They're Revved Up, Away From Cincinnati

The Big Road Machine -- that's the nickname given the Reds by Dayton Daily News scoopmaster Hal McCoy. The Reds are 25-10 on the road and only 15-21 at home. They have been one of baseball's most pleasant surprises and could make the National League wild-card race a September to remember.

And don't think the Reds are going away. General Manager Jim Bowden has done a wonderful job constructing a club with a great bullpen and a pair of the NL's best hitters.

Reds first baseman Sean Casey is batting .383, and as of Friday was second to Larry Walker (.385) in the NL. Since May 7, Casey is hitting a blistering .401 (69 for 172) with 13 homers and 39 RBI.

Bowden took heat for trading second baseman Bret Boone, but Pokey Reese is off to a great start and has been the NL's best defensive second baseman. He is hitting .298.

"I'm so happy for that kid," Reds Manager Jack McKeon said. "This couldn't happen to a better kid. He has worked hard for me from the first day I walked into this job. He never changes, always smiles, always the same guy. He does all the little things to help a team win. There ain't no better second baseman in the league than Pokey. People just don't know about him, but they're finding out."

Schilling Can't Kick the Habit

Phillies right-hander Curt Schilling now admits he has been unable to kick his addiction to smokeless tobacco. He announced his intention to give up the stuff more than a year ago after a precancerous lesion was found in his mouth. This week, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer he has been unable to stop.

"No one is more disappointed than me," he said. "I've made a conscious effort not to be blatant about it. And knowing that I'm trying to keep it out of view is admitting, in a secretive way, that I've screwed up."

Eighteen Long Hits

Tony Gwynn is finding the road to 3,000 hits a tough one. Just 18 hits short of the mark, he has been forced back on to the disabled list with a left calf strain. He won't return until at least July 5, meaning he probably won't get the milestone hit until after the All-Star break. He's more likely to get the hit on the road with the Padres playing 11 straight games away from home after the break.

Meanwhile, the Padres finally called up their number one prospect -- catcher Ben Davis -- and will put him in the lineup at least until Jim Leyritz's broken hand heals. Davis, the second pick in the 1995 draft, was so excited about getting to the big leagues that he showed up at Dodger Stadium six hours before the start of his first game. He hit .308 at AAA Las Vegas.

"I really think he's going to take this opportunity and run with it," Padres General Manager Kevin Towers said. "It couldn't have come at a better time. Ben is hot with the bat and has a lot of confidence now. He'll be ready."

Too Much Back-Patting

Maybe the Dodgers will think twice about awarding themselves a pennant before a game is played. That's what they did last summer when they signed Kevin Brown to a record-setting contract and compiled the biggest payroll in baseball history.

They wipe a bit more egg off their faces each day. They entered Saturday having lost 12 of 17 games to fall to 33-38, 7A games out of first place. The Padres, who hadn't won a road series all season, swept a three-game series at Dodger Stadium this week.

"They made their bed, and they have to sleep in it," said Towers, one of many executives who was irritated by the Dodgers' winter arrogance.

The Dodgers entered the weekend with a team ERA of 4.37. Since moving west, their worst ERA was 4.47, when they played the 1958 season in the Los Angeles Coliseum. At Dodger Stadium, their worst ERAs were 4.17 in 1994 and 4.04 in 1961.

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the firing of general manager Fred Claire, manager Bill Russell and three coaches by the new Fox ownership. At the time of the firing, the Dodgers were 36-38 and 12A games out of first. A year later, they were 32-36 and 7A games out of first.

Claire, one of the game's true gentlemen, is teaching a sports business and media class at USC. He probably would return to baseball under the right circumstances. Russell is managing Tampa Bay's Class AA affiliate in Orlando.

GM Kevin Malone may need more than one offseason to fix everything that's wrong with his team. As of Thursday, catcher Todd Hundley had thrown out 7 of 60 base runners. After yesterday's two-homer game, Hundley is hitting .237; left-hander Carlos Perez is 2-8; and right fielder Raul Mondesi is in a 5-for-40 slump.

Shut Up and Play

Memo to those Angels who didn't want Manager Terry Collins given a contract extension: Take a hike.

That was the word from Angels General Manager Bill Bavasi, who rewarded Collins with a new two- or three-year deal despite the complaints of about 10 players who met with him three weeks ago. Only second baseman Randy Velarde has gone public with his complaints, but in the meeting, Bavasi -- the son of legendary baseball executive Buzzie Bavasi -- was told that players didn't like the way Collins ran a game and didn't think much of his communicaton skills or abrasive personality.

