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Galarraga finds happy home with the Rockies

The differences, Andres Galarraga says, are partly physical, partly mental. The results, though, are all fun.

After two bad seasons with Montreal and St. Louis that put his career in doubt, Galarraga has become a hit for the Colorado Rockies.

He went into play Saturday as the leading man in the Rocky Mountains and the leading hitter in baseball with a .429 average.

"A lot of people were talking bad about me, saying my career was over, that I can't hit, that I can't play first base," Galarraga said. "I've proved myself to a lot of people."

When the Cardinals showed no interest in bringing him back after an injury-marred season (even though he hit .301 in the final 45 games), Galarraga signed with the Rockies at the reduced rate of $600,000. He wanted a chance to play regularly and the opportunity to keep working with Don Baylor, the Cardinals' coach who became the Rockies' manager.

It was a good match. Mechanically, Baylor helped the former All-Star refine his open stance so his shoulders line up properly. Mentally, Baylor and the crazed Rockies fans helped Galarraga rebuild his confidence.

"I believe he feels like he's wanted here," Baylor said. "All of a sudden, you start hearing crowds applaud you. He had that in Montreal. You kind of miss that after three years."

Galarraga, the "Big Cat" with the big smile, doesn't have an in-depth explanation for his turnaround. He credits Baylor and the chance to play every day, and says he is relaxed and confident. "I'm making hard contact," he said.

Just making contact is part of it. With Montreal in 1988, Galarraga led the league with 184 hits and 153 strikeouts. From 1988-90, he averaged one strikeout every 3.7 at-bats. This season, he has fanned just 26 times _ once every 7.3 at-bats.

Even a 17-game absence because of a right hamstring tear didn't hurt him. He was batting .395 before going on the DL and has hit .500 since coming back, including a 9-for-9 stretch over three games last week.

Instead of saying his career is over, fans are talking about whether Galarraga can hit .400 or win a batting title.

Baylor: "He's pulled himself from zero market value back to where he was defensively and offensively."

Wake-up call: Turk Wendell, the kid with the kooky superstitions, made his major-league debut Thursday for the Cubs wearing _ what else? _ No. 13. Wendell has added a new activity to his pitching routine, which includes drawing three crosses on the back of the mound, waving at his centerfielder each inning, chewing black licorice on the mound, leaping over the foul line and brushing his teeth between innings. Now? "I like to go fishing at 5 in the morning on the day that I pitch," Wendell said. Doesn't he get tired? "Sleep's overrated."

Wake-up call, part II: Seattle rookie Jim Converse, the youngest player in the majors at age 21, got his first victory Tuesday but not before he walked five Royals in the first 2 innings and was visited by M's manager Lou Piniella. "He told me I was putting everybody in the ballpark to sleep and it wouldn't hurt to mix in some strikes," Converse said. Over the next 4 innings, Converse allowed one walk and one hit.

Looking south: Montreal's Dennis Martinez again is making noises about wanting to be traded, preferably to the Marlins. Showing more interest are Toronto, Kansas City, Texas, San Francisco and the Yankees. Martinez is unhappy with Expos management over what he suspects is their refusal to improve the team. "It's sad because we have a good bunch of guys here, but I don't think they really wanted to win," Martinez said. "I think they're just happy to be where we are."

Add this up: It's not enough that Cleveland's Albert Belle is leading the American League with 18 homers and 55 RBI and batting close to .300. He's taking classes at Cleveland State to complete work on an accounting degree. "I'm the only one in my family who hasn't graduated from college," Belle said. "My parents and my brother have master's degrees. Education has always been stressed to me."

Hit man: Left-handed Mets' closer John Franco punched a wall out of frustration Tuesday night and sustained a cut that required stitches _ on his right hand. Franco: "I learned a long time ago you don't mess with the hand that feeds you."

Mr. Efficiency: Braves left-hander Tom Glavine needed just 79 pitches Tuesday to dispose of the Mets, recording 13 first-pitch outs and no walks or strikeouts in a 2-1 victory. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone: "I've never seen anything like that."

Jose who: Oakland rightfielder Ruben Sierra may be struggling with a .232 average, but manager Tony La Russa doesn't sound like he's missing former A's star Jose Canseco. "Sierra at least keeps coming to the ballpark and saying he's available," La Russa said.

Numbers game: In 207 career at-bats against Cleveland, Detroit's Cecil Fielder has 27 home runs and 66 RBI. Mets pitcher Anthony Young is 0-8 with a 4.02 ERA; Bob Wickman of the Yankees is 7-0 with a 4.24 ERA. Cubs left-hander Randy Myers joined Goose Gossage as the only pitchers to net 20 or more saves for four teams: Myers with the Mets, Reds, Padres and Cubs, Gossage with the White Sox, Pirates, Yankees and Padres.

Worth quoting: Toronto's Devon White on the torrid hitting of teammate John Olerud: "When he makes an out, we feel like going out and shaking the pitcher's hand."

Miscellany: The Mariners will be without 3B Edgar Martinez until after the All-Star break. The Cubs on Friday reached .500 for the 18th time this season. Fifth-round draft pick Jayson Bass signed with the Tigers after they granted his request for a cap autographed by Al Kaline.

The Kid

Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 100th career home run Wednesday night, becoming the fourth youngest player to reach that milestone. Here's the list:

Player Year Age Total

Mel Ott 1931 22 yrs, 3 mos 511

Eddie Mathews 1954 22 yrs, 6 mos 512

Tony Conigliaro 1967 22 yrs, 8 mos 166

Ken Griffey Jr. 1993 23 yrs, 7 mos 100