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Though winged by injuries, Angels still aloft

Page 4 of 4 -- Downsized Giant

The talk about Barry Bonds hitting .400 has evaporated. In the 10 games leading up to Friday, Bonds went 2 for 24 (.083) -- the lowest average in the National League for that two-week period. Robert Fick of the Devil Rays had the lowest average in the majors over that span, .034 (1 for 29). Bonds then missed Friday's game because of back spasms, as his average sat at .360 . . . Stats Inc. reports that Curt Schilling has thrown the highest percentage of first strikes in the majors, 70.4 percent (162 of 230), just ahead of the Cubs' Greg Maddux (68.6 percent). The value of first-pitch strikes is illustrated by the fact that batters are hitting .238 against Schilling when he throws a first-pitch strike, .267 when he starts them with a ball . . . Another notable number from the Stats people: Minnesota's Johan Santana has not been charged with a regular-season loss since July 23, 2003, a string of 20 consecutive starts. He is tied for the fourth-longest such streak in the past 25 years, behind Roger Clemens (30 straight from 1998-99), Randy Johnson (24 from 1995-97), and Kirk Rueter (22 from 1993-94) . . . Legend holds that Hall of Fame shortstop Luke Appling, known as Old Aches and Pains, once fouled off 17 consecutive pitches before lining a triple. Already the stuff of legends is the at-bat Alex Cora of the Dodgers had last Wednesday night in Los Angeles. Facing Matt Clement of the Cubs, Cora fouled off 14 straight pitches with a 2-and-2 count, then launched a home run, the Dodger bench exploding in celebration. Dodgers manager Jim Tracy called it the greatest at-bat he'd ever seen in the major leagues. Cora's brother, Joey, is the third base coach for the White Sox, and when his game was rained out, he said he turned on the Dodger game. "That was awesome," Joey Cora said. "I was so proud of him I almost cried. I was with [manager] Ozzie [Guillen], and we had a beer on the first pitch and by the end of the at-bat we were so drunk that we had to call a cab to take us home." Just a slight exaggeration there. And for aches and pains, Alex Cora didn't escape unscathed. The next day, Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano plunked him in the elbow. Apparently, the Cubs weren't impressed by the way Cora flipped his bat after taking Clement deep . . . More Zambrano: Where would the Cubs be without the man who opened the season as their fifth starter? With Mark Prior still out with a strained Achilles' tendon, and Kerry Wood shut down last week with a strained triceps, Zambrano has stepped up big-time. The 22-year-old righthander from Venezuela gave up one unearned run in eight innings against the Dodgers Thursday, his third straight outing without allowing an earned run. He has allowed one run or none in six of his seven starts . . . To the growing list of Red Sox literature comes a new offering from Rob Bradford of the Lowell Sun: "Chasing Steinbrenner," which is due to hit bookstores by the end of the month. Bradford expanded his story to include the Blue Jays and their GM, J.P. Ricciardi, and one of the best parts is his recounting from the inside how the Jays and Sox approached the amateur draft. Bradford clearly enjoyed special access to the Sox as well, and while he curiously steers clear from some of last summer's major controversies -- the Manny Ramirez benching in Chicago and Grady Little's ouster -- he offers some great detail on a couple of Sox trades, as well as an informed look at the cadre of young assistants surrounding GM Theo Epstein.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report. 

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