The Expos have virtually no chance of remaining in Montreal unless New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria invests $75 million and becomes one of the franchise's primary owners. Loria apparently is still examining the team's financial records, but on Thursday, he met with the Expos' current owners. Even if Loria comes aboard, Commissioner Bud Selig must approve the franchise's scaled-back plans for financing and construction of a new downtown stadium. But Loria's attendance at an ownership meeting has given hope to the Montreal contingent working to keep the franchise in place.

"The fact this type of meeting took place is a clear indication of everybody's seriousness," spokesman Roger Samson told the Globe and Mail. Samson told the newspaper that Loria "went into a lot of details about how he sees the team and how he would build it up."

Even if Loria signs on, the Expos could be years away from competing. He has discussed increasing the payroll from around $15 million to $35 million to replenish a roster that has been stripped of its best players. One estimate is that half the roster would clear waivers. And much of the rest of it are talented youngsters such as Michael Barrett and Carl Pavano, who have been rushed to the majors.

First Time Is Worst Time

Every Montreal starter was facing David Cone for the first time last weekend when Cone threw baseball's 16th perfect game. Cone was so good that he never even went to three balls on a hitter, and when he was done, Expos pitching coach Bobby Cuellar hoped his young starters had paid attention.

"Early in the game, he threw strikes, so people had to either swing, or take, or weren't sure what it was," he said. "As the game got along, he could expand his zone a little bit, because they knew that he was going to throw it, but they didn't know where it was going to be. That's what I tell these kids every day: Throw strikes first in the big leagues, then throw balls. If you throw strikes first, they're in trouble. But if you're 2-1, 3-1, they don't have to look for too many things. You don't have to throw 100 (miles per hour)."

Turning a Cold Shoulder

Is Cincinnati right-hander Pete Harnisch tough or what? He continues to take the ball every fifth day even though doctors have told him he needs to have surgery to repair a frayed rotator cuff. "I know what I'm dealing with," he said. "There are problems with the rotator cuff and some other things in there that need cleaning out. There is some damage in there causing problems. I'm trying to bite the bullet. ... If I thought I was hurting the team, I wouldn't go out there. But I can still get people out. There are some things I can't do, but it isn't a good time to shut it down right now."

He has won four of his last six starts even though there are games in which his fastball is clocked at around 84 mph, instead of 91 or 92 mph.

Not-So-Heavenly Angels

The Angels are firmly entrenched in last place in the AL West, and the final few weeks of the season aren't going to be pretty. "Winning would cure everything, but it's a very divided clubhouse," Angels left fielder Darin Erstad told the Los Angeles Times. "It's a very cliquey team. There's not a feeling that everyone is in the same corner. I'm just telling you what I see compared to the last few years. I don't know how to fix it. Terry [Collins, Angels manager] likes a gritty team, a team that gets after it, that takes people out hard at second base, that takes the extra base. ... We have a soft team.

"No question, winning is not the first priority here. Getting your hits, getting your days in the big leagues, surviving ... not every player [is like this], but a few [are]. That fries me. I confronted a few people early in the season about this stuff and it had no effect. Usually these problems weed themselves out, but there seems to be a group of guys here that doesn't know what it takes to win."

Third-base coach Larry Bowa agreed with Erstad, telling the Times: "There's a difference between playing and competing. When you play, you put your uniform on, play the game, go home, it's like punching the clock. When you compete, even if you go 0 for 4, you should be dead tired, mentally and physically exhausted, and if you lose, you should be [angry]. ... I don't see a sense of urgency here. I'm not saying guys aren't trying, but games are easily forgotten once they're over."

The Angels probably will be listening to offers for left-hander Chuck Finley. The Yankees reportedly have offered left-hander Andy Pettitte for Finley, but the Angels want young players. The Indians, Rangers and Astros also are interested.

Brewers Start Spending Spree

The Brewers were planning to increase their payroll from $37 million to $50 million next season as they got an infusion of cash from their new ballpark. Now, they apparently won't be in Miller Park by Opening Day next season in the wake of a crane accident that killed three workers. "I would tell the fans that we're proceeding like this is an unfortunate accident," General Manager Sal Bando said, "but it's not going to stop us from doing what we planned to do, and that is to try to get better and sign the guys who will contribute to our club." Bando has already opened contract discussions with rejuvenated right-hander Hideo Nomo and may do the same with catcher David Nilsson.

Blue Jays Are Soaring

The Blue Jays finally caught the Red Sox on Thursday. They did it by winning 26 of 35 games, including a three-game sweep of the Braves and a two-game sweep of the Indians. Shortstop Tony Batista has been terrific since replacing injured Alex Gonzalez. Reliever Billy Koch has been phenomenal since being called up from Syracuse. He has 100-mph stuff and has converted 16 of 19 save chances. And then there's the monster offensive years of Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado, who entered the weekend having combined for 56 home runs.

