ON THE FIELD, when a baseball player pops up with runners on base or makes an error in a crucial situation or hangs a fat pitch over the middle of the plate in close and late situation, he's expected to be accountable.

It's remarkable, then, that when the games end, the rules seem to change so dramatically.

The federal government has reams of documents pertaining to the BALCO investigation and an affidavit from former Mets clubhouse employee Kirk Radomski, who admitted supplying steroids to current and former big-leaguers.

And yet, names of players have been redacted from the BALCO papers. And the names next to canceled checks in Radomski's testimony have also been blacked out, replaced by the generic "MLB associated."

In the meantime, Barry Bonds - who almost everybody believes has used performance-enhancing substances - goes on chasing Hank Aaron's record, while even players who wouldn't think of cheating fall under a cloud of suspicion.

This sort of thing has been going on for years. Players are too hungover to play and the team announces he had the flu. Players get injured in a bar fight and the team announces he hurt his hand slipping on the stairs at home. Players get arrested and teams go to great lengths to cover it up.

So the reaction of Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi when one of the team's minor leaguers, pitcher Matt Roney, was suspended 50 games this week is interesting. Roney was penalized for using a "drug of abuse," defined under MLB policy as cocaine, LSD, opiates and the like.

"We'll do everything we can to support him," the GM said. "But it makes you wonder what goes through a guy's head. I mean, you've only got so many years to play the game at this level. Why would you take it away from yourself by the decisions you make? It's hard for me to feel very sorry for someone who does something like that."

Ricciardi didn't really hammer the guy and, besides, there was nothing he could do to protect Roney. When a player violates the substance-abuse policy, his name is automatically revealed. Still, it's encouraging that he was willing to express as much disapproval as he did.

The Cardinals were in Tupelo, Miss. yesterday for the memorial service for teammate Josh Hancock. The pitcher was killed instantly early Sunday when he drove a Ford Explorer into a parked tow truck. There is increasing speculation that he'd been drinking.

Three days earlier, Hancock had been late for a game. Manager Tony La Russa told the media Hancock had overslept. In fact, he'd been in another accident after being out until 6 a.m.

In protecting Hancock, La Russa was adhering to an ancient code. He probably thought he was saving his player from embarrassment, doing him a favor.

As it turned out, he hadn't done him a favor at all.

The hot corner

-- The Chicago Sun-Times reports that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and ace lefty Mark Buehrle had a heart-to-heart talk at the end of spring training and that his departure at the end of the year as a free agent - while still likely - might no longer be inevitable. "People think I don't want to stay here, but I do," Buehrle said.

-- The Dodgers are concerned that Jason Schmidt, who signed a 3-year, $47 million free-agent contract before the season, might need season-ending surgery. He's sidelined with shoulder problems after a 1-2, 7.36 start.

-- The top candidate to replace the injured Clay Hensley in the San Diego rotation is Justin Germano, the former Padres draft pick who was reclaimed off waivers from the Phillies this spring. Germano is 4-0, 1.69 for the Triple A Portland Beavers.

Around the bases

-- How nuts is the celebrity culture? So nuts that when New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was spotted wearing a hat of the hated Yankees in New York recently, it became an issue. Red Sox executive vice president for public affairs Charles Steinberg even felt the need to comment. "We know that Tom has an array of Red Sox caps from which to choose. But we fully respect that he needed to wear a suitable disguise for his own health and well-being. We don't doubt that he's a card-carrying member of Red Sox Nation," he said.

-- Ryan Langerhans was traded from the Braves to the Athletics. He joined the team Tuesday, was in uniform for two games and then dealt to the Nationals after Wednesday night's game. "I enjoyed my time here," he said. Really, he did.

-- MediaWeek reports that baseball telecasts were up 20 percent regionally and 13 percent nationally in April. Meanwhile, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism, spring-training fans spent more than $310 million in the state this year, up 54 percent from 2003.

