AN OPINIONATED look at This Weird Week in Baseball ...

Fact: Orioles announcer Gary Thorne casually claimed during Wednesday night's Mid Atlantic Sports Network broadcast of Curt Schilling's 6-1 win over Baltimore that the famous blood on Schilling's sock during Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series wasn't blood at all.

Thorne said Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli told him "a couple years ago" that the smudge was actually paint and was applied as a public relations stunt.

Mirabelli vehemently denied saying any such thing while Schilling, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona all roundly denounced the idea after the game.

Opinion: Some people really believe that Elvis is still alive and that little green people regularly abduct earthlings in their UFOs and carry them off to distant planets. But this was ridiculous from the start and Thorne should have known better.

For one thing, the sock is on display in the Hall of Fame and the good folks in Cooperstown ought to know the difference between blood and something that came from Sherwin-Williams.

Thorne is a pro. He said yesterday that he took Mirabelli's joking comment seriously. That's plausible. But it still doesn't explain why he would sit on explosive inside info like that for so long and then just drop it into the middle of doing play-by-play. That's irresponsible.

Fact: Major League Baseball is investigating whether Torii Hunter's sending four bottles of Dom Perignon champagne to the Royals as a gesture of thanks for sweeping the Tigers the final weekend of the season violates its rules against bribery and game-fixing.

Opinion: It was an honest mistake, made in the spirit of fun.

"I do good things. If you want to make a good thing into a bad thing, then so be it," Hunter said.

At the same time, even Twins general manager Terry Ryan conceded that MLB must do something, and he's right. What about players sending gifts to players who are about to become free agents, for example?

"Integrity of the game, it's as simple as that," Ryan said. "This is an honest, trivial exchange, but it could grow into something different if you let it get away."

Fact: Actress Alyssa Milano, a big baseball fan and Dodgers season ticketholder, wrote in an April 16 posting on her blog (alyssa.mlblogs.com) that "the last time I got star struck was when I saw [Dodgers general manager] Ned Colletti at my annual Christmas party."

Opinion: Milano has been romantically linked to some of baseball's biggest stars. Colletti, 52, is a good guy. But, let's face it, he's never been confused with Brad Pitt. He's a former Philadelphia sports writer, for crying out loud. Hoo, boy, has he come a long way.

The hot corner

-- After years of nagging from the team, Giants closer

Armando Benitez

has lost more than 20 pounds since the start of spring training. "We get older, maybe a little wiser," head trainer

Dave Groeschner

said. "Maybe he said, 'Hey, now I need to perform and part of that is getting in better shape.' You feel better about yourself, your confidence rises."

-- Mets third baseman David Wright is off to a slow start and some wonder whether sudden celebrity at age 24 - he endorses vitaminwater and a jet for Delta, flew to San Diego this offseason to have his picture taken for the cover of Sony's Playstation "MLB 07" video game, had dinner at the White House, recently posed with his likeness at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum – is the reason. "None of that stuff gets in the way of any kind of preparation," he insisted. "If it was, I'd definitely make some changes."

Around the bases

-- In consecutive series, the Devil Rays faced

Travis Hafner

with the Indians,

Alex Rodriguez

with the Yankees and

Vladimir Guerrero

with the Angels. "There are no breaks," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon groaned. "Everybody's got a freak these days."

-- Reds outfielder Josh Hamilton continues to handle questions about the 3 years he spent out of baseball for violating baseball's substance abuse policy with class and humor. Asked about road trips, he quipped: "The first thing I do is make sure they don't give me the key to the mini-bar in my hotel room."

-- Former big-leaguer Carl Everett will play for the Long Island Ducks, of the independent Atlantic League this summer.

On deck

Cheers: For

Oil Can Boyd, Marquis Grissom and Delino DeShields

. The 60th anniversary celebration of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color line is over, but these former major leaguers are doing what they can to carry Robinson's legacy forward.

They're trying to help revive baseball interest in the inner cities with a barnstorming tour - Oil Can Boyd's Traveling All-Stars - as well as forming the Urban Baseball League. The latter is an independent circuit scheduled to begin play in 2008; the hope is that prominent African-Americans will purchase franchises that will target an African-American market.

"I'm sick of the rhetoric," DeShields said. "If we want more black kids playing baseball, if we want more black people in the stands, if we want more black people running baseball teams and in positions of power, then we have to go after it ourselves. We have do something about it, and not just talk about it. Oil Can, Marquis and I are going after it. We're trying to change things as businessmen and as baseball players."

Jeers: For agent Luis Valdez. When asked for an explanation of why his client, Willy Aybar, had gone missing from the Braves, Valdez could have simply said he had "personal issues." That's the first thing you learn in Agenting 101.

Instead, the representative initially said the player was dealing with "drinking and drugs." Yikes.

By the numbers

6: Reds trips this year lasting 10 days or longer, most in the 138-year history of the franchise.

7: Saves for Tampa Bay's Al Reyes, surpassing his career total in 11 previous seasons.

11: Rookie pitchers starting for the Yankees in their last 14 games after ballyhooed righthander Phil Hughes made his major league debut last night against Toronto.

16: Consecutive strikes thrown by Tigers reliever Fernando Rodney Tuesday night against the Angels.

127: Career ejections for Braves manager Bobby Cox, after getting the thumb Sunday. That's four short of John McGraw's all-time record.

Up next

The Red Sox play the Yankees this weekend at the big ballpark in the Bronx, and it will be the biggest, most important meeting between these teams since, well, last weekend, when they played in Fenway Park. Adding to the drama:

Daisuke Matsuzaka

starts for Boston tonight.

Weeklings

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera, on Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who has 14 homers: "If you went to a laboratory looking to create a baseball player, he's the player you'd want to create."

HARD-LUCK STORY OF WEEK

Rockies righthander Aaron Cook is 0-1 in five starts this season. In the four games he didn't get a decision, twice he's left a game with the lead, only to watch as the bullpen blew the save. Once, he allowed one run in nine innings. And the other time, he pitched seven shutout innings.

TRAVEL SNAFU OF THE WEEK

The Tigers played at home Sunday night, then had to fly overnight to Los Angeles to play two games within 24 hours against the Angels. After that, they flew to Chicago for two games against the White Sox (last night's was rained out), then getting on a plane again to go home for a weekend series against the Twins that begins tonight. "That's a joke," manager Jim Leyland said. "It's not a matter of being bad, but stupid."

PLAY OF THE WEEK

Facing Minnesota's Ramon Ortiz on Sunday, Kansas City's Mike Sweeney squared around to bunt. The pitch came inside. Sweeney got the bunt down, but fell backward as he did. When Ortiz fielded the ball and threw to Justin Morneau for the out, Sweeney was still flat on his back in the batter's box, meaning he was thrown out by about 93 feet. You don't see that every day.

Finally

This hasn't been a good week to be named

Ned Yost

.

Ned Yost IV, who plays at Class A Brevard County in the Brewers system, is on the disabled list after he injured his shoulder while body surfing on an off day.

Then his father, the Brewers manager, tripped while jogging outside Wrigley Field in Chicago before Tuesday's game. He fractured his right collarbone, and, while he chose not to have his arm immobilized in a sling, can barely lift it to call a righthander in from the bullpen. Initially, he didn't even tell anybody he'd been hurt. "I felt like an idiot," he explained.