© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2002
The Yankees are on the verge of clinching the American League East. The A's and Angels might split enough games where neither loses much ground in the AL West and wild-card standings.
And the Red Sox?
"We've got to worry about ourselves," Boston rightfielder Trot Nixon said last week at Tropicana Field. "We've got to play every day like it's our last."
Helped by a four-game sweep of the Rays, the Red Sox continued to lurk far off in the wild-card standings and were falling out of the picture entering the weekend.
"We've got tremendous talent in this clubhouse," Nixon said. "But this is a very humbling game to the point where you can probably have all the talent in the world, but when it comes down to it you find yourself on the outside looking in and having to fight like I don't know what to get in."
The Red Sox, who experienced an ugly collapse late last season, have potential Cy Young Award winners in Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez and a bevy of talented stars including Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra and recent addition Cliff Floyd.
But the inconsistency of this club, which began the season with a $108-million payroll, second to the Yankees, may be its downfall.
"This team is too good," said leftfielder Floyd, traded to the Red Sox in late July. "But things happen in this game that are mind-boggling and frustrating. But it happens. We've got to deal with it and figure out a way to get it done next year if we don't make it."
Two stretches defined the season.
Boston went 5-13 during interleague play against the NL West and Atlanta, 1-11 against the Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Braves. More recently, the Red Sox went 13-15 in a stretch against Anaheim, Texas, Oakland, Minnesota, Seattle and New York.
"It's put us where we are now ... where we basically, easier said than done, have to go out and win ballgames, period," Nixon said. "We can't afford to lose if we have any postseason hopes."
TIME WILL TELL: Initially viewed with skepticism in the Blue Jays clubhouse because of his lack of playing experience, Brandon High/USF product Carlos Tosca quickly has gained the respect of the team he took over as manager in June.
Tosca got a two-year extension this month. But is that long enough to help turn around a franchise that has gone into rebuilding mode?
"I'm happy with one year," Tosca said Friday. "It's an opportunity and it's up for us as a staff to hopefully get this team in contention in the very near future. If it's two years, it's two years. That's what we have."
CHIPPING IN: Before Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt got a no-decision against the Cardinals on Friday, breaking a personal nine-start winning streak, he and teammate Wade Miller had gone a combined 21-1 with a 2.41 ERA since July 1.
"With Wade and Roy it's like you've almost won before you go out there," Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell said. "Even if you're down 2-0 in the first inning there's no pressure, because you know they're probably not going to give up any more runs."
LET'S PLAY THE FUED: The ill will between the Giants and Dodgers became evident again last week. The conflict this time is over the starting time of Thursday's game at Dodger Stadium.
The Giants requested the scheduled 7:10 p.m. PDT start be moved up in consideration of their game against the Brewers at 7:05 CDT Friday in Milwaukee.
The Dodgers declined.
"I don't know if it's gamesmanship or the rivalry," Giants executive vice president Larry Baer said. "Maybe it was strategic. If they're in the same shoes we will not be motivated to help them."
ODDS AND ENDS: The Yankees saw their streak of innings without a walk end at 65 Wednesday after Baltimore's Chris Richard fouled off a 3-and-2 pitch in the eighth. Home plate umpire Angel Hernandez awarded him a walk because pitcher Orlando Hernandez licked his fingers on the mound before the pitch. ... Arizona infielder Craig Counsell, the 2001 NLCS MVP, is expected to miss the rest of the season because of two ruptured discs in his neck. ... Does Rangers outfielder Carl Everett want to play for Seattle manager and fellow Tampa native Lou Piniella? Everett mailed the manager a box of cigars last week.
THE LAST WORD: The Braves won their 11th consecutive division title on their off day Monday when the Mets beat the Phillies. Pitcher Greg Maddux was monitoring the game while watching Monday Night Football when his wife, Kathy, walked into the room as the Mets won.
"I told my wife, "Hey, we won again,' " Maddux recalled. "She said, "Shocker.' I said, "Hey, okay,' and went and watched the rest of the football game."
-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.