- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

AROUND THE AL

Francisco Rodriguez, aka “K-Rod,” burst into the national spotlight four years ago when as a rookie he helped lead the Angels to a World Series title. He doesn’t seem to garner as much attention these days, but he’s just as effective on the mound.

Rodriguez, 24, just became the youngest player in major league history to record 100 saves. On Friday, he gave up his first run since June 26. “This is a big step in my career,” he said. “Hopefully, one of these days when I’m retired, I can be there at the top of the heap.” …

If the Twins manage to finish this thing off and make the playoffs either as AL Central champs or the wild card, it will have to go down as one of the most remarkable second-half runs in recent baseball history.

It was one thing when manager Ron Gardenhire’s boys were rattling off winning streaks with the dynamic duo of Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano at the top of the rotation. But to keep this thing up even with Liriano shelved for the rest of the season with an elbow injury? That’s impressive. “They say every season’s different,” veteran right-hander Brad Radke said. “This one takes the cake.”

AROUND THE NL

The Mets all but sealed up the NL East title weeks, maybe months, ago, which typically gives a team a chance to rest its starters down the stretch in preparation for the playoffs. But manager Willie Randolph is going to have to walk a fine line with ace Pedro Martinez over the next two weeks.

Pedro did not look good Friday night in his return from a calf injury, and the Mets are worried he’s not completely healed. At the same time, they can’t afford to shut him down for the rest of the regular season, because he needs to build his arm strength back up before October. And there’s no way this team is winning its first World Series title in 20 years without an effective Martinez. …

In a weak pitching class, voters for this year’s NL Cy Young Award might want to think outside the box a little. How about giving the honor to Trevor Hoffman, the Padres’ erstwhile closer, who is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career and has helped carry his team back into the playoff race?

Hoffman, who has 39 saves and a 1.80 ERA, nearly won the Cy Young in 1998 but was denied when five voters left him off the ballot altogether. Perhaps it’s time to make amends and give the man a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mark Zuckerman

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