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BIGGEST Oriole question mark—ailing stopper Laird Dealie's elbow woes—was answered in the negative Friday, perhaps for good, in the first inning of Dealie's first outing since his injury-plagued left bursal sac went under the knife for the third time, last May. "I had command, I had location, but then I tried to waste an 0-2 splitter in the dirt and heard a noise like linoleum ripping," Dealie told reporters. How did it feel? "I just thought, 'Here we go again.'"

When he heard the noise? "No, just now, when you asked me how it felt. Go tear your elbow out and put it into words."

Postgame the formerly dominant lefty underwent a fourth bout of reconstructive surgery on the troubled joint, which was rebuilt using cartilage from his ears and a ligament from the ankle of pitching coach Mel Pehr. "Next year I'm going wire to wire," vows Dealie. "And part of me'll be there with him," quips Pehr. We'll see.

* Emanuel Vesto is just two bases shy of becoming the 138th man in history to reach the 300-pilfer milestone, but contract-extension hassles have left him reluctant to slide: "These legs put my children's food on the table. Why should my family have to be insecure about what I'll be making in 2002? It's affecting my intensity level." Current $53.5-mill pact expires just after the millennium.

* Cub SS Porter Creach—batting .323 and slugging .523 with 23 HR, 23 steals, and 23 doubles in 423 AB over his last 123 games -- recently turned twenty-four. "Kind of ironic, isn't it?" said the taciturn Creach. "Well, that's baseball."

Leafy bat* Mets have farmed set-upper Chad DeSisto to Single-A St. Lucie. "We were pleased with his mechanics," says a front-office source, "and he had a lot of presence on the mound—plus you couldn't measure the intangibles he potentially gave us. But he had lost two inches off his velocity."

* Both pitchers' and hitters' unions are closely following progress of suit filed by Tito Jolly to redefine a quality start, in light of run inflation, as five innings giving up fewer than five ER. Jolly's pact calls for bonus of $55,000 per quality start. Any trend toward adjustment for inflation is likely to be opposed by hitters, concerned their own incentives might be jeopardized.

* TOUCHY, TOUCHY: His battle back from experimental groin surgery is something Harkey Pollum refuses to discuss with the press, despite reported movie interest. Groin is still nagging, teammates confide, but Pollum was mum Thursday after consulting with groin specialist Dr. Shane Ng on the heels of four straight whiffs against Indians.

* Pulvio Lentz cleared the Fenway Monster twice Friday while blanking Sox, which gave the Marlins' LHP more dingers than Jirod Ford, Bo Clear, Motorola Joralemon, Anastasio Nix, Cobia Seay, Bamalam Copay, Jermayne Laine, Luc Estacion, Mickey Berry, Chet Pockett, Toto Lavallier, Ellis Booley, Spackle Mathis, Andre Umphree, and Cesar Spang—combined.

* Looks like, barring tragic injury, The Force will be with us for a while. Eyeing the arc of Rollie Wilt's 3-0 cripple picked on by slugging phenom Wilton "The Force" Coursey, a press-box wag shook his head over the mammoth smash and wondered aloud, "Ruth? Aaron?"

Came back the quip, "People to compare him to, or books in the Bible?"

To which was rejoined, "Aaron's not a book, he's Moses' brother."

"We will be too, by the time that clout comes down," was the re-rejoinder.

Speaking of biblical Aaron, he turned rod into serpent and caused it to bud, blossom, and bear almonds—everything but make contact with horsehide. That's about what Tintin Coates did to Dodger lumber in 2-0 whitewash Wednesday. "He threw us more knucklers than we could shake a stick at," sighed L.A.'s Bobby "Chef" Boyardy. But they tried.

* That frayed rotator-cuff fringe revealed in his last MRI has not kept Duwane Tice from spending off days speaking to junior high schools about the perils of nondeferred compensation: "If I can save even one kid from confiscatory taxation, it'll be worth it."

Fleet of foot* QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Anything I have to say to that [expletive expletive] I'll say to his face. I don't need to send that [expletive expletive] messages through the media"—Herc Kibble after Astro RHP Tarlton Pye was quoted as calling him an [expletive].

* LINE OF THE WEEK, SIGN OF TWO BEASTS DEPT.: (Noland Tollefer, Tuesday, facing Rockies): 6 6 6 6 6 6

* NAME OF THE WEEK: Waterloo Fanning, DH-ing at Medicine Hat.

* OKAY, WHATEVER: In the wake of rumors about his suspect left foot, Red IF/OF Job Sootlich snapped, "It feels like barbed arrows of hellfire running back and forth from the [hyperextended] subtarsal pad to the [further torn] plantar fascia. A foot is a personal thing. My mother kissed my feet when I was a little child. I stood on these feet when I was married. My foot is not in my own hands—all I can do is try to do a good job exemplifying Jesus Christ." Hey, Job, how about this: "sooties" is what Elvis and mom called their feet.

