Atlanta Braves hitting coach Don Baylor, one of the top managerial candidates in baseball, said yesterday it would not be too late for the Baltimore Orioles to enter the race for his services. But Baylor already has had extended discussions with two teams, and the Orioles have shown no urgency.

"It's never too late," Baylor said before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. "I don't have anything [finalized]. I've talked to three teams that have openings."

Those teams are believed to be the Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers and Anaheim Angels. Baylor denied he had reached an oral agreement with the Cubs, but said he has made "some progress" with them.

The Orioles' top executives will meet on Monday to begin discussing hiring replacements for manager Ray Miller and general manager Frank Wren, both of whom were dismissed after the season. Executive Vice President John Angelos has said he would prefer to hire a general manager first, but that it is not necessary to do so.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has denied permission for the Orioles to interview team executive Gordon Blakeley for the GM position, the Associated Press reported. Blakeley is the director of international and professional scouting for the Yankees, and his speciality is Latin America.

Rivera: Mr. Automatic

New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera continues to pile up eye-popping statistics. Since allowing a run to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on July 21, he has pitched 36 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in his past 32 appearances. And his 0.44 postseason ERA is the lowest in major league history.

"He has a cutter that he places perfectly," Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon said. "For me, a left-handed hitter, it's difficult to hit. You have to really try to shorten your swing. When he's up in the [strike] zone, he's virtually unhittable."

Piazza Hangs in There

Mets catcher Mike Piazza was in tonight's starting lineup despite suffering a slight concussion during a collision at home plate with Braves second baseman Bret Boone on Friday. He also was nicked on the top of the left hand by Gerald Williams's swing Friday night, but said the hand was fine.

Justice reported from Boston; Sheinin reported from New York.