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Petco warming up to Padres

  • The Padres are getting adjusted to Petco Park, just as the waterfront facility adjusts to the vagaries of a summer in San Diego. The park, which was cool with little carry in the air in April, May and most of June, is warming as the summer stretches on, and Padres hitters are taking a season to warm to it. Petco will never be hitter-friendly, especially to the lefty power of Brian Giles and Ryan Klesko. Klesko says he's made adjustments, abandoned his passion for upper-cutting his swing and started going to the generous gaps. The new park is no longer as strange, but in a critical final-month stretch, the Padres must introduce themselves to the St. Louis Cardinals.
    They haven't met all year, and the Padres will end a 10-game road trip in Busch next week, then welcome St. Louis to Petco when they return home. Only the Cardinals have a better record than Bruce Bochy's bunch away from home.

  • The fortunes of the friars may rest firmly in the hands of their
    gifted, if unlikely, double-play combination. With nearly nightly
    "Web Gems" at shortstop and timely offensive contributions, Khalil Greene is destined to become the franchise's second rookie of the year, joining Benito Santiago. Greene's serene composure belies a grit and
    passion for the game in his actions. His phenomenal fielding is
    well documented on tape, and a rookie of the year award and playoff
    berth would certainly stamp his reputation. But nothing speaks louder of
    the former college player of the year from Clemson than what Phil Nevin
    told me. Nevin, a former No. 1 overall pick in his own right out
    of Cal State Fullerton, has played with the Astros, Tigers, Angels and
    Padres. He's been on the bench withJeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson, Cecil Fielder, Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds and Tony Gwynn. In total candor and
    seriousness, Nevin said "no player has made a greater impression or
    influence on how to conduct myself on the field than Khalil Greene."
    Think about the enormity of that statement from one of the veteran
    clubhouse leaders of this team about a rookie. You get an idea of how special Greene is as a person.

  • Towers doesn't want to take credit for being a genius in the
    signing of Mark Loretta. After all, originally it was a one-year, $1 million deal. He needed a second baseman and figured Loretta would
    at least hit, get him through 2003, and they'd go from there. As for
    explaining how Loretta has become perhaps the best offensive second baseman
    in the league, Towers says it's a combination of things. In Loretta's
    Milwaukee days, he couldn't stay healthy with an odd series of injuries,
    and he shuttled between three infield positions. At Houston, he started
    to stabilize, avoid the injuries and found playing time. Now
    he's built on that and blossomed by cementing himself at second base and
    playing every day. It's mind-boggling to Towers that Loretta's on a pace
    to claim Tony Gwynn's franchise records for hits and doubles in
    a season. If he does, it's fitting, Towers said. No one reminds him more of Gwynn in terms of his approach to
    preparation and video work than Loretta. Towers is starting to look like a genius for last August's contract extension through 2005, which won't go over $3 million until the club's option year of 2006. Loretta, who is battling for a batting title, now has a career .303 average.

  • As for Greene, Towers has never seen anyone like him. While he's
    on the treadmill, he's seen Greene jumping back and forth over the
    benches for the bench press, almost like a Hungarian tumbling act, to
    practice diving for balls in the gap and leaping to take away hits.
    When Greene sees someone make a spectacular play on video, he says, "I
    want to make that play," and he practices it repeatedly in the gym or
    during infield, and sure enough, before long you see him doing it on Web
    Gems.

  • Greene is also an aspiring rapper, with a none-to-able assist from
    Sean Burroughs. Veterans like Nevin wanted to make Greene do something
    like the Clemson fight song on the team bus, a la NFL training camp
    hazing. But Khalil has convinced them to give him a little more time to
    finish the rap he's been tinkering with all season, which will have a
    line about each of his teammates. Maybe it will eventually include a
    rap about clinching a playoff berth.

