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Cards appear to be stacked

It turns out that Larry Walker, who turned down a deal to the Texas Rangers and reportedly nixed another deal to the Florida Marlins, was just exercising his prerogative to go to the contender of his choosing.

Walker, who had no-trade protection, accepted a waiver-deal trade Friday night to the St. Louis Cardinals, and if Randy Johnson really is interested in going only to a sure thing, the Big Unit might have second thoughts about saying no to the Cardinals, if he should somehow get past the Dodgers without a waiver claim, which is unlikely. The Dodgers, who had banked on trading for the Big Unit before the July 31 deadline, have no reason to believe that Johnson would be more amenable to a deal in August, but assuming the Diamondbacks will place the Unit on waivers, they may have to place a claim just to block him from getting to the Cardinals.

Perhaps the incoming boss of the D-Backs, Jeff Moorad -- yes, the superagent will be running the Diamondbacks after Jerry Colangelo's minority partners forced him out -- will have more success in persuading Johnson that he'd be happier pitching for a winner than in the desert.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein had predicted that the real action in this trading season might come in August, and while it is unlikely the Sox will do anything other than the kind of move Epstein made Friday (picking up veteran lefty Mike Myers to ease the burden on Alan Embree), the Walker deal may be tough to top as an impact-maker. Granted, Walker is coming off an off-year, missed 10 weeks with a groin strain, and in his Rockies years hit 100 points higher in Denver than on the road (.384 to .280), but the 37-year-old outfielder and 1997 MVP brings another big bat to a lineup that already had three players boasting an OPS exceeding 1.000: Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen. The three had combined for 87 home runs entering the weekend -- Pujols 31, Edmonds 30, and Rolen 26 -- and with Tony Womack, discarded by the Sox in spring training because they didn't think he'd hold up physically, at the top of the order, the Cardinals are an on-base machine.

Walker's acquisition was a nice counterstroke by GM Walt Jocketty to the Nomar Garciaparra trade made by the Cubs' Jim Hendry. (And yes, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria did place a call to John W. Henry before the Cubs were involved, asking for Nomar.) The Cardinals already had the best record in baseball, and while the Cubs might still have an edge in a short series with Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano, and Greg Maddux, the Cardinals' pitching has been much better than anyone outside of Jocketty ever envisioned. Jocketty had the vision to sign Chris Carpenter to a two-year deal in December 2002, after the Blue Jays had designated him for assignment and Carpenter refused to go to the minors, thus becoming a free agent. Jocketty, who signed Carpenter for short money -- $500,000 this season, with a $2 million club option or $200,000 buyout in 2005 -- has been rewarded with a top-of-the-rotation performance, with the New Hampshire native coming into the weekend 12-4.

Jocketty also dealt talented but oft-injured star J.D. Drew to the Braves last winter for Jason Marquis, who after clashing with Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone has found himself under Dave Duncan, taking an 11-4 record into the weekend. The two pitchers expected to carry the Cardinals, Matt Morris and Woody Williams, have started slowly, but Jeff Suppan, a big disappointment for the Sox down the stretch last season, has been a big contributor, with nine wins.

And the Cardinals' bullpen is deep and talented, with Jason Isringhausen at the back end with 28 saves. Even better for the Cardinals, they're getting paid by the Rockies to take Walker off their hands. The Rockies have agreed to pay part of Walker's remaining contract, estimates varying from $7.5 million to $9 million.

So it looks like it could be a Red October, regardless of what transpires on Yawkey Way.

Trade dispatch from a Cub reporter

Dan "Bambino" Shaughnessy, take note: Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune did a wonderful job connecting the dots between the Sox and the Cubs in the aftermath of the Nomar Garciaparra trade. Some you already know, some you don't. Here are some of the highlights of his list:

* Both teams came within five outs of winning their league championship series last season.

* Grady Little, let go as Sox manager, now works for the Cubs as a special assistant to GM Jim Hendry.

* Cubs starting shortstop Alex Gonzalez played only 35 games this season because of injury. Garciaparra played just 38 games because of injury. Both were traded.

* Garciaparra was assigned No. 8, the number Gonzalez was wearing when he made the critical error during Florida's eight-run eighth inning in Game 6. The Cubs last won the World Series in 1908. Eight is not a good number if you are a Cubs fan.

* Don Zimmer is revered as "Popeye" in Chicago, where he masterminded a division title with a vagabond roster in 1989 by throwing out the rulebook and managing by his gut. Zimmer is reviled as "the Gerbil" by many in Boston.

* For years, Bill Buckner was a Cubs icon. Buckner is still reviled in Boston for having a ball roll between his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Buckner's replacement at first for the Cubs, Leon Durham, had a ball roll between his legs during Game 5 of the 1984 NLCS in San Diego, which helped to cost the Cubs the pennant.

* Wendell Kim coached third base from 1997-2000 in Boston but said last year he was asked for a postgame comment only after a Red Sox player was thrown out at the plate. Kim is now in his second year coaching third base for the Cubs. Criticized for being overly aggressive, Kim unashamedly cried last summer when surrounded by reporters seeking a comment after a risky decision directly led to a win over the White Sox. He's still in town.

* Sammy Sosa was briefly declared a free agent by owners under temporary work rules imposed during the 1994 player strike. He toured Fenway Park with Red Sox executives in February 1995 and was close to signing with Boston. But when the strike ended, the new collective bargaining agreement rescinded the rule that had granted Sosa his freedom, and he remained a Cub.