* What began simply as a flyer last spring has matured into full-fledged reality: Tojo Colon, who had the best raw tools of any 2B under twenty-seven but couldn't budge ironman keystoner Flea Armiento from his slot, has found himself at the hot corner. "He always had that gun and those soft hands," says Sox scout Doggie Schepp, "and now he's proving acclimated around the other bag."

* Old Anaheim hand Cleve Trinidad, toiling under his ninth career skipper, likes the clubhouse atmosphere since new helmsman Solly Mele took over Angels' reins. "We've got that looseness mentality, so guys are tight enough to get on guys without the personal vendettas. We're not dead like we were." They still trail A's by twelve.

Dangerous play* NO MORE GERBILS FOR INDIANS: After Quilvio Hein was hobbled by a rib-cage strain resulting from mishap experienced while assembling his son's gerbil environment, Tribe front office issued clarification of contract provisions regarding pets. "With just 'potentially hazardous animals' it was left too wide open for interpretation," said GM Mel Orny.

* Bouncing courageously back from removal of scar tissue formed after ulnar-nerve surgery, Joaquin Pez is handling the bat with authority, spraying it around with pop. "My shoulder's made super strides," he says. "Now, if trade rumors would only stop swirling around me." Word around the league is, little does he know.

* In a dizzying ending to a bizarre season-long story line, Detroit abruptly ended prolonged off-and-on contract-restructuring negotiations with agent Deke "Quickie" Norway on learning that Norway did not actually represent any player. "He talked a good game," said a red-faced Tiger exec. One more major disaster for a front office that shot itself in the foot big time on the Ferret-Morganza deal and has a massive void of talent to show for it.

Distraught player* SHORT HOPS: It's "agony and ecstasy" time in Cleveland ... After Dome was fumigated for fruit flies, LHP Dody Ilster fanned a career-high eleven over five and two thirds ... Mel Grobel's shoulder is so bad he can't get on top to snap off his slider ... Can we say Mariner submariner Lumar Varcy has taken his game to another level? ... Blanked for six innings by Darrin Badger's offerings, Royals demanded his elbow be x-rayed for foreign substance, but the much-whittled joint checked out at over 60 percent organic. "They were just trying to throw me off my rhythm," said Badger ... Cope Wigbe's strained left rib cage sent a shudder through the whole Brewers organization -- which breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Big Ticket rebounded with no long-term implications ... Insiders fear Evangelisto Crispo's looming trials for substance possession, false imprisonment, and menacing of a female relative can't help but affect him mentally at the plate ... Talk about hair-trigger men in blue: Kelso Outlar turned to vet arbiter Rollie Babondi the other night at Wrigley after a close strike call and said, "Wha ... ?" "Watch it," said Babondi. "I'll run you." "For saying 'Wha ... ?'" demanded Outlar, open-mouthed. Rollie ran him ... Addition of Jansen "Mr. Ed" Orengo, no longer hobbled by shoulder-fluid buildup, to the already arm-rich Expo staff creates a rotation dilemma, but "that's the kind of dilemma you like to have," says new director of player personnel Pooh Lupis ... Tuesday night Adrian Cherney became first Giant hurler since the Second World War to cry openly on the mound ... When the Yanks' Olen Linker blooped meekly to short Monday, it marked his first soft liner of the campaign ... Sushi Inoko surrendered two free passes to Orioles Thursday, breaking a skein of ten walkless starts ... The next Trout rumor you hear may be Atlanta ... What put kibosh on much-rumored three-way deal with Twins? Padres', Bluejays' inability to see eye to eye ... Inflamed Achilles forced Donnie Poppe to sit during the Cards' western swing ... Yes, that was Hibbett Wangel in another bizarre incident ... Cedric Smallwood, filling in for Coby Deplane (groin damage) in center till Lejermian Tyle's promising glove could be summoned from Triple-A Buffalo, muffed routine fly against Rangers, prompting a press-box wag to crack, "Must've been something E-8" ... Last year it was southpaws. This year, righties. What to make of it? "These things," says Tulsa GM Ping Leggio, "go in cycles."

Illustrations by Barrett Root

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Roy Blount Jr.Roy Blount Jr. wears many hats: he is a humorist, sportswriter, poet, performer, lecturer, dramatist, and the author of twelve books. Raised in Decatur, Georgia, Blount received a bachelor's degree from Vanderbilt and a master's degree from Harvard. After a brief stint in the Army he worked as a reporter, columnist, and part-time English instructor in Atlanta before becoming a writer and editor for Sports Illustrated in 1968. In 1975 he left Sports Illustrated and, after publishing three articles in The Atlantic Monthly in 1981, became a contributing editor to the magazine the following year. In his writing for The Atlantic, Blount has reported on everything from the civil-rights movement to the Ku Klux Klan, from Saturday Night Live to Elvis's funeral. Blount has also worked on the stage; his one-man show at the American Palace Theatre—later expanded into Roy Blount's Happy Hour and a Half—was described by The New Yorker as "the most humorous and engaging fifty minutes in town."

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