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Homers hard to come by at Trop

More than half the season has passed and hardly anyone has mentioned the new dimensions of the Tropicana Field fences. Which was sort of the whole point.

Saying the park did not play true last season, the Devil Rays moved the fences in the power alleys back 10{ feet to 370. (That was the originally planned distance, but an architectural error left them at 359{ feet in 1998.)

"You've got to give it a good poke to get it out of here now," OF Dave Martinez said. "That ball Paul (Sorrento) hit (Monday) night would have been a home run last year."

Evidence suggests that Tropicana is not the home run haven it was in 1998. Last year, the Rays and their opponents hit 24 percent more homers at Tropicana than in other parks. That was the third-highest discrepancy in the majors.

This season, the Rays and their opponents have hit 12.5 percent more home runs away from Tropicana.

"I think it's playing more like they originally planned," C John Flaherty said. "Humans like me are probably going to lose two or three homers a year, but the power hitters are still going to get theirs."

While it has been more difficult to hit home runs at the Trop, the stadium is still on the hitter-friendly side. The infield is quick and there is ample ground to cover in the outfield.

"It's more of a fair ballpark than last year," pitching coach Rick Williams said. "We're not seeing those broken-bat home runs like we used to see."

BOGGS' BOOTY: George Steinbrenner sent his congratulations to Wade Boggs _ and a whole lot more.

The Yankees owner had a 5-foot-by-5-foot LeRoy Neiman portrait of Joe DiMaggio sent to the Boggs home Monday. The painting was signed by the artist and DiMaggio. Boggs called Steinbrenner on Tuesday to thank him.

"It was the most impressive thing I've seen in a long time," Boggs said.

Since getting his 3,000th hit Saturday night, Boggs also has received a congratulatory telegram from Pete Rose along with calls from Ron Guidry, Mike Stanley, Luis Gonzalez and Walt Hriniak, among others.

The Rays are holding a night for Boggs on Aug. 22 and are expected to present him with a gift.

Boggs has not started the past two nights but is expected back in the lineup for today's series finale.

BACK IN THE SWING: Jose Canseco has resumed hitting in the batting cage for the first time since surgery on a herniated disk July 11. "It felt good," Canseco said. "No problems." The Rays have been aiming for Sept. 1 as his return date, but Canseco is hopeful of coming back sooner.

COMING BACK: Miguel Cairo is expected to be activated from the disabled list today after a three-game rehab stint with St. Petersburg. Cairo went on the DL July 26 with tightness in his left hamstring. The Rays have been carrying 12 pitchers on the roster and may cut back to 11 to make room for Cairo. Rookie Mike Duvall could be a candidate to return to Triple-A Durham.

EARNING HIS KEEP: With Jose Guillen taking over in rightfield, Dave Martinez is moving to centerfield, but manager Larry Rothschild said Terrell Lowery will get playing time. Lowery, hitting .341, started in leftfield Tuesday night.

"He's played well," Rothschild said. "I'll be mixing it up. It's not going to be the same outfield every day. We'll see how it goes."

BOGGS SOUVENIR: A limited edition ball commemorating Boggs' 3,000th hit is on sale for $34.95 with a portion of the proceeds benefiting St. Jude's Children's Hospital. The ball features a color picture of Boggs with the date of his 3,000th hit and a Boggs replica autograph stamped on it. The balls can be purchased by calling 1-800-345-2868.

MINOR MATTERS: LHP Bobby Seay, fresh off an appearance in the Pan Am Games, has been promoted from Class A St. Petersburg to Double-A Orlando. Former major-leaguer Marc Valdes got his first win at Triple-A Durham Monday night. Valdes threw five innings and gave up three runs. No. 1 pick Josh Hamilton raised his batting average to .351 with three hits for Princeton.

_ JOHN ROMANO

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