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Hurling hitters an old tale

Rays' Wade Boggs is at least the fifth man with 3,000 hits to pitch in a major-league game.

In this summer of blowout baseball, with team ERAs hovering at the second-highest figure this century, usable pitchers are in short supply. Resourceful managers are searching for available arms wherever they can find them _ even on aging third basemen with 3,000 hits.

Twice this week, position players showed up on the mound, sent out as sacrificial lambs to finish off fiascos. For Matt Franco of the Mets, it was the second outing this season; for Wade Boggs of the Devil Rays, it was the second of his career.

But Boggs isn't the first 3,000-hit man to make it to the mound.

At some point during their Hall of Fame careers, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, Stan Musial and Ty Cobb, all members of that exclusive club, took turns pitching.

Wagner was the best, appearing in one game in 1900 and another in 1902. He allowed seven hits in eight innings with six walks and six strikeouts. What's more, he didn't give up any runs, leaving him with the best ERA in history: 0.00.

Perhaps the best part-time pitcher was a man who started in that role but found more productive work elsewhere. Even after Babe Ruth became baseball's most feared slugger, he made cameo mound appearances for the Yankees, winning five games.

Yet despite a long history of hitters being called on to pitch, at least one Hall of Famer was outraged.

Tom Seaver, now broadcasting Mets games, called Franco's appearance Sunday in a 14-3 loss to the Dodgers a travesty that displayed a lack of respect for the game. Manager Bobby Valentine couldn't understand the fuss, saying he had one pitcher left and he wasn't going to use him in a lost cause.

One of Franco's 75-mph fastballs nearly hit Mark Grudzielanek of the Dodgers in the head. Franco was so shaken that he felt obliged to call the Los Angeles clubhouse after the game to apologize.

"I think they were guessing," he said, "because I was guessing."

Franco came away from his adventure allowing one run, on a bases-loaded walk. At least he was well-rested. He hadn't pitched since July 2 in another Mets rout.

That paled next to the rest Boggs had between assignments. He tried out his knuckleball for one scoreless inning in 1997 with the Yankees, then put it in mothballs until Tuesday night with the Orioles en route to a 17-1 victory.

Earlier this season, Pirates catcher Keith Osik pitched an inning against Houston and Cubs third baseman Gary Gaetti worked one inning against Philadelphia.

The Phillies scored twice on Gaetti, who threw one shutout inning each of the last two years for St. Louis. Osik gave up four runs, all earned, and now is laboring under the burden of a 36.00 ERA. Compared to that, Franco's 13.50 is acceptable, and Boggs' 6.75 and Gaetti's 6.00 absolutely brilliant.