Julio Franco returned to the major leagues yesterday when the Devil Rays purchased the contract of the 14-year veteran from Class AAA Durham of the International League. Franco, 38, signed with Tampa Bay in spring training and was assigned to the Devil Rays' affiliate in the Mexican League, the Mexico City Tigers. Franco led the Mexican League with a .423 average and a .656 slugging percentage, then hit .269 in seven playoff games for Durham.

The Devil Rays also called up 1B Steve Cox from Durham and activated RHP Cory Lidle from the 60-day disabled list.

To make room, the Devil Rays designated OFs Rich Butler and Carlos Mendoza, RHP Mickey Callaway and LHP Terrell Wade for assignment. The Devil Rays have 10 days to trade them, place them on unconditional release waivers or assign them outright to the minors.

The team also said Durham Manager Bill Evers will be with the major league club as a coach for the rest of the season.

HONORING HUNTER: The Athletics will wear patches with the number 27 on their right sleeves for the remainder of the season to honor Hall of Fame pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter, the former A's star who died Sept. 9 of Lou Gehrig's disease.

The team also said Friday that flags at Network Associates Coliseum will fly at half staff for the rest of the season.

A video tribute to Hunter, who led the A's to World Series titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974, was shown on the scoreboard and a moment of silence honored Hunter before the A's game against the Royals Friday. The A's were home Friday night for the first time since Hunter's death.

JETER'S HITS: Yankees SS Derek Jeter became the first Yankee with three straight 200-hit seasons since Don Mattingly (1984-86).

INDIANS' 100 CLUB: Jim Thome's first-inning double against the Yankees gave him 100 RBI, giving the Indians four players with 100 or more RBI in the same season for the first time. Manny Ramirez, Roberto Alomar and Richie Sexson also have passed the plateau.