TWO FAMILIAR TOPICS, pace of game and instant replay, were back in the news this week and that's kind of funny when you think about it.

At the same time that Major League Baseball was urging teams to quit dawdling so games won't last as long, they were pondering adding a process many think would add more time to games.

Instant replay is an emotional issue. Giants manager Bruce Bochy favors using the available technology to get home-run calls right. "For me, that's a big call," he said. "No hitter wants to lose a home run and no pitcher wants a home run when there isn't one. It's tricky in these ballparks. From the infield you can't pick it up, and there are some quirky angles. I can't tell sometimes, and the players can't tell. It's impossible."

Cubs manager Lou Piniella is just as adamantly opposed. "The game's been this way 100 years, and it's doing well," he argued. "Players, managers and coaches all make mistakes, and umpires as well. It all evens out.

"When an NFL coach drops that red handkerchief, I go to the refrigerator for 4 or 5 minutes. Baseball is talking about speeding up the game. We were all on a conference call for that [recently], talking about how to speed up the game. Adding that replay box won't speed up games."

The problem with that argument, though, is that the arguments resulting from disputed home-run calls often take as long - or longer - than having the videotape reviewed and getting the call right.

The vote here goes to the limited use of replay.

There is no question that games are lasting longer, but my guess is that putting a stopwatch on pitchers or limiting how many times batters step out of the box isn't the real reason.

Nothing slows down a game like visits to the mound and pitching changes, and they are a bigger part of the game than ever.

Besides, the single biggest reason games last longer is because baseball has steadily lengthened the breaks between innings to sell more commercials. Is anybody on Park Avenue going to consider rolling back that time to speed things up? Anybody?

Didn't think so.

The hot corner

* Mets general manager

Omar Minaya

reportedly is making inquiries about available first basemen, leftfielders and righthanded relief pitchers with

Kevin Millar

,

Jason Bay

and

Xavier Nady

rumored to be some of the names under consideration.

* Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reports that owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon - not Minaya - will make the call on whether manager Willie Randolph will be fired.

* It appears that the Dodgers will host the World Baseball Classic finals next spring. And the team still hopes to be in the running for the 2011 All-Star Game, celebrating 50 years of Dodger Stadium when extensive renovations are expected to be completed.

Around the bases

* Nationals lefthander

Odalis Perez

underwent 4 hours of emergency root-canal surgery Wednesday morning in San Diego ... then went out that night and pitched 6 1/3 innings to beat the Padres.

* Royals outfielder David DeJesus had to leave Wednesday night's game. The official announcement said the reason was "massive hives." That's a new one.

* Even with yesterday's win at Milwaukee, the Braves are 7-18 on the road, including 0-11 in one-run road games. And it's starting to get to reliever Blaine Boyer. "This team is just flat-out good; really, really good ... You've got to think over the course of 162 games that this is going to even out. This is just getting ridiculous," he said. Atlanta is 22-7 at Turner Field.

* Brewers manager Ned Yost said he can't explain why so many teams have much better records at home. "I just cannot give you an answer to that question," he said. "I can't even make one up."

On deck

CHEERS: For Cubs broadcaster Bob Brenly. You have to admire his honesty. After manager Lou Piniella said he wouldn't take a "superstar" like Alfonso Soriano out for late-inning defense, Brenly tartly observed, "He's a superstar hitter. He's not a superstar defender." He then added that if you "throw a dart" into the dugout it would hit someone who could play leftfield better than Soriano. Since most announcers are employed - or at least approved - by the team, that took some guts.

JEERS: To Major League Baseball. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that MLB has cracked down on local Little League teams using big-league nicknames. That is, unless they buy officially licensed uniforms, which, naturally, cost more. Look, trademarked logos are one thing. But nicknames? At a time when baseball is trying to develop the next generation of fans - and with revenues already topping $6 billion per year - that comes off as a little greedy and more than a little shortsighted.

BY THE NUMBERS:

2: Times this year that Mets lefthander Johan Santana has given up 10 or more hits. In 175 previous career starts for the Twins, that happened only four times.

9: Home runs hit before the sixth inning in Tuesday night's Yankees-Orioles game. The last time that happened was the Phillies' famous, 23-22 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field in 1979.

141: Managerial changes in baseball since the Braves put Bobby Cox back on the bench in 1990.

1,281: Career games for Phillies rightfielder Geoff Jenkins, the most of any active player who has never played at Yankee Stadium.

UP NEXT: The Phillies and Marlins will battle for the NL East lead this weekend at Citizens Bank Park, but that's not the only interesting matchup. The first-place Rays will host the first-place White Sox in the American League, while the Dodgers' visit to Shea Stadium brings Joe Torre back to New York to manage for the first time since he left the Yankees. Torre is well aware that if he hadn't taken the job in Los Angeles, he would have been at the epicenter of rumors that he could replace beleaguered Mets manager Willie Randolph, his friend and former coach. "I know exactly what would be happening," he told the New York Times this week. "That's why I'm glad I'm here."

Weeklings

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Royals outfielder Jose Guillen, with expletives deleted, on the team's 10-game losing streak going into last night that included being no-hit, giving up two grand slams in the same game and scoring two runs in one three-game stretch: "Too many babies in here. They don't know how to play the game and how to win the game. That's the problem here. Now I know why this organization has been losing for a while. Now I know ... It's not the manager. Things are going to change here, I can tell you that. I promise you that. Soon."

CONUNDRUM OF THE WEEK: The Indians have a .234 team batting average. The lowest full-season batting average for an American League team in the DH era is .235 by the Angels in 1976. So how come five players on that team - Bobby Bonds, Tommy Davis, Mike Easler, Adrian Garrett and Ron Jackson - went on to become big-league hitting coaches?

STAT OF THE WEEK: The Diamondbacks had lost 12 of their last 20 games going into last night ... and increased their lead in the NL West by a half-game in the process.

PHILOSOPHERS OF THE WEEK: John McLaren, manager of the free-falling Mariners, said he had little reaction to getting a vote of confidence from management. "At this stage, the fans could care less about that, about my security or anything," he noted. "All they want is wins and that's all I want. [If] they pull the plug, they pull the plug."

And Astros reliever Dave Borowski took it in stride when he was designated for assignment Tuesday. "The moral of this story is: Pitch better," he said.

Finally

Speaking of long games, the Padres played 22 innings against the Rockies earlier this season and then 18 innings against the Reds on Sunday.

San Diego second baseman Tadahito Iguchi said that has been a difficult adjustment for him since, in Japan, games are called after 12 innings if the score is tied. And why is that? "It's because so many of the fans take subways, which stop running at a certain hour," he said through his interpreter. *