-- The Diamondbacks are so serious about getting rid of the color purple that they asked the Dodgers to remove the plastic on-deck circle that featured their old logo (and that color) from in front of their dugout at Dodger Stadium.

On deck

CHEERS: For the Cleveland Indians. They had four home games snowed out in April and three more moved to Milwaukee because of the weather. They lost a game to the Yankees after leading 6-2 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and nobody on base. They lost another against the Orioles after the umpires credited Baltimore with a run in the sixth that had actually scored in the third.

And they still went 14-8 in the first month.

"There's a lot of adversity in this game," said third baseman Casey Blake, showing that he gets it. "It wasn't the ideal situation for us in April, but what are you going to do? Pout and not show up?"

JEERS: To Padres righthander Jake Peavy. He's one of baseball's best starters, but after hitting Washington's Ryan Church with a pitch Monday night, Peavy threw his next pitch from a full windup. Church alertly noticed and was able to steal second base easily and, from there, scored the run that beat San Diego.

Credit an assist to the rest of the Padres, too. None of them hollered at their pitcher to let him know what he was doing before it was too late.

"Stupid play," said Peavy, who admitted that's not the first time he's lost focus like that. "I've done that before and someone's yelled. But we're just in kind of a funk as a team. Why wouldn't it happen that way?"

By the numbers

9: Starting pitchers, including five rookies, used by the Yankees already this season. It could be 10 and six if Matt DeSalvo starts in place of the injured Phil Hughes on Sunday.

22 2/3: Combined innings without allowing an earned run for the Dodgers and Padres bullpen last Sunday. Los Angeles eventually won on an unearned run in the top of the 17th.

.341: Opponents' batting average against Marlins righthander Anibal Sanchez, who went 10-3, 2.83 including a no-hitter as a rookie last season. "I really don't know what's wrong with me. I feel good. Everything is the same, but things aren't turning out like before," he said.

625: Managerial wins for Springfield, Delaware County, product Mike Scioscia, tying him with Bill Rigney for most on the Angels' all-time list.

Up next

The Milwaukee Brewers - that's right, the Milwaukee Brewers - have the best record in baseball. They'll try to stay hot as they continue a four-game series against the Pirates this weekend. What's the difference with this year's team? "We just have better players," said leftfielder Geoff Jenkins. The Brew Crew comes to Philadelphia a week from Monday.

Weeklings

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "The Yankees are in last place. Last place. The good news is, I'm no longer the most overpaid disappointment in New York City." - CBS late-night talk show host David Letterman.

STAT OF THE WEEK: The Angels have won 16 games. In those games, Vladimir Guerrero is batting .471 with seven homers and 23 RBI. They have lost 13 times. Guerrero missed two of those defeats with a wrist injury and is batting .235 with two homers and six RBI in the others.

CONTRACT CLAUSE OF WEEK: Jose Lopez signed a 4-year contract with the Mariners worth $6.07 million. Not only that, he can make up to an extra $125,000 a year by passing four in-season tests: body-fat percentage, 60-yard sprint, 20-yard shuttle run and vertical jump.

JINX OF THE WEEK: The Rangers have featured three players on the covers of their game programs so far this season: Michael Young, Brandon McCarthy and Frank Catalanotto. Young, who has batted more than .300 for 5 straight years, started play yesterday hitting .207. Opponents have batted .356 against McCarthy, the highly touted acquisition from the White Sox. And Catalanotto, a career .297 hitter, went on the disabled list Tuesday.

Finally

Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca thinks Tiago (15-1) will win tomorrow's Kentucky Derby. Which wouldn't matter except that, as a member of the Florida Marlins, he publicly and correctly predicted that 50-1 shot Giacomo would take the Run for the Roses in 2005.

He also likes Street Sense (4-1), Circular Quay (8-1) and Great Hunter (15-1). "Box the four of them in the trifecta," he advised the Miami Herald.