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News - September calls

Do The Phillies have any kind of fighting chance?

So you think the Phillies can't possibly beat out the Braves for the NL East division title because their pitching staff is too young. Do the names Steve Avery, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz mean anything to you? If they could lead the worst-to-first '91 Braves to a pennant, so can the Phillies.

Especially with their fielding. The fightin' Phils have committed only 68 errors, the fewest in the National League. The Braves have screwed up, officially, 82 times. That's a considerable difference, even allowing for uneven scoring decisions. (Did I say uneven? That's being kind. The players and visiting clubs call the Braves' scoring something else: terrible.)

And speaking of terrible ... The Braves can't seriously be thinking about going into the post-season with Ken Caminiti at first, can they? His hitting is atrocious, thanks to his struggles to learn a new position. Not that that noble experiment is coming along swimmingly.

Wes Helms is playing first base this season for the first time in his career, too, and he is not floundering. He is not standing as if bolted to the bag when balls sail by, apparently unaware that backing up plays might be a good idea. Unfortunately, his batting average — particularly with runners in scoring position — is even more anemic than Caminiti's.

September call-ups can't come too soon for this team. Previously the Braves used this late-season stint with the big boys as a reward for their hardest-working minor-leaguers. Not this year. This year, Bobby Cox is looking for someone to help his sputtering club at first base and at the plate.

Here's what we're wondering: What team is going to be dumb enough to sign free-agent Barry Bonds next season?

Believe it, it will not be the Braves. Even if money were not an issue — and it will be an issue from now on for America Online's team — management wouldn't have him in the clubhouse. Not even if the players wanted him, which they do not.

As should be obvious from the saga of little Johnny Rocker, it is possible to coexist with the most miserable human being if he can help the team win a World Series. Bonds can't. For all his flashy stats and MVP awards, he doesn't deliver when the pressure is on in October. Couldn't do it for the Pirates in the early '90s. Couldn't do it for the Giants last year.

Wait and see: He won't break the home run record. He says it doesn't matter to him and he means it. That's because he knows it will be a moot point by the end of the season. He knows better than anyone that he folds when it really matters.

And I don't mean solely at the plate. Do you really think Sid Bream, slow to begin with and seriously hobbled by a leg brace the size of the Eiffel Tower, could have beaten a good throw from left field?

There appeared to be a larger crowd at the WUSA championship game in Foxboro Saturday to see George O'Leary's favorite team, the Atlanta Beat, than there was in the Meadowlands Sunday to see O'Leary's own team produce a 13-7 snoozer against Syracuse in the 19th Kickoff Classic.

Is anyone surprised that Tech's offense was barely able to get the ball across the goal line? Surely that was a given once Ralph Friedgen took his brilliant plays to Maryland. Just as well — George Godsey's healing knee could not have done justice to the options anyway. Thanks goodness for workhorse junior back Joe Burns.

That leaves this season's fortunes to the Tech defense. Tech was expecting tricks from Syracuse after the Orange closed their practices last week. You don't do that unless something is up. What was up was a constantly shifting Syracuse offense. So shifty, in fact, it often was illegal. To their credit, Tech's defenders never flinched.

That's great. But it also was the first game of the season, when their legs and reflexes were fresh. That's why by game six we may see freshmen starting. Three candidates: left tackle Nat Dorsey, free safety James Butler and cornerback Dennis Davis. Any or all of them could be seeing significant time by the third or fourth game of the season.

Hot shots: What's hot in Atlanta sports
What must Kyle Petty be thinking -- after NASCAR spends six months and millions of dollars to find out why Dale Earnhardt died.

Stop the presses, part 1 -- Kerry Ligtenberg not only warmed up in the bullpen last Friday night, he actually got in the game. Saturday night, too. OK, both were mop-up appearances in losses. You were expecting miracles?

Stop the presses, part 2 -- No football players died this week.

Pigskin Classic, Kickoff Classic, whatever -- It doesn't count, people. It's exhibition. Fake football.

Bold predictions dept. -- John Rocker will be out of baseball in three years.





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