Diamond Nuggets

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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.

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