Mariners OF Jamal Strong broke a bone in his left hand after being hit by a pitch in the first inning yesterday and is out for the rest of the season.

Strong, making a rare start, remained in the game after being hit by the Orioles' Bruce Chen and scored later in the inning. But after taking the field in the top of the second, he quickly returned to the dugout.

X-rays revealed a fracture of the third metacarpal. That takes four to six weeks to heal.

Strong was suspended earlier this season for testing positive under Major League Baseball's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He was hitting .250 in 16 games.

* ATHLETICS' SLIDE: The A's have lost seven of their past nine games, helping drop them 21/2 games behind in the wild-card race.

"When you're in a pennant race, and you lose a game, you're not happy," Manager Ken Macha said after yesterday's 7-4 loss to the Rangers.

The Athletics have 20 games left over the next three weeks. They start a three-game series today in Cleveland, followed by four games in Boston.

"This is probably the toughest seven-day stretch of our year, in two places we haven't played real well," Scott Hatteberg said. "So we really need to buckle down and play as well as we can."

Back in May, when they were still in last place in the AL West, the A's were swept in three-game series at Boston and Cleveland. But Oakland is 35-20 since the all-star break, the best record in the majors.

While Oakland is still in the playoff chase, the Rangers (70-73) are left to pursue the major league home run record.

Meanwhile, the Rangers, who lead the majors with 241, are on pace for 273 homers, nine more than the Mariners hit when they set the big league record in 1997.

* EXTRA BASES: Chone Figgins is the first Angel to get 50 steals since Luis Polonia stole 55 in 1993. . . . The Angels' Garret Anderson homered for the second straight game after going more than a month without hitting one. He now has 222 home runs with the team, tying him for second on the Angels' all-time list with Brian Downing. . . . Yankees closer Mariano Rivera's 32 saves against the Red Sox are the most by a pitcher against the Red Sox, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

-- From News Services

Jamal Strong is checked by a trainer after getting hit by a pitch from the Orioles' Bruce Chen. Strong is finished for the season.