For this rookie, Seattle is Sioux City

Seattle rookie pitcher Bobby Madritsch is believed to be just the ninth Native American to play in the majors and the first since Gene Locklear in 1977. Madritsch, a Lakota Sioux, debuted July 23 against the Angels and is 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in five games. Larry LaRue of the Tacoma News-Tribune last week told how Madritsch, a former independent leaguer who made his big-league debut at age 28, was originally drafted by the Reds, then tore the labrum in his shoulder and underwent surgery. While recovering, he drew the design of a Sioux medicine wheel, something he'd read about in a book his brother had given him about their heritage. "I knew it had worked for my ancestors," he said. "I thought it might work for me, too." Madritsch took his design to a tattoo parlor, had it inked on his neck, and says he hasn't had health problems since. "I've never been on a reservation, but I will go," he said. "I'd love to do something for the kids there. They don't have too many good role models, and I'd like to be one. I'd like to show them dreams can come true. I'm accomplishing mine."

Etc.

Tool time

While shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who was recently promoted from Single A Sarasota to Double A Portland, was the only Red Sox minor leaguer cited by Baseball America in its annual "Best Tools" survey of league managers, Sox major leaguers fared much better. Ramirez was cited as being the best defensive shortstop in the Florida State League, as well as having the best infield arm.

On the big-league level, Manny Ramirez was ranked by American League managers as the league's top hitter, with the best power, and was judged second to Frank Thomas of the White Sox in strike zone discipline.

Curt Schilling was voted the league's second-best pitcher behind Mark Mulder of the A's, and his fastball was rated second to that of Francisco Cordero of the Texas Rangers. His control rated best in the league, with Pedro Martinez third.

Martinez also was voted as having the league's third-best slider, behind Francisco Rodriguez of the Angels and Victor Zambrano (recently traded from the Devil Rays to the Mets), and changeup.

Sox closer Keith Foulke was judged as having the best changeup, with Twins lefthander Johan Santana second.

Jason Varitek was rated the league's third-best defensive catcher, behind Pudge Rodriguez of the Tigers and Bengie Molina of the Angels.

Doug Mientkiewicz was ranked tops in defense at first base. Another newcomer, Orlando Cabrera, was rated the third-best defensive shortstop in the National League.

A familiar name popping up on the Baseball America list: Fernando Valenzuela. The son of the Dodgers' lefthanded screwballer was ranked the top defensive first baseman in the Single A Midwest League.

Ace up their sleeve?

The Sox are excited about the advances made by 2002 top draft pick Jon Lester, who in his last 25 1/3 innings in Sarasota has allowed just 15 hits while striking out 28. Overall, Lester has 76 whiffs in 71 innings, and recently reached 96 on the radar gun.

Club officials are already salivating about a rotation in Portland next year that will include Lester, Manny Delcarmen (back from Tommy John surgery), and righthander Jon Papelbon, a fourth-round pick in 2003 who leads the Florida State League with 129 whiffs.

Help yourself to some punch

Where's Bob Watson when you need him? Four players were ejected and half of the two-man umpiring crew called it a night after a bench-clearing brawl in a Stan Musial League playoff game between the Lunenburg Phillies and the MetroWest A's last Thursday night in Framingham. It is a no-age-limit amateur league, so there wasn't anything at stake but ego when the teams had at it.

According to former Globie Chris Forsberg, now ace reporter for the Sentinel and Enterprise, the fight began when a fan and MetroWest pitcher Matt Thiffault began screaming at each other, and it went from there.

"Some guys," said Lunenburg player/manager Joe Rauth, "think they are Joe Macho."

A revealing statement

Sox manager Terry Francona on Kevin Youkilis, who was dubbed the "Greek God of Walks" in "Moneyball": "I've seen Youkilis in the shower, and I wouldn't call him the Greek god of anything."

Pitcher was thrown right in

Remember Josh Hancock, the former Sox prospect who went to the Phillies in the Jeremy Giambi deal? A week ago Friday, Hancock began the day with the Phillies, was traded to the Reds, and that night was the winning pitcher in a game against the Astros, a suspended game that began while Hancock was still with the Phillies.

A short treatise on defense

So, were the Red Sox just blowing smoke when they said they traded Nomar Garciaparra in part to upgrade their defense?

Eric Van, a Harvard brainiac and chat-board legend for his innovative (and exhaustive) statistical analysis, offers these thoughts: "Statheads calculate team defense by simply taking opponent batting average and excluding strikeouts and home runs (and adding sacrifice flies back in). That gives you Hits/Balls in Play. With Pokey Reese at SS, the Sox H/BIP was .283 (the league average is .291). With Nomar Garciaparra, it was .317. That is 34 additional base hits in Nomar's 38 games at SS. Over the course of a full season, that's 120 extra runs allowed.

"Now, it's inconceivable that all of the measured difference was Pokey vs. Nomar. (The difference between the very best and very worst SS is about 60 runs in a season.) Some of it had to be luck and/or worse pitching (it wasn't who else was on the field, because Nomar had mostly Gabe Kapler in RF while Pokey had mostly Kevin Millar). But the numbers confirm what the eyeballs report: that the hobbled Nomar was killing them on defense."

Contact in the clutch

One more Van number: Updating the stat he offered earlier this season, he notes that Mark Bellhorn, despite his league-leading 117 whiffs, has struck out just once with a runner on third base and less than two out. Bellhorn, currently on the DL with a broken bone in his thumb, is much tougher to whiff with runners on base: He has whiffed 71 times in 195 at-bats with no one on, 46 times in 180 at-bats with runners on. 

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