Yankees' Soriano has star quality

ON THE AL EAST

April 21, 2002|By Joe Christensen

NEW YORK -- Alfonso Soriano is 24 years old, so the New York Yankees must not want to heap big expectations on him too soon, right? Fuhgedaboudit.

This past week, Jason Giambi said Soriano could someday put together a 40-home run, 40-stolen base season, or "maybe a 50-50" season.

Soriano was still smiling at the thought Friday.

"He was joking," Soriano said. "I don't think anybody gets 50-50."

Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Jose Canseco are the only players to ever reach the coveted 40-40 mark, and Soriano is right in saying no one has ever reached 50-50.

Or at least not yet.

The way Soriano is going, he's making anything look possible. After going 7-for-14 against the Orioles last week, he entered Friday leading the American League in hits (28), extra-base hits (12) and total bases (46).

With Bernie Williams battling shoulder injuries and Andy Pettitte nursing a tender left elbow, the Yankees needed help from elsewhere to stay afloat, and Soriano hit .394 with three home runs and five stolen bases.

A year ago, he finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting after batting .268 with 18 home runs and 43 stolen bases.

"I'm very comfortable now," Soriano said. "I've had one year playing second base, I know the city now, so I'm more comfortable."

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said the biggest difference in Soriano's game this season has been his defense. Even though Soriano leads the team with six errors, he looks much more polished.

For all the flak the Yankees take about outspending everyone for talent -- and they're an easy target with that $131 million payroll -- they also have a knack for finding a good bargain.

In 1998, they signed Soriano to a four-year, $3.2 million contract. Soriano had spent three years playing for Hiroshima in the Japanese Central League, but his game still needed plenty of work.

Surrounded by talent with the star-powered Yankees, Soriano has been able to blossom quietly in the Bronx, not unlike Jeter did a few years ago.

"When I came up, there were a lot of veteran guys, and it's the same with him," said Jeter, 27. "We can ease him in, hit him at the bottom of the order if we need to. He's got the demeanor to fit in fine because nothing seems to faze him."

Lowe's no fluke

When Derek Lowe carried a no-hit bid into the eighth inning at Camden Yards on April 5, cynics chalked it up to the Orioles having such a light-hitting lineup. But Lowe has been pretty good in his other starts, too.

Three starts into the season, Lowe is 2-1 with a 1.29 ERA. He has allowed just 17 base runners in 21 innings. Not bad for a former closer.

In seven innings against the Yankees on Monday, Lowe struck out nine in seven innings. He recorded 18 of 21 outs on ground balls or strikeouts and allowed just five balls out of the infield. The Red Sox won, 4-3.

"I think this is probably the best game I've pitched in my career," Lowe told the Boston Herald. "It was a big test for me."

Vaughn slows Rays

Tampa Bay entered Friday still waiting for Greg Vaughn to hit his first home run. Since Vaughn hit 50 home runs for the San Diego Padres in 1998, his numbers have progressively dropped to 45, 28 and 24.

Making $8.5 million at age 36, Vaughn knows its time to get going.

"If I start doing what I'm supposed to be doing, it takes a lot of pressure off a lot of people," Vaughn told the Tampa Tribune. "You know, it's 50 at-bats, I'm not going into panic mode. It's just frustrating because it's not working out."

Around the division

Toronto's injury-prone pitching staff entered the weekend with the worst ERA in the majors, 6.96, which was more than a run worse than the next-worst team on the list, Detroit at 5.76. ... The Yankees entered Friday leading all American League teams with 16 errors, while the Orioles had just nine.

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