Hank Aaron's career home run record or Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak. It's basically an oddity."

Yeah, an oddity. So what's you're point, Bob?

His best shot

Only a Pirates fan knows how incredible the seventh inning was in the Brewers' 9-4 win against the Cardinals Monday. Keith Osik hit a solo home run to begin Milwaukee's seven-run inning and added a two-run double before it ended. That's three RBIs in one inning for Jason Kendall's former backup. In 359 games as a Pirates player, Osik only twice had three RBIs in an entire game.

Albert, Albert, Albert

On June 15, it smacks of hyperbole. But then you watch do-everything Albert Pujols and you find yourself believing that Cardinals batting coach Mitchell Page might be right when he told Dan Manoyan of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week that he thought Pujols could win the Triple Crown. "In fact, I'll say this," Page said, "if he is close in September, I think he will do it."

It's tough to argue with the numbers (.376, 20 HRs, 61 RBIs). Pujols entered the weekend leading the National League in batting, was tied for second in RBIs and was tied for fourth in home runs. Furthermore, he led the NL in runs (64), slugging percentage (.708) and was second in on-base percentage (.447). And did The Guy mention that he's still just 23? (But fourth among outfielders in NL All-Star voting? C'mon!)

See you in October

So you think the Yankees are vulnerable, do you? Perhaps their only sin is disinterest. Going into their game Friday vs. the Mets, they were 42-29 -- a .592 winning percentage. Against teams with winning records, though, they were winning at a .611 clip (33-21). It's against the lesser competition where they've soiled their stripes (9-8, .529), including 2-4 vs. Texas.

A different point of view

Does anyone really understand why kids think what they think? Upon signing last week, high-schooler Ryan Harvey -- the Cubs' No. 1 pick in this year's draft -- said he pictured himself in a Cubs' uniform all along. Hitting a home run at Wrigley, Ryan? Batting ahead of Sammy Sosa? Staring down Randy Johnson? Nah! "I watched the [nationally televised Yankees-Cubs] game where [Hee Seop] Choi got hurt and I was just thinking about how I could be standing there over him right now," Harvey said. "It was kind of weird thinking that." And this is the kid they entrusted with $2.4 million of their money.

This 'n' that

Let's hear it for the AARP crowd. Only fans 50 and older attending the Indians-White Sox game July 13 at Jacobs Field will be eligible for the Al Rosen bobblehead being given away that day to mark the 50th anniversary of his AL MVP. ... Robert Frost would've loved Mark Buehrle. Coming off 16- and 19-win seasons, the White Sox tried to lock him up with a three-year, $11.5 million deal in the off-season. Buehrle opted for the road less taken and refused, imagining an even bigger payday. He was renewed at $445,000 for 2003 -- and was 3-10 going into his start yesterday vs. the Cubs. Oops! Guess that's why they put bars in bowling alleys. ...

More than any stat ever could, Nomar Garciaparra's at-bat in the 14th inning of a tie game vs. the Astros Sunday speaks to character. On a day in which he already had a triple and three doubles, Garciaparra squared around and sacrificed Todd Walker to second, setting the table for Manny Ramirez to drie in the winning run. It should be noted that Garciaparra was the one who initiated the SAC, not the bench. ... John Hickey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer asked Ichiro Suzuki, who has hit .412 (75 for 182) since May 1 to climb to second in the AL batting race, who could get him out these days. "I was a pitcher [in high school]," Ichiro replied, "and if I pitched to me now, I don't think I could get this guy out." ... With the death Wednesday of Larry Doby -- the second black player to put on a major-league uniform -- some might wonder who was the third? Hank Thompson and Willard Brown made their debuts July 17, 1947, with the St. Louis Browns. ...

Great box score note of the week: Co-worker David Fink points out that E. Perez homered for both the Cardinals and Brewers Wednesday -- Eduardo for the Cardinals, Eddie for the Brewers. The only E. Perezes, it should be noted, ever to play in the majors. What are the odds? ... Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire on whether scouting reports were much benefit in interleague play: "Yeah. They told us [Barry] Bonds could hit. And they were right." ... And finally, the question has come up several times: What's up with the back-to-back 1:05 p.m. starts for the Pirates in Montreal Tuesday and Wednesday? Wednesday is easy. It's a getaway day. But Tuesday? Sacre bleu! It's St. Jean Baptiste Day in Quebec, and what says Happy St. Jean Baptiste Day better than a Pirates-Expos matinee?

Shot and a jeer

Shot: John Henry Williams, 34 -- son of frozen Ted -- is still trying to live up to Daddy Dearest's long shadow. Attempting to make it with the Southeastern Cloverleafs of the Southeastern League of Professional Baseball (his third team), he picked up his first pro hit (in his 12th AB) June 14 -- a flare over shortstop. We're sure Dad would've been chilled, er, thrilled.

Jeer: In any hat, Roger Clemens is a Hall of Famer. In any hat, Roger Clemens is a Red Sox. No matter what he says.

Steve Ziants can be reached at sziants@post-gazette.com.

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