  • Todd Zeile has switched teams 15 times in his 15-plus seasons in
    the majors. He's now on his second go-round with the Mets, the
    fourth team he's played for twice. He's finally calling it a career, and
    in homage to that, he'd like to go out as he came in -- as a catcher.
    There, next to Vance Wilson and Jason Phillips' gear bags, is one for
    No. 27 now, as Zeile is preparing to catch a game before the season ends.
    Art Howe knows about it, and hopes to honor his desire. Zeile's
    prepped with a few bullpen sessions already. He hopes to catch Tom Glavine in a game the Mets are certain is meaningless (for them or the
    opposition?) and come full circle as a player. Maybe he can celebrate
    his 39th birthday that way Sept. 9. He may even take an at-bat
    left-handed. Most of the season, for his final "one swing" in the cage
    during batting practice, Zeile takes it left-handed. Thursday he put it
    out of Shea, which is all the better, because in the batting practice
    points game, batting lefty counts double!

  • Should a veteran player be in the clubhouse or around the dugout
    if he's on the disabled list? The rule is, a player on the 60-day
    disabled list cannot be in the dugout, and as Ozzie Guillen says, "I
    don't want them around here anyway. They can't play, and I don't want
    to risk the chance their bad luck will rub off and get someone else
    hurt." He's referring to his two best offensive players, Frank Thomas and Magglio Ordonez. Ozzie's only kidding about the bad karma
    (probably), but he honestly sees no purpose to having them around, or
    anything wrong with their absenteeism. I wonder though, what effect it
    has when a team is sinking fast in the standings like the White Sox are,
    and Ordonez and Thomas aren't even around to lend moral support.
    Thomas, the face of the franchise and a former teammate of Guillen's,
    recently found out his foot and ankle injuries will keep him on the
    shelf for the rest of the season. Ordonez's situation is a bit more
    complex, considering he's a free agent, and the re-injuring of his knee,
    which also cost him the season, reduced him to tears. The four-time
    All-Star may very well have played his last game for Chicago, and maybe
    he doesn't want to grow any closer to a franchise for which he's played 1,001
    games.

  • Ben Davis came up with the Padres as Gwynn was breaking
    down, but said Gwynn was always hanging around, encouraging and instructing, even when he couldn't play during long stints on the
    disabled list. When Davis went to Seattle, it was a similar situation
    with Edgar Martinez, who misses more time than he plays but is always
    around when he's not in the trainer's room. That's the way it is for
    many players who have only been with one team their whole career.
    Davis doesn't get the influence of Thomas or Ordonez as he acclimates to
    a third team, but he could hardly do better than to come to a team with
    Sandy Alomar Jr. Davis leans on Sandy a lot for catching advice, but more
    than anything, Alomar schools Ben in a crash course on the Sox pitchers.

    He knew Freddy Garcia well from their battery days on the Mariners, but
    no one can seem to figure out why Garcia is 7-0 in the daylight and
    3-10 at night, including another rough outing Sunday night. Not even
    pitching coach Don Cooper has a theory, except to say it has more to do
    with who those games were played against and whether it was home or
    road, than what time of day it was. Chicago is working with Garcia on command and location of his fastball. In Cooper's
    analysis, "He's great on the arm-side to right-handed batters, but has
    trouble locating down and away to right-handed batters, or down and in
    to lefties." With that in mind, Cooper took the man they call "Chief"
    out for his bullpen session and had him throw 10 straight fastballs
    down and away from the right side. Seven of the 10 were right where
    they wanted them, and if Garcia can get that kind of consistency in the
    game, his highly developed curve, slider and changeup will be that much
    better.

    While not even Garcia can explain his day/night dilemma, Cooper
    has a theory about why both Garcia and Mark Buerhle tossed their worst
    games of the season last week. It might be a temporary case of
    dead-arm syndrome. Both have been in the top five in innings pitched
    most of the season. Now Chicago has been forced to shut down Garcia for
    at least one start and hopes the rest will heal his "slight forearm
    strain" and rejuvenate Freddy for the White Sox's desperation September push. The
    Sox continue to suffer through a series of now SEVEN different starters
    in the fifth spot, and now Jason Grilli comes back to take Garcia's turn.
    Guillen would love to go to a four-man rotation, especially with
    the acquisition of Jose Contreras. But Chicago has only one scheduled
    off day until mid-September, and that combined with the ace's recent
    struggles make thoughts of a four-man rotation folly.

