The New York Mets got more bad news this week: Rick Aguilera might need elbow surgery that could sideline him the rest of the season. On a normal team, this might be devastating, but the Mets are no normal team.

Remember Whitey Herzog's line about them: "Well, you couldn't exactly call them a dynasty, not with Howard Johnson and Rafael Santana on the left side of the infield."

Maybe he'll have to call them that before long, though. After two years of ho-hum pennant races, this summer promises four crackling ones, including the National League East, which once appeared to belong to the St. Louis Cardinals and no one else.

No more. Jack Clark hasn't had an RBI or home run since July 22, and rookie Joe Magrane has won once in nine weeks. Going into the weekend, the Mets were 14-4 since moving Darryl Strawberry into the cleanup spot, where he has hit .349 (22 for 63) with six homers and 14 RBI.

Even if Aguilera can't return, it now appears that David Cone definitely will -- he pitched in the minors this week -- and Bobby Ojeda might. But for a team that already has had six starting pitchers and a reliever on the disabled list, the Mets' season is already a success.

Last season's other pennant winner, the Boston Red Sox, is out of the pennant race, but don't cry for them yet. They started five rookies Wednesday against the Texas Rangers and, when shortstop Jody Reed is recalled in September, they'll have six some nights. The outfield of the future probably is Mike Greenwell in left, Ellis Burks in center and Todd Benzinger in right. Dwight Evans will move to first, and Sam Horn will DH. Jim Rice probably will be a part-time DH and left fielder.

What the Red Sox need is pitching. As the weekend began, they hadn't had a save since June 30, and since July 3, no starter other than Roger Clemens and Bruce Hurst had won. That's the reason the Red Sox hit above .300 in both June and July but still had losing records. Burks' 17 steals is the most by a Red Sox rookie since Tris Speaker in 1909.

Fans Hinder Tigers

The booing of Willie Hernandez at Tiger Stadium has been so severe that outfielder Kirk Gibson this week asked the fans to back off. "The fans want us to win," Gibson said. "But without him, we won't. And with everyone booing him, he won't." Hernandez has allowed 11 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings at home (7.82 ERA) and six earned runs in 19 2/3 innings on the road (2.75).

The Tigers finally gave up on third baseman Darnell Coles last week by trading him to Pittsburgh. He finished with 15 RBI, but in 31 starts at third base he committed 17 errors, which allowed 18 unearned runs . . . Every few weeks, the Cincinnati Reds are tempted to trade one of their young regulars for a starting pitcher. Latest discussions have them talking to the Pittsburgh Pirates about a Rick Reuschel-for-Kurt Stillwell deal.

They'd hate to trade Stillwell, but they'd hate it even more if they tried to win a division with the National League's worst starting rotation. As play began this week, their starters had a 5.31 ERA, dead last in the NL. The three best were Houston (3.73), Los Angeles (3.75) and the Mets (3.89). . . Philadelphia's Steve Bedrosian is the first reliever in history to get 30 saves before Aug. 1 . . . Herzog said of first baseman Andres Galarraga of the Montreal Expos: "He's the best defensive first baseman since Gil Hodges and Vic Power." That's probably a dig at Herzog's old pal Keith Hernandez, too . . .

Money: Chicago's Neil Allen is 0-6 with a 6.25 ERA. He'll earn $1.26 million this year. His teammate, Floyd Bannister, will have his contract guaranteed for 1988 at $1.2 million if he makes 31 starts or pitches 210 innings. He has no chance at 200 innings, but he has started 22 games on his way to a 6-9 record and 4.42 ERA . . .

In Minneapolis, they know a good opportunity when they see one. A guy was selling "Say It Ain't So, Joe" emery boards outside the Metrodome Thursday night. A San Diego company sent Niekro a power sander, and the Twins spent a few minutes Thursday scuffing balls and awarding them to Niekro. Meanwhile, Niekro says he has been approached about endorsing a designer emery board, to be called the "Niekro File." . . .

The news in Portland wasn't so good for the Twins, who are about to release reliever Terry Forster before he ever gets back to the big leagues. He has an 8.79 ERA, and his walks-to-strikeouts ratio is 16 to two. Worse, his fastball was clocked at 79-81 mph in his last game . . . If Reggie Jackson can't see the handwriting on the wall now, he may never see it. He's hitting .203, which breaks down to .166 as a designated hitter and .157 with runners in scoring position. When Mike Davis is able to play every day again, Tony LaRussa will put Dwayne Murphy in center, Davis in right and use leadoff man Luis Polonia as a designated hitter. "If I mope or sulk about it, it's going to have an effect on the rest of the club," Jackson said. "I'll do my sulking away from the ballpark." . . .

The argument between Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and the Texas Rangers apparently came down to what a source calls "a general policy" about multiple drug offenders. The policy is that these few players must play between 60 and 90 days in the minors before being called up. The Rangers, in a pennant race, decided to ignore it.

The Expos, who are interested in bringing up Pascual Perez, are going along. Howe says he was tested last Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday before flying to Texas on Wednesday . . . The Dodgers are about to have their first back-to-back losing seasons in 20 years, and, although the reports from both sides are sometimes confusing, they're still very much interested in prying Eddie Murray away from the Orioles.

The Orioles won't say if they're interested, but they have been scouting the Dodgers. Dodgers shortstop Mariano Duncan was sent to the minors after making three errors in five chances. When he was recalled this week, he made three errors in five chances. He already has 20 overall . . . Phil Niekro has asked the Cleveland Indians to trade him, and he's hinting he may quit after this season. "Twenty-four games out of first isn't the way I wanted to end my career," he said. "I still think there's two good months left in this arm." . . .

Vince Coleman of the Cardinals is hitting .300 on grass and .272 on artificial turf, an indication he may be something more than the slap hitter he was two years ago . . . Pitcher Jim Gott must have been excited about his first game with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his first at-bat, he took a fungo bat to the plate. Then when he struck out the Cubs' Jody Davis to end the ninth, he raised a clinched victory fist. The only problem was that the game was still tied . . .

The Giants just returned home from a 2-7 road trip in which their bullpen was terrible. Scott Garrelts, Jeff Robinson and Joe Price each gave up game-losing home runs, and Garrelts has already blown 13 save chances. He has also allowed 16 of 34 inherited runners to score. Now, with both Jeff and Don Robinson, Manager Roger Craig apparently sometimes gets confused.

This week, he sent a message to the bullpen to "Get Robinson warm."

Coach Norm Sherry asked, "Which one?"

Craig replied, "I don't care which one." Sherry chose Don.

Quote of the Week

"It was the worst, most incompetent call I've ever seen in my life. He said, 'I call it the way I saw it.' If that's the way he saw it, he ought to get another job. I won't forget that SOB for as long as I live." -- Craig on a call by umpire Dutch Rennert in Houston this week.