"Right now we can beat anybody in the game, no question," Green said. "When we play well, nobody can play with us. We have all the weapons -- speed, power, Koch in the bullpen, starters. We have all those things. We're cockier, and we play like we've got a bit of swagger."

Pirates Can't Catch Any Luck

When the Pirates lost their best player, catcher Jason Kendall, to a season-ending ankle injury, they optimistically called his replacement, Keith Osik, the best backup catcher in baseball. Now, he, too, is on the disabled list after suffering a hamstring injury Wednesday against the Cubs. Their newest starter is Chris Tremie, who had been called up from Class AAA Nashville when Kendall was injured.

Osik hit just .136 as Kendall's replacement. Tremie hit .206 in seven minor league seasons before joining the Pirates last winter. He was hitting .250 at Nashville.

Nathan's Getting Famous

The Giants have made pitcher Joe Nathan untouchable. He went 2-0 and compiled a 2.14 ERA while subbing for injured Mark Gardner earlier this season and is the guy every other general manager asks San Francisco's Brian Sabean about. "He's the hottest name in minor league baseball right now," Sabean said. "Every call I make or get, he's in the conversation. Everyone who calls either wants to get his hands on him or gives him rave reviews. He's the one everyone wants to get, which won't happen." ...

Think it's been a tough year for the Devil Rays? Fourteen players on their original

25-man opening day roster have spent time on the disabled list. Since spring training, they have had 21 different players spend time on the disabled list. ...

Mets reliever John Franco is so eager to get back on the mound that he began playing long toss this week despite the splint he still wears on his left hand. Bergen Record reporter T.J. Quinn wondered if he was working on a new pitch -- a splint-finger fastball. ...

Rangers rookie reliever Jeff Zimmerman has an MBA from Simon Fraser University.

He recently completed a project entitled Job Security and Performance: The Effect of Long-Term Contracts on the Performance of Major League Baseball Players. Among his findings are that players aren't as productive immediately after signing a long-term contract, but that their performance doesn't change. ...

After watching rookie catcher Ben Davis hit his first major league home run in Anaheim, Padres owner John Moores left his seat behind home plate at Edison Field and went to the right field bleachers, where he approached the young fan who had caught the ball. He took the kid to the clubhouse, and exchanged bats, balls and three Tony Gwynn autographs so Davis could keep the ball. "That shows you what kind of guy he is," Davis said.

WORTH QUOTING

"Two years ago, Curt Schilling went out there and tried to stop losing streaks. This year, he goes out there and tries to keep winning streaks going. I think that means we're getting better."

-- Phillies Manager Terry Francona

BY THE NUMBERS

90

The Giants sold the final 8,000 tickets to the last game at Candlestick Park in 90 minutes.

1,127

Felipe Alou manages his 1,127th game for the Expos today, moving him ahead of Gene Mauch and into first place on the team's all-time list.

1

Reds second baseman Pokey Reese became the first right-handed hitter to homer off Cardinals right-hander Jose Jimenez.

.480

Marlins first baseman Keith Millar is hitting .480 with runners in scoring position, tops in the majors.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Yankees at Red Sox

Friday through Sunday

TV: Saturday, 1 (FOX); Sunday, 8 (ESPN)

The top two American League pitching staffs clash in this three-game series at Fenway Park, with both limiting opponents to batting averages under .260. The two teams split six earlier meetings this season. Boston right-hander Brian Rose, who twice defeated the Yankees in May, is due to pitch Saturday against Roger Clemens, who is 3-0 against the Red Sox since leaving Boston in 1997, including a 4-1 win over his former team May 27 at Yankee Stadium.

Phillies at Braves

Friday through Sunday

TV: Friday, 7:35; Saturday, 7:05; Sunday, 1 (all TBS)

Philadelphia is trying to remain in the thick of the National League wild-card race despite recent injuries to several players, including all-star catcher Mike Lieberthal and third baseman Scott Rolen, who leads the team in home runs. The Phillies could get a boost from a strong showing in their final regular season series against the Braves, who own the NL's best record but are trying to hold off a challenge from the Mets in the East.

Diamondbacks at Padres

Tuesday through Thursday

TV: Thursday, 7 (HTS/Fox Sports Net)

Despite being the lowest-hitting team in the NL, San Diego has made a run at the Giants and the Diamondbacks in the West by winning 23 of its past 30 games entering Friday's contests. But Arizona, in the midst of an important 12-game stretch against West teams, has handed the defending NL champions five losses in six prior meetings this season. Former Orioles outfielder Dave Dellucci has provided key offense for the Diamondbacks recently.