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Saves king ready for mark to fall

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 22, 2002

John Smoltz is getting close, meaning Bobby Thigpen's phone is ringing a little more nowadays.

Six times since saving a major-league record 57 games for the White Sox in 1990, the St. Petersburg resident has watched as guys such as Trevor Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley and Mariano Rivera neared the mark.

Smoltz, the Braves' late-inning specialist, is the latest.

"It's bound to fall sooner or later," Thigpen, 39, said Thursday. "I'm realistic about that."

While breaking Dave Righetti's mark of 46 saves, Thigpen finished with a 4-6 record and a 1.83 ERA in 88 2/3 innings.

Smoltz and Dodgers closer Eric Gagne, both converted starters, have put up similar numbers.

But it is Smoltz, the 35-year-old playing his first full season after reconstructive elbow surgery, who has a legitimate shot of reaching the record in the final week. He is 3-2 with a 3.43 ERA and 52 saves in 57 chances with seven games remaining.

"I'm not going to sit here and blow smoke, but obviously I'd like to keep it. Best case scenario? Maybe (Smoltz) will tie it and then we go from there," said Thigpen, now the pitching coach at Shorecrest. "I've never actually met John, but I hear he's a great guy. And that guy has got better stuff than I ever did. I mean quality pitches and better stuff. He deserves it."

FINALLY SETTLED: Despite attempts by his agent to keep him in South Florida for several more seasons, former Marlins outfielder Cliff Floyd was traded twice in a 19-day period in July before joining Boston for its failed attempt at a playoff spot.

Floyd batted .325 with four homers and six RBIs in his first 22 games with the Red Sox and, overall, was hitting .338 with 20 doubles, 6 homers, 13 RBIs and 12 walks through 40 games in Boston.

"I'm happy right now," said Floyd, a free agent after this season. "I think (this summer was) something that's going to help me if I'm here or if I go somewhere like this next season."

ROTATING OUT: Former Rays pitcher Cory Lidle likely will find himself in the A's bullpen this postseason if manager Art Howe opts for a three-man rotation of Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito.

After going 5-0 with a 0.20 ERA in August, Lidle is 0-1 with a 5.79 ERA in three starts this month.

"I don't expect anything," he said. "If they want me to start, I'll gladly start. If they want me in the bullpen, I'll gladly go to the bullpen."

ROYAL GIFT: The Cardinals have Royals owner David Glass to thank for helping them clinch the NL Central on Friday.

It was Glass who, in the name of attendance at Kauffman Stadium, requested his team host the Cardinals during interleague play. Major League Baseball revised its interleague schedule and St. Louis won five of six of its home-and-away series against the Royals.

The original schedule had the Cardinals, who went 8-4 in interleague play, playing three games at Oakland and three games at home against Texas. Second-place Houston finished 4-8, with three losses against Oakland.

STAYING PUT?: The Expos have negotiated a new lease at Olympic Stadium for 2003. However, the lease does contain an out clause should MLB sell the team or move it to another city before the 2003 season begins.

ODDS AND ENDS: Seattle leads the majors in walkoff walks (three). That equals the total this season for the Mets, Yankees and Giants. ... Former Seminole pitcher Ben Kozlowski made his major-league debut for the Rangers on Thursday. He allowed three runs on six hits in five innings and got a no-decision. Kozlowski was the 12th starter used by the Rangers this season. ... Of the seven baseball owners listed on Forbes' Top 400, only the two richest will have teams in the postseason. Braves owner Ted Turner ($2.2-billion) ranked 80th while the Twins' Carl Pohlad, whose estimated worth is $2-billion, ranked 88th.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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