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McGriff might be running out of time
By MARC TOPKIN
Published July 10, 2004
NEW YORK - If Fred McGriff is going to get a chance to get his 500th home run this season, he probably needs to start getting some other hits soon.
McGriff was in the lineup Friday for the second straight night and the fourth time in seven games as manager Lou Piniella gives him an opportunity to show what he can, or can't, do.
"The best way to find out is to run him out there," Piniella said. "We'd like to see him get hot."
In his first 25 games since rejoining the Rays on May 28, McGriff hasn't been very hot, hitting .188 (13-for-69) while driving in seven runs and hitting two homers, giving him 493 for his career.
McGriff has been trying to make the necessary adjustments, and after Friday's game said he thought he had. "I'm feeling better," he said. "I'm feeling good."
Piniella welcomed McGriff, 40, when the Rays brought him back, but having him on the roster creates some complications.
Piniella's flexibility is limited as McGriff can only play first base or DH, the same as Tino Martinez. "I'll tell you this, it's difficult carrying a lot of players that play the same positions," Piniella said. "You need versatility in a way so you can rest some of your other people."
And the Rays may need a spot for the run-producing hitter Piniella wants to acquire, or for a young prospect, such as Joey Gathright or B.J. Upton.
"He's had a great career, he's a good guy and he's a friend," Piniella said. "I know that from an organizational standpoint that sometime this summer we're going to have a couple young kids here. I just don't know when."
Gathright, who was optioned back to Triple A on July 2, would be eligible to be called back up after the All-Star break.
OLD-TIME MEMORIES: Piniella is looking forward to today's Yankees Old Timers' Day festivities, but there will be some poignant and emotional moments, too.
Piniella will be part of a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the death of former teammate and dear friend Thurman Munson, who was killed Aug. 2, 1979, when the recently purchased jet he was piloting crashed.
Piniella and Bobby Murcer were with Munson a couple nights before the crash, staying up late at Murcer's suburban Chicago apartment after a game with the White Sox, talking baseball - and other things.
"We were actually trying to convince him to get rid of his jet. How about that one?" Piniella said. "It was really a tragedy."
Piniella said he had flown with Munson several times when he piloted smaller, less powerful planes, going for rides during spring training and occasionally accompanying Munson on off days to his hometown of Canton, Ohio.
"He was a good pilot," Piniella said. "What happened was just an accident that can happen to anyone."
Among the Yankees expected back today are Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Phil Rizzuto and Reggie Jackson. Tampa native Rich Monteleone and former Eckerd College slugger Steve Balboni are also expected.
"It's awesome because they're all great guys," said former Yankee Martinez said.
STARRY-EYED: Carl Crawford will travel to Houston for the All-Star Game in style Sunday, riding along on the jet the Yankees chartered for their sizable contingent. ... One of the best things about going home will be the food, Crawford said. "My favorite restaurant in Houston is my mom's kitchen." ... An MLB Productions video crew will follow Crawford on Monday and Tuesday for later use on This Week in Baseball. ... With Curt Schilling dropping out of the game and Pedro Martinez declining an invitation, there still might be a chance for Victor Zambrano to be a late replacement. He was going to leave today for Venezuela, but may delay his departure.
MISCELLANY: The Yankees are 50-0 when leading after eight. ... Baseball America named Upton to its midseason Triple-A All-Star team. ... Pitcher William Glen was promoted from Double-A Montgomery to Durham. ... Durham infielder Jorge Cantu hit his 18th homer, matching the total for his first five pro seasons; his 70 RBIs lead the International League and the Rays organization.