Indians General Manager John Hart made one of his typically shrewd moves last winter when he signed reliever Steve Karsay for the bargain price of $650,000. As a reliever, Karsay won eight straight decisions and helped give the Indians one of baseball's best bullpens.

Now, he may be even more valuable in shoring up Cleveland's shaky starting rotation. In two starts since joining the rotation, Karsay, 27, has won twice and allowed just one run in 10 innings.

Because of his success, he may follow Bartolo Colon and Charles Nagy in Cleveland's postseason rotation. The Indians had hoped Jaret Wright would be their number three starter, but his return from a pulled back muscle is uncertain.

The American League pennant will be won by the team that has the best starting pitching once the postseason begins. The Yankees remain the favorite because of Roger Clemens and David Cone, but those two have struggled at times this season. The Rangers could win with Aaron Sele anchoring their rotation.

And then there are the Indians. Colon and Nagy have shown in the past they are capable of dominating opponents, and if they're hot in October, this finally may be Cleveland's year.

With the Indians again running away with a division championship, their final five weeks of the regular season will boil down to getting the starting pitching lined up and getting their injured players back on the field.

The Indians have had their Opening Day lineup together for only four games this season--Sandy Alomar, Travis Fryman, Kenny Lofton and Wil Cordero are all still ailing--and Hart said: "We're in a race to get our team healthy."

All-Century or All-Recent Team?

Baseball historians are having a great time chewing over the choices for the All-Century Team, which will be announced before Game 1 of the World Series. With a month of balloting remaining, Lou Gehrig is the leading overall vote-getter and well on his way to winning the race at first base.

Johnny Bench and Jackie Robinson also seem headed toward winning their positions, while Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams are the top three vote-getters among outfielders.

Perhaps more interesting than the players getting votes are those who aren't. Stan Musial is 10th among all outfielders. Frank Robinson is six places behind him, just a few votes ahead of Rickey Henderson. At shortstop, Honus Wagner is a distant fourth behind Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith and Ernie Banks. And at third base, George Brett is in third place, behind Mike Schmidt and Brooks Robinson. Among the pitchers, Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax are first and second in the voting, well ahead of Walter Johnson (sixth) and Warren Spahn (10th). The great Lefty Grove is 17th, just ahead of Dennis Eckersley.

"I just don't think people know the history of sports that well," said Ken Shouler, a baseball historian who wrote "The Real 100 Best Baseball Players of All Time . . . And Why!" "They don't look at it too deeply. Memories are short."

Tenuous Support for Riggleman

The Cubs have collapsed, but it seems Manager Jim Riggleman will keep his job--for now. General Manager Ed Lynch tried to end rumors that Riggleman would be fired by committing to Riggleman through the rest of the season.

"Jim Riggleman is going to manage this club and we're going to evaluate the situation at the end of the season," Lynch said yesterday. "Hopefully we'll play to a level in the next few weeks where this is a dead issue."

The Cubs were 32-23 entering play on June 9 and in second place in the NL Central. Since then, the Cubs have gone 20-46 and are last in the division.

"I'm a realist," Riggleman said. "I know this is the way it is in the real world. I never in my life have gotten overconfident and taken anything for granted. If you are not winning, a certain contingent of people think the manager has to go. It's happened to a lot of people before me and it's going to happen to a lot of people after me."

Slugger Sammy Sosa stood behind his skipper. "Every day we came here and heard the rumors," Sosa said. "That's a great decision [to keep Riggleman]. He's a great manager."

Astros Patch It Together

The Astros have used the disabled list 14 times this season. Three of their top four outfielders have been on the DL, including Derek Bell, who strained a groin muscle last week on the same day third baseman Ken Caminiti was activated.

Manager Larry Dierker said: "We're probably realizing at this point that if we're going to win this thing this year, it's got to be a group effort. It's not going to be a matter of a few stars doing it."

Brewers Might Be Exemplary

Commissioner Bud Selig has urged teams to consider more minorities for their job openings. Now, with his daughter, Brewers President Wendy Selig-Prieb, set to hire a new general manager and manager, it's likely his favorite franchise will lead by example. Mets assistant general manager Omar Minaya is one of several candidates to replace Sal Bando, but minorities Dave Stewart, Bob Watson and Cecil Cooper also are likely to be on Selig-Prieb's short list, along with White Sox assistant Dan Evans. Any list of managerial candidates would begin with Don Baylor, Ken Griffey Sr. and Davey Lopes.

Retooled A's Continue to Surprise

A's General Manager Billy Beane continued to be baseball's most active executive this week when he acquired utility man Rich Becker from Milwaukee. He already had swung trades for Kevin Appier, Omar Olivares and Randy Velarde, signaling that the A's are serious about winning the AL wild-card playoff spot over Boston and Toronto.

Beane was forced to make the deal for Becker after Tony Phillips broke his leg. After Phillips got hurt, the A's suffered a crushing 6-5 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park. But a night later, they bounced back for a 12-1 victory.