  • In the other dugout on Sunday night sat Ellis Burks, a former White Sox player who himself is battling back from a second knee surgery. Burks still hopes to make it back to the active roster by September, maybe by
    his 40th birthday Sept. 11. He has resumed batting practice after
    re-tearing cartilage during his rehab in Pawtucket, just as he was
    about to get back to the Red Sox in July. But even when Burks was
    nowhere near playing, hitting or running ... there he was in the
    Fenway Park clubhouse or dugout before the game. In fact, Burks
    was far more visible than Pedro Martinez or the now-departed Nomar Garciaparra. David Ortiz, who once again is making a strong run at the
    MVP award, calls Burks his "running mate." They hang before, during and
    after games. Ortiz said it's hard to measure how much the veteran
    presence of Burks adds to the atmosphere around the team, but it's
    substantial. Here's a guy whose best days are behind him even if
    healthy, struggling to eke out his remaining big league at-bats, and yet
    he's always the most positive, helpful guy around the park.

  • Boston's clubhouse is back to the raucous, barnstorming atmosphere
    it had during last season's run. No one wants to blame Garciaparra
    for the team's malaise in May, June and July, but it's no coincidence
    the team has been on a tear since just after the July 31 trade. Boston
    can't replace Garciaparra's bat, but Orlando Cabrera is acclimating to his surroundings and the task of replacing a New England legend. The Red Sox are jelling. Cabrera is deeply involved in the
    effusive physical contact among these players. Everyone has an
    elaborate signature handshake or salutation that gets the dugout going
    before the first pitch, and after every well-executed play or at-bat, and that pepper the postgame congratulation parade. Manny Ramirez leads the
    league in homers, but what he wants everyone to know is he "leads the
    league in hugs." Ramirez is getting so profuse with his affectionate
    embraces, it has spread beyond his teammates to the media, many of whom he refused to talk to in seasons past. For some reason I warranted two
    Sunday, and dugout producer Ben Bouma got a hug, too. Of course, no
    opposing pitchers get hugs, nor feel much like giving one to Manny. He
    came to Chicago with only 10 RBI since the All-Star break. By the
    time he left Cellular Field, he had homered in three straight games
    and left with 11 RBI. Ramirez can still be a carnival act in
    left field: Witness his infamous extra cutoff on David Newhan's inside
    the park home run at Fenway. He fell down on a ball in Chicago and
    nearly cost Boston the game. When he got back to the dugout, he mock
    shotgunned himself and said, "there goes my Gold Glove."

  • Before Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz came along, there wasn't much
    call for a congratulatory reaction for great defense. Now it happens
    almost every game. Manager Terry Francona said the rise in the
    standings and spirit is directly attributable to the big trade because
    of the defense and depth it brings. Boston no longer extends opponents' innings and gives away extra outs and runs, leading to a crisper brand of baseball and more intensity. It's almost like an NFL team with a great defense. They help the offense,
    because they've got more time and opportunities to do their thing; the
    defense takes care of the opponent quickly. The Red Sox even added Dave Roberts in the big deal, an addition not even Roberts is quite sure of. So
    far it is easier to measure what the Dodgers lost in Roberts than what
    Boston has gained. He does give the Red Sox another strong defensive
    outfielder, speed they're lacking and an exceptional bunter. If
    they make the playoffs, and Roberts makes the postseason roster, his
    value will be far greater. He's still in constant contact with good
    friend Paul Lo Duca, who Roberts says is finally emerging from the shock
    of the trade to the Marlins. What helped the most was Lo Duca being able
    to come back to Dodger Stadium for Florida, have a big series and get a
    loving sendoff from the fans. Roberts won't get that chance this year,
    unless it's in a World Series. He misses a lot of guys he considers
    family, especially mentor Maury Wills. He hasn't had direct contact
    with Wills since the trade because he knows how emotional Maury will
    get, and he's not sure he can handle that yet.

