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Strawberry begins final comeback

Before Darryl Strawberry headed back to the minors he got a pointed message from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

"He told me "Don't screw up again,' " Strawberry said. "I said, "I won't.' "

Strawberry, attempting to come back from his latest drug suspension _ while still recovering from colon cancer surgery _ has been given another chance by Yankees management to return to the Bronx if he can turn his life around.

Before suiting up for the Yankees' Triple-A team on Wednesday night, Strawberry said he doesn't plan to let this opportunity slip by, acknowledging this will be his final comeback.

"I'll tell you right now, if I have to go through this again, I'll never return to baseball. The most important thing is that I care about me instead of putting pressure on myself to prove myself," he said.

"I know the most important thing for right now is to deal with my addiction and recovery."

He started Wednesday, playing for the first time since learning Oct. 1 he had colon cancer.

Fans along the third-base line gave Strawberry a standing ovation when he left on the on-deck circle for his first at-bat in the second inning. He singled sharply to center on Jose Bautista's second pitch.

Some boos also were heard. Columbus, after all, is home to many Cleveland Indians fans.

Strawberry went 2-for-4, but failed to come through with the game on the line in the ninth. He got jammed and popped out to third to end it with the tying run on second as the Clippers lost 3-2.

"I think it's a matter of time, a matter of getting back," Strawberry said. "You know that's the first time I've faced game situation pitches. All I did down in Tampa was just hit, run and shag balls."

DODGERS STAY IN VERO: Los Angeles will hold spring training in Vero Beach for at least one more year. The Dodgers said they have declined the Fort McDowell Tribal Council's final proposal to construct a spring training facility on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Reservation in Arizona. Talks will continue about remaining in Vero Beach beyond 2000.

BRAVES: Jose Hernandez batted first and played shortstop, his first start since he was obtained from the Cubs on Saturday. He hit into two double plays.

BREWERS: Catcher Charlie Greene was recalled from Triple-A Louisville and INF Eddie Zosky was sent to Louisville.

DIAMONDBACKS: Todd Stottlemyre had a strong outing in his first rehabilitation appearance in a game and remains on target for a return to the rotation on Aug. 20. Stottlemyre, attempting to come back from a partial tear of his rotator cuff, pitched four shutout innings in Tucson in the Arizona Rookie League. He allowed three hits and struck out five.

GIANTS: Jeff Kent, who missed seven games because of inflammation in his left foot, was placed on the 15-day disabled list and will wear a weight-bearing cast. Kent can come off the DL Aug. 18.

RANGERS: Texas is beginning an effort to build the team's fan base among Hispanics. A special event for Hispanic fans is planned Sept. 17 against the Rays. The team will offer discount tickets, prizes and a salute to Hispanic players on both teams. Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda will be a guest public-address announcer, supplementing English with Spanish.

REDS: LHP Steve Avery is scheduled to have surgery today to repair a partial tear in his pitching shoulder, ending his season. The extent of the damage is not known, but Dr. Timothy Kremchek said it probably won't affect Avery next season. RHP Jason Bere, struggling at Triple-A Indianapolis during a comeback from a sore elbow, was released.

RED SOX: A worker's blowtorch was blamed for a small fire at 11:30 a.m. at Fenway Park. A restroom wall was damaged. No injuries were reported.

YANKEES: David Cone presented his game jersey and a ball from his perfect game July 18 to Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey.