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Paul Hagen: Change is a fixture in baseball

THE COLORADO Rockies played in the World Series last October. The Cleveland Indians could have joined them, but were unable to hang onto a lead of three games-to-one in the American League Championship Series.

THE COLORADO Rockies played in the World Series last October. The Cleveland Indians could have joined them, but were unable to hang onto a lead of three games-to-one in the American League Championship Series.

Now the injury-ravaged Rockies have the worst record in the National League. The punchless Indians have a losing record and might have lost Jake Westbrook for the season to an elbow injury and have also put Travis Hafner on the disabled list.

But you don't have to go back 8 months to get a timely reminder of how quickly things can change in baseball.

Less than 2 weeks ago, Mets manager Willie Randolph appeared to be on the ropes. There was that big Memorial Day meeting at which the big news was that he didn't lose his job.

Instead, it appears that he was given a little more freedom in making out his lineup. He began platooning Carlos Delgado at first and giving Ramon Castro more playing time at catcher. The Amazins have since won three straight series and got Pedro Martinez back Tuesday night. Now the Mets are talking proud. "For me, it's only a matter of time," Randolph told reporters this week.

Or things can change literally overnight. At the beginning of the week, the Braves considered themselves well-positioned to make a run in the division. They were in the hunt and their pitching was getting healthy.

Now John Smoltz is gone for the season, with the possibility that his career might be over. And while Chipper Jones obviously didn't mean to make a concession speech, there was no mistaking the pall that the news cast over the team.

"Coming into this season, I said if there's one guy on the club we can't do without, it's John Smoltz," the third baseman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "If you had asked me in the spring, I would have said we don't have a chance in hell of winning the division without him starting for us.

"We managed to keep our heads above water [while Smoltz was on the disabled list]. But now, not having him for the rest of the season is devastating. Flat-out devastating."

The hot corner

* There had been speculation about whether the Yankees wanted

Brian Cashman

back after his contract expires at the end of the season - and whether the general manager wanted to return. But the

Newark Star-Ledger

reported that

Hank Steinbrenner

and Cashman will discuss an extension this weekend in Tampa.

* Brewers manager Ned Yost won't confirm it, but it appears that $10 million closer Eric Gagne will come off the disabled list as a setup man to Salomon Torres when he recovers from his shoulder injury.

* One reason the Angels are in first place despite ranking 20th in the majors in runs scored: They are 26-12 in games decided by one or two runs.

Around the bases

* Five members of the Nationals Opening Day lineup are on the disabled list: third baseman

Ryan Zimmerman

, first baseman

Nick Johnson

, catcher

Paul Lo Duca

, second baseman

Ronnie Belliard

and rightfielder

Austin Kearns


* Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder wants his at-bats at Miller Park introduced by a siren instead of the usual signature song. Team officials are waiting to get an OK from Major League Baseball because the sound effect is similar to an emergency siren.

* The Orioles have taken the necessary steps to have "Baltimore" on the front of their road uniforms next season for the first time since 1972.

* The Cubs are 101-68 since June 2, 2007.


The modern baseball manager pays attention to every detail. And, for Reds manager

Dusty Baker

, that includes schooling himself in the proper method of arguing with umpires.

Baker was suspended for two games for an ump bump earlier this season. So when Atlanta's Bobby Cox came out to dispute a call in a game against Cincinnati, Baker made sure he watched the way the guy who has gotten the thumb more than anybody in history controlled his body.

"I learned something from Bobby," Baker said. "He's the king of ejections. He crosses his arms, he kept his distance. I was really studying Bobby. I was. I'm not kidding." *

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