A's Manager Art Howe scolded reporters: "You guys all were acting like it was a death in the family. But these guys find ways to get things done."

Diamondbacks Get Snakebit

It's dangerous out there. The Diamondbacks lost one player during batting practice last week and came close to losing another. Last Sunday, first baseman Travis Lee's disappointing sophomore season ended when he strained ankle ligaments while chasing a fly ball in right field.

Three days later, closer Matt Mantei was doing sprints during batting practice when he looked up and saw Jake Williams, the 8-year-old son of third baseman Matt Williams, run across his path while chasing down a fly ball. Mantei attempted to jump over him, but tumbled to the ground and landed on his right hand.

"It sent a jolt right up my arm and into my shoulder," Mantei said. "If I would have tried to go around him, I would have probably snapped both ankles."

Mantei shook off the soreness and earned his 20th save a few hours after the incident.

Rockies Don't Always Get Rocked

The Rockies won back-to-back home games by scores of 3-2 and 4-1. That's the fewest runs ever scored in back-to-back Colorado victories at Coors Field. "Don't start dreaming that it's not difficult to pitch in Coors Field," Rockies Manager Jim Leyland said. "It is difficult, but this does show if you pitch, challenging guys, you can keep the score halfway decent."

Gearing for the Stretch Run

The Giants entered the weekend trailing the Diamondbacks by 8 1/2 games in the National League West. "I still believe in miracles," Giants Manager Dusty Baker said.

And why not? Last season, the Giants trailed the Cubs by four games with seven to play, but rallied to force a one-game playoff. Two years ago, they overcame another September deficit to edge the Dodgers. . . .

The Cardinals will spend the final five weeks auditioning their top young players. Second baseman Adam Kennedy, their No. 1 draft pick last summer, was called up Friday, and left-hander Rick Ankiel--probably the best pitching prospect in all of baseball--will make his major league debut Tuesday in Montreal.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Cincinnati at Atlanta

Monday through Wednesday

TV: TBS, Monday and Tuesday.

The Reds have been the major leagues' best road team this season, but the Braves swept a three-game series from them April 30 to May 2 in the only meeting between the teams this season. The Reds can no longer be described as a Cinderella story. They (along with their $33.16 million payroll, which ranks 22nd in the majors) continue to be virtually even with the Houston Astros atop the NL Central. The Braves' starting rotation, though still one of the best in baseball, is not head and shoulders above the rest as it once was. The starter with the best ERA is Kevin Millwood (3.18), and defending Cy Young winner Tom Glavine (10-9, 4.17 ERA) has struggled to regain his usual form. The Reds strength is a bullpen by committee, led by Scott Williamson (11-5, 16 saves, 1.76 ERA) and Danny Graves (8-6, 17 saves, 3.30 ERA), that takes a lot of the pressure off of the starters and can make a seventh-inning lead look insurmountable.

Houston at N.Y. Mets

Monday through Wednesday

Houston won two of three games from New York in early May. Since only three of the NL's top teams (Atlanta, New York, Cincinnati, Houston) will qualify for the playoffs, the East and Central division races are critical. New York has been baseball's hottest team over the past two months-plus, winning 47 of 67 since June 6. Its bullpen, led by Armando Benitez, Dennis Cook and Turk Wendell, has been among baseball's best. The acquistion of Kenny Rogers from Oakland, who pitched the team's first complete game in 139 games on Aug. 16, has bolstered the starting rotation. Houston has a chance to have three starters (Mike Hampton, Shane Reynolds, Jose Lima) with 20 wins, a feat not accomplished since the 1973 A's did it (Jim Hunter, Ken Holtzman, Vida Blue), although Lima will not start in this series. Closer Billy Wagner is having a spectacular season, with 30 saves and 97 strikeouts in 55 innings.

N.Y. Yankees at Texas

Monday through Thursday

The series probably means more to the Rangers than the Yankees, who have eliminated them from the playoffs in two of the past three years; both teams have comfortable leads in their divisions over teams who are overachieving. In last year's playoffs, New York allowed just one run to Texas's potent offense in a three-game sweep. This season, the Yankees have continued to stymie the Rangers, winning six of the nine games between the teams and allowing more than four runs just twice even though Texas is the majors' second-highest scoring team.

-- Matt DeMazza

BY THE NUMBERS

22: The Red Sox have used 22 different pitchers, including 12 different starters.

100: Reds relievers Scott Sullivan, Danny Graves and Scott Williamson are all on a pace to pitch 100 innings. No major league team has had three 100-inning relievers since the 1992 Astros.

112: Dale Sveum became the second player in the Pirates' 112-year history to homer from both sides of the plate Wednesday in Cincinnati. Bobby Bonilla was the only other Pirate to homer from both sides, doing it in 1987 and again in 1988.

3: Since the Phillies failed to complete a trade for Yankees left-handed pitcher Andy Pettitte at the trading deadline, Pettitte has three victories. The Phillies have three victories from their entire starting rotation during that stretch.

8-15: The Indians are a combined 8-15 against the Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox.