ARE they legitimate contenders ... or just July teases?
The Boston Red Sox are tantalizing their fans again. After falling out of contention early the season, the Red Sox sprinted to the All-Star-game midseason break by going 15-4. In the process they've helped turn the American League East race into a tossup, with five teams only a game or two apart in the standings.
A case can be made for Boston winning the division. They have a solid pitching staff: Superstar Roger Clemens is back from the disabled list and the Sox's bullpen is one of the deepest around. The hitting, however, has been sporadic, and the team defense is considered to be, ahem, of less-than-championship caliber.
In just 21 days, the Red Sox climbed from 13 games out of the lead to two behind first-place New York and Toronto, which cooperated by losing 10 of 11 games before the All-Star break.
The emergence of youngsters Aaron Sele and Paul Quantrill give the Sox six high-quality starters. Greg Harris is a workhorse middle reliever, and Jeff Russell is a reliable closer.
The top of the order has been the catalyst in the recent surge. Scott Fletcher is batting .278 and Billy Hatcher a team-high .317. Neither began the year with a starting job.
Mike Greenwell has rebounded from an injury-plagued season and is batting .308. Andre Dawson struggled early in the year, but has hit better lately. He has the talent at the plate to carry the team in the second half. Mo Vaughn, expected back from the injured list soon, is batting .310, with 13 homers and 56 RBIs.
Meanwhile, don't assume world champion Toronto and New York, the preseason favorites, will stand pat. A late-season trade that brings a pitcher to the Blue Jays or a power hitter to the Yankees could make all the difference and flatten the pennant hopes of Red Sox fans once again. Norman sets record at British Open
Australian Greg Norman shot a 267 - including a six-under-par 64 in Sunday's final round - to win this year's British Open. The 267 was 13 under par for four rounds and was seven strokes better than any other golfer in the 122-year history of golf's oldest tournament. "It was one of those days," the Australian said. "I felt like I never hit a shot out of the middle of the club." It was Norman's second win at the British Open and his 63rd professional victory overall. Tour de France heads for the hills
The world's premier cycling event, the Tour de France, is in the midst of a grueling phase as the riders pedal through the Pyrenees Mountains. Defending champion Miguel Indurain maintains a comfortable overall lead. The tour ends on July 25 in Paris after a 2,312-mile loop around the country. [See Monitor article on Friday.] Touching some other bases
* Toronto's John Olerud has been followed closely this year as he attempts to be the first player to hit over .400 since Ted Williams in 1941. But Olerud (batting .396) may have a better shot at an even older, if less notable, record. His 37 doubles put him on track to break the all-time record of 67 set by Earl (the King of Dublin) Webb of the Boston Red Sox in 1931.
* Too often baseball players today are known only for their big salaries and matching egos. That's why it's nice to see Barry Larkin of the Cincinnati Reds honored recently with the Roberto Clemente Award, presented annually to a major league player for his charitable work. Larkin, a 29-year-old shortstop, works with corporate sponsors to help young people, many of whom are disabled. "I know some athletes don't want to be role models. That's OK," Larkin says. "But I think it's important to give something
* The Walkway of the Running Stars has been repoured outside Boston's Eliot Hotel on the route of the Boston Marathon. A sidewalk repair crew had accidentally torn up the historic pavement, which had the footprints and signatures of famous marathoners embedded in it. Among the heroes whose feet - and feats - were reenshrined in freshly poured concrete were Boston Marathon winners Bill Rodgers, Johnny Kelley, Geoff Smith, and Olympian Lynn Jennings.
* Quarterback Steve Young has reached an agreement with the San Francisco 49ers for a five-year contract worth $26.5 million, making last year's leading passer and MVP the league's highest paid player. The deal works out to about $5.4 million per year.