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BALLS & STRIKES

Nice shirt: Reliever Rob Murphy signed with Florida, his eighth big-league team in 11 seasons. "I'll have a nice sports bar full of jerseys with "MURPHY' on the back," he said.

So that's the key: When the Indians are warming up their potent bats at Jacobs Field, a troll-like creature watches from a post in their dugout. Joeboo, the size of a planter, has a face apparently made of clay, and green grass is growing out of his head. "Joeboo likes to watch BP," clubhouse assistant Tom Foster said. "The sun is good for him. It makes his hair grow. During the games, we put him by the exercise pool in the clubhouse. He needs the moisture."

Throw the book at him: Rookie Royals manager Bob Boone says you can't underestimate the value of bench coach Gene Mauch. "It's like having a baseball encyclopedia at your hip," Boone said. "Not only the encyclopedia, the guy who wrote it."

Numbers game: Since the start of the 1991 season, the Braves are 200-128 (.610) on the road. Boston was 17-15 without Jose Canseco. At 1-10, Pittsburgh's Paul Wagner is on track to become the first 20-game loser since Oakland's Brian Kingman was 8-20 in 1980. For the first time, the Mariners played their first 50 games without falling under .500.

Job stability: Expansion managers Rene Lachemann and Don Baylor are tied with San Francisco's Dusty Baker for fifth in seniority among NL managers. Only Los Angeles' Tommy Lasorda, Pittsburgh's Jim Leyland, Atlanta's Bobby Cox and Philadelphia's Jim Fregosi have been with their current clubs longer. The Los Angeles Times says St. Louis' Joe Torre was the 200th major-league manager to be fired since Lasorda took over the Dodgers Sept. 26, 1976.

Oh, really: The Orioles made a relatively unremarkable trade, sending disappointing reliever Brad Pennington to Cincinnati for minor-leaguers Danny Clyburn and Tony Nieto. One problem: Nieto was a Reds replacement player. The Orioles, you remember, were so against that concept that they refused to field a team. "It's time to forget and put all of that behind us," GM Roland Hemond said. "You can't hold it against the player forever."

Watch the ball: The Indians are 3-0 with 26 hits and 12 runs in 18 innings against knuckleballers Tim Wakefield of Boston and Steve Sparks of Milwaukee. Said manager Mike Hargrove: "We figured out which eye to close when we swung at the knuckler."

He said it: Andy Van Slyke, on being traded from Baltimore to Philadelphia: "Only in major-league baseball can you go from a last-place team and not playing to a first-place team and in the lineup. I just want to be a piece of the pie. I don't care if I'm the crust, the filling or the pan."

_ MARC TOPKIN

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