"Who cares?" he said. "As Buzzie always said, we need good players, not happy ones. I'm more concerned with how our on-field performance is going over in the clubhouse. I know it's not going over too well in the offices of the general manager and the field manager."

With Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds and Gary DiSarcina sidelined for a large chunk of the season, the Angels are at or near the bottom of almost every American League offensive category.

Playing It Safe

The Tigers have limited rookie phenom Jeff Weaver (6-3, 2.93 ERA) to 110 pitches per start, hoping to avoid the kind of injury Kerry Wood suffered at the end of last season. Because of that decision, Weaver has left two games with a lead and another with a tie. The Detroit bullpen went on to lose all three games.

Wood threw more than 110 pitches in 13 starts as a Cubs rookie last season. In one stretch, he threw at least 121 pitches four times in five starts. In another span, he threw at least 119 pitches in four straight starts. Those high pitch counts may not be why Wood is recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery, but the Tigers aren't taking any chances. . . .

As closer Gregg Olson's troubles continue, the Diamondbacks have spoken to the Expos about acquiring Ugueth Urbina. The Expos would like one of Arizona's blue-chip starting pitchers at Class AA -- Nick Bierbrodt, Brad Penny or John Patterson. . . .

Left-hander Pete Schourek, who has made only four appearances since being moved to the bullpen a month ago, has asked the Pirates to trade him. "I feel like I'm rotting away in the bullpen," he said. "I'm a starting pitcher and I'd appreciate it if the Pirates would move me somewhere where I can start."

Science Project of the Week

Tucson infielder Edwin Diaz was suspended by the Pacific Coast League for poking holes in his bat with an ice pick. The theory is that the pock-marked wood is harder, thus making the ball go farther.

Attention, Shoppers

Artist Peter Max is finishing up a Sammy Sosa painting. The 20 original prints will sell for $30,000. If that's too rich for your budget, the 466 limited-edition serigraphs will go for $4,500 and the 166 overpainted serigraphs for $9,800. If you're just plain cheap, you can get one of the 1,066 hand-painted baseballs for $1,000. All will be signed by Max and Sosa.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Matchups to Watch:

Diamondbacks at Reds

Tuesday through Thursday

The National League West's top team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, makes its second trip to Cinergy Field this season for a three-game series in Cincinnati. The Reds are in second place in the NL Central. Randy Johnson, who is scheduled to pitch Game 3 of the series for Arizona, is 9-4 this season with a 3.19 ERA and 171 strikeouts. He'll be trying to silence the hot bats of Pokey Reese (.298 batting average, 4 HR, 23 RBI) and Sean Casey (.383, 16 HR, 51 RBI).

Braves at Mets

Friday through Sunday

TV: Friday, 7:40 (TBS); Saturday, 1:10 (FOX); Sunday, 8 (ESPN)

The first- and second-place teams in the NL East take the field at Shea Stadium in a rematch of this weekend's three-game series. (The Mets defeated the Braves on Friday, 10-2, to pull within two games of Atlanta in the division). Mets catcher Mike Piazza, who had a 24-game hitting streak snapped earlier this week, began Friday fighting the effects of a mild concussion and did not play against the Braves.

Orioles at Blue Jays

Tuesday-Thursday

Important AL East series for the Orioles. Baltimore is 1-5 against Toronto this season, losing two series against the Blue Jays in April.

Orioles at Yankees

Friday-July 5

If the Orioles want to continue their climb in the division, wins in this four-game series against the East leaders will help.

BY THE NUMBERS

161 - Boston's Pedro Martinez has a chance to be the first pitcher in this century to have twice as many strikeouts as anyone else in his league. He entered the weekend with 161 strikeouts, almost twice as many as second-place Chuck Finley, who had 88.

28 - The Diamondbacks entered Friday having spent 28 consecutive days in first place.

10 - Catcher Ben Davis is the 10th rookie to play for the Padres this season.

4 - Reds reliever Scott Williams leads all major league rookies in four categories: saves, victories, earned run average and strikeouts.

12 - Of the 25 players who opened the season for the Devil Rays, 12 have spent time on the disabled list this season. That number includes four of the five original members of the starting rotation.

.370 - Oakland's Ben Grieve, who grew up a few miles from the Ballpark in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers, is hitting .370 there.

WORTH QUOTING

"Playing here is like hitting with no gravity. Even I got power here."

-- Cubs first baseman Mark Grace, on playing at Coors Field in Denver

CAPTION: Reds think they got a steal in Pokey Reese. "No better second baseman," said Manager Jack McKeon.

CAPTION: Randy Johnson