  • One more thing to consider in the Dodgers' trade, one in which almost no
    one thinks was a good for them. When Los Angles gave up Guillermo Mota and Lo Duca, they gave up a lot more than the numbers those players
    provide. Mota was an integral part of Eric Gagne's success and the
    bridge to get to him. Mota's absence has changed Gagne's
    role and the Dodgers' dependence on the Cy Young winner. A series of
    rough outings in that new role have seriously eroded Gagne's aura of
    invincibility. Add on to that, he loses another major aspect of his
    comfort zone by not having Lo Duca to catch him. L.A. may still win the
    NL West, but it will probably be because of the huge lead built when those
    players were still there and the fact that San Diego and San Francisco
    aren't good enough to catch them. There's still time.

  • When even a guy like the goggled Gagne starts displaying
    vulnerability, you get a glimpse of the mercurial fragility of a
    closer's psyche. Boston's Keith Foulke is in that club. Foulke doesn't
    possess the frightening fastball of Gagne, but his success rate has made
    him so desirable, he's played for the White Sox, A's, and now the Red Sox in
    successive seasons. When I asked him what was behind his second half
    dry spell, and recent return to form, he had no answer except to say
    his "tinkering." Remarkably, for a pitcher of his pedigree, Foulke is
    seldom comfortable with his mechanics and constantly tinkering. The
    way he explains it, Foulke can feel bad warming up in the bullpen and hope
    it isn't the same when he gets to the mound. Or, he can feel just right
    warming up, then have to guard against losing it in the game. He's
    been making these constant adjustments as long as he can remember with
    the most significant one this season -- holding his hands farther apart in
    the stretch. Boston will need Foulke to continue first-rate tinkering
    to hang in a heated American League playoff race.

  • It's looked at times lately like Derek Lowe is ready to
    re-emerge as Boston's next best starter, especially with a break in the
    weather. Lowe's chronic blister problem on his throwing thumb has
    been at its worst this season and gets aggravated by heat and humidity. Lowe and the training staff have received every conceivable solution to
    the skin irritation mailed in from all across Red Sox Nation, but even
    the truly medicinal ones won't prevent moisture from getting under the
    skin in a callus on the nub of his throwing thumb. If it's cool, like
    it has been much of an unseasonable August, it's not a factor. But a
    typical summer night in most major league cities creates conditions for
    disaster, and Lowe often can't make it past the fifth inning. In May, he
    failed to get past the sixth in each of his starts. For a month stretch in June and July, he only had one outing past the seventh inning. It's not only the skin, which eventually tears open, but also ineffectiveness that causes Lowe to come out
    early. He ends up having to alter how, and how often he throws his
    trademark sinker. When that starts happening, he's sunk.

    Compounding the issue is Lowe's high-strung emotional makeup, which
    heightens his reaction to everything and can sometimes create problems
    merely by thinking about them. That emotional roller coaster has been
    heightened by the fact Lowe's in the final year of his contract, with
    the pressure of not only the Sox's postseason chances, but also where
    he'll be playing next season, and for how much, weighing on his mind.
    Aside from all the spells and potions suggested by fans, and the
    genuine solutions attempted by the training staff, the best remedy for Derek's afflictions is something he's carried his whole career -- a generous helping of run support. He came into the season
    enjoying the greatest run support of any pitcher since World War II at
    half a dozen runs per game, and it's gone up! Lowe leads the majors with more than 6.5 runs per game while Jarrod Washburn and his 7.2 are on the disabled list for the Angels.

    Gary Miller is a reporter and play-by-play announcer for ESPN's major league baseball coverage.