Bat crown may fit Suzuki

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

A Look Inside

August 08, 2004|By Joe Christensen

The Orioles haven't had an American League batting champion since Frank Robinson's Triple Crown year of 1966, and unless Melvin Mora starts hitting like it's May again, it probably won't happen again this year.

Mora had a nice run, and so did Detroit Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, but now it's starting to look like Seattle Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki will run away with the crown.

Suzuki, who won the batting title as a rookie when he hit .350 in 2001, took over the lead on Tuesday after going 6-for-6 in a doubleheader against the Orioles.

Entering the weekend, Suzuki was at .359, Rodriguez was at .345 and Mora was at .339.

It's not often that Suzuki gets philosophical about his accomplishments, but he started putting things in perspective on Tuesday at Camden Yards. He realized he'd come a long way since leaving his old team, Orix Blue Wave, in Japan to play in the big leagues after the 2000 season.

"When I look at the records and see where my place in the history of the game might be, I guess you could say it was a good decision to come here," Suzuki said through a translator. "It's not just me. Maybe I'll have an effect on others in the international part of the game."

Suzuki, 30, will likely become the first player in history to start his major league career with four consecutive 200-hit seasons. He entered the weekend with 170 hits, which puts him on pace to finish with 255.

"I'm not a big guy, and hopefully kids could look at me and see that I'm not muscular and not physically imposing, that I'm just a regular guy," said Suzuki, who is listed at 5 feet 9, 172 pounds. "So if somebody with a regular body can get into the record books, kids can look at that. That would make me happy."

Mora has flirted with the batting lead each of the past two seasons. But after injuring his hand last year, he hit just .223 after the All-Star break.

This year, he missed a month with foot and hamstring injuries, but after hitting .402 in May, he sagged to .271 in June and .266 for July.

"I don't think about it," Mora said of the batting title. "All I think about is winning games. I just want to continue to hit and be productive for the team."

Rodriguez, who was bidding to become the first catcher ever to win the AL batting crown, has experienced an even sharper decline than Mora.

On July 1, Rodriguez was at .384, while Suzuki was at .320.

"He's struggling right now, he's a human being," Tigers manager Alan Trammell said of Rodriguez, who was hitless last week before he notched two singles Thursday. "He'll get it going again. I don't know if I was expecting him to hit .370."

Zito still in Oakland

No, the Oakland Athletics didn't trade Barry Zito before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, and there's an even slimmer chance he will be moved this month. But an A's source this week said it's still very possible that Zito will get moved during the offseason, and the Orioles will be one of the teams at the front of the line trying to get him.

As always for the A's, it comes down to picking priorities financially, and they know they simply can't afford to keep the Big Three of Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Zito together forever.

Oakland has Zito under contract through next season, with an option for 2006, and by then, he'll be eligible for free agency. Zito's name surfaced before the deadline, when word spread that the A's were at least willing to listen to offers for his services.

A's general manager Billy Beane repeatedly said Zito wouldn't be traded and lived up to his word.

"I knew it could have happened," Zito said. "I was prepared if it did happen. I didn't give it more thought than I should have. I'm going to do my job every five days, and do my best at it, regardless of what team I play for.

"Obviously, the A's are where my heart is because it's where I came up. That would have been tough. It's good that it's behind us. Now, we can just get on with the last two months."

Big Unit's future

The Arizona Diamondbacks held onto Randy Johnson at the trade deadline, thwarting the best attempts to land him by the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.

So now what? There's very little chance Johnson will clear waivers and get traded this month, but look for the Diamondbacks to shop him this offseason. Arizona thinks it can make a quick turnaround in the weak National League West next season. Johnson isn't so sure.

"There's a lot of wishing and hoping, but what's the payroll going to be?" Johnson said. "I can spend $100 million and get an All-Star team in here, but do they have $100 million to spend? Is Richie [Sexson] coming back here next year? If [Steve Finley] goes and wins a World Series [in Los Angeles], will he want to come back here? Those are all questions nobody can answer."

Jottings

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