A's Crosby makes grade

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

A Look Inside

August 22, 2004|By JOE CHRISTENSEN

To the good folks following the Oakland Athletics, there is really no debate: Bobby Crosby, the kid filling Miguel Tejada's shoes at shortstop, is considered a lock for American League Rookie of the Year.

Tell them that Orioles pitcher Daniel Cabrera is quietly making a good case for himself, and they're bound to ask, "Who?"

Cabrera, 23, still leads all rookie pitchers with nine wins. Despite another rough start yesterday against Toronto, he is 9-6 with a 4.67 ERA, and he helped save the Orioles' starting pitching staff from disaster when he emerged from Double-A Bowie in mid-May.

Crosby, 24, doesn't exactly have gaudy numbers.

He leads AL rookies with 17 home runs, 49 RBIs, 54 runs scored and 106 hits. Still, he is batting just .258.

"He's done a great job," said Oakland manager Ken Macha. "He's had a roller coaster ride, probably typical for a rookie season."

Then, unsolicited, Macha added, "And he should be Rookie of the Year."

Looking at the big picture, Macha is probably right. Crosby has probably meant more to his team than Cabrera, as the A's battle the Texas Rangers and Anaheim Angels in baseball's best pennant race.

Oakland fans have been anticipating Crosby's arrival since the team decided it wouldn't be able to afford Tejada once he reached free agency.

Tejada was the 2002 AL Most Valuable Player, but the cost-saving A's knew he would command a huge contract and decided to let him walk, just as they did in 2001 with Jason Giambi.

Tejada signed his six-year, $72 million deal with the Orioles, and the A's looked to Crosby, who grew up in Southern California, idolizing Cal Ripken.

"I've never had a chance to meet him, but he's one of the guys that I'd love to be able to sit down and pick his brain about what made him so successful," Crosby said. "It seemed like he played 100 percent all the time. He was a rare commodity. He could hit for power, and he could absolutely pick it [defensively]."

Crosby has been hearing the Ripken comparisons for a long time. At 6 feet 3, Crosby is much taller than shortstops used to be before the 6-4 Ripken came along and revolutionized the position.

This season, Crosby has made a series of highlight-reel defensive plays and committed just 14 errors. Last year, Kansas City Royals shortstop Angel Berroa won Rookie of the Year honors with 24 errors.

"He's been outstanding," A's third baseman Eric Chavez said of Crosby. "He's pretty much exceeded every expectation I had."

In early June, the A's winced when Chavez went down with a broken hand, forcing him to miss five weeks. But Crosby helped fill the void, hitting .337 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in June, with a .402 on-base percentage.

Crosby was solid through May, June and July, overcoming a slow start to the season, and he entered this weekend riding a 1-for-23 slump. So his average has taken a beating, but overall, he's been invaluable to his team in a year when there have been few other rookie standouts.

Minnesota Twins outfielder Lew Ford is listed as a rookie in some online statistical services, but he was on the Twins' roster too long last year to qualify. Twins catcher Joe Mauer, most people's preseason favorite to win the award, has been hurt with knee injuries and could be done for the season, his manager, Ron Gardenhire, said this week.

So when the Baseball Writers Association of America casts its votes at season's end, Crosby will be the likely choice for the rookie award.

"The guy's been unbelievable," said A's first baseman Scott Hatteberg. "He had a lot of pressure, huge shoes, and he handled it really well."

Feeling Pettitte's pain

Andy Pettitte tried pitching with a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow this season before finally agreeing to have season-ending surgery this week.

For Roger Clemens, who joined Pettitte with the Houston Astros after some big seasons together with the New York Yankees, it was hard seeing his good friend go through so much pain.

"There were times I had to leave the bench because I couldn't stomach what he was trying to do," Clemens said. "I think he's down. He hates to shut it down and make us go it alone.

"But he has the makeup for this. He's not a guy who's going to sit on this and hope he gets well. He'll make sure he gets well."

After signing a three-year, $31.5 million contract, Pettitte went 6-4 with a 3.90 ERA in 15 starts this season, and the Astros have struggled to meet their high expectations.

"I came here to try to help this team get to the playoffs, and that was all my focus was on," Pettitte said. "I'm just very disappointed to not be able to give this team what I wanted to give this team this year. I was never able to do that and it's extremely, extremely disappointing."

The guess here is that Pettitte and Clemens will both be back pitching for the Astros next season.

Jottings

Orioles broadcaster Buck Martinez, who was fired as the Toronto Blue Jays' manager by J.P. Ricciardi in 2002, made his lingering resentment toward the general manager known after Ricciardi canned Carlos Tosca.

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