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History nears as early funk fades for Huff

Man, if Aubrey Huff could have started a bit better, there's no telling what kind of season we would be talking about.

And if the Devil Rays third baseman is okay after leaving Monday night's game against the Red Sox in the third inning after being hit in the left knee by a Bronson Arroyo pitch, we could be talking about a bit of history.

Huff is day to day with a bruised knee and hopes to play tonight. After going 0-for-1, he is batting .302 with 29 home runs and 102 RBIs, and his .349 average since the All-Star break is behind only Ichiro Suzuki's .443 in the American League.

Not bad for someone who on May 7 was batting .186 with two home runs and nine RBIs.

"I've thought about it," Huff said before the game. "Once I started hitting better after the first month, it seemed like my confidence just took over. But if I could get started a little earlier, that would be good."

How's this for good?

With one more home run, Huff would have a chance to be the seventh player since 1900 to reach 30 with 100 RBIs and a .300 average in his first two full seasons. The others: Willie Mays, Chuck Klein, Jimmie Foxx, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez and Vlad Guerrero.

Even without the distinction, manager Lou Piniella said Huff is one of the major leagues' underrated players.

"He's had two great back-to-back seasons and it should be noticed," Piniella said. "He's a good offensive player, and we've moved him around (defensively) quite a bit. He's one of the really good up-and-coming productive hitters in baseball."

Huff said it is important he finish strong.

"You want gratification," he said. "You don't want to go into the offseason being miserable. I want to look myself in the mirror and be able to say I gave all I had."

MEETING POSTPONED: Hurricane Jeanne created travel problems for Piniella's agent Alan Nero, so Monday's meeting with Rays officials was postponed. It likely will be rescheduled for the next few days. Nero was to talk with the team about its payroll plans and direction over the next few seasons.

FORDYCE WAITING WORD: Brook Fordyce shook his head when asked if he had any word about his house on Hutchinson Island in Stuart.

The house was boarded up and his family joined him in advance of Jeanne. But the Rays catcher said no one has been allowed to visit the island, where the storm made landfall with winds of 120 mph.

"I'm hoping to find out," Fordyce said. "I know Stuart didn't fare well."

Much better were the stories from players with homes and condos in the Tampa Bay area. Most said they lost power for only a few hours. Some didn't lose it at all.

"A little wind, a little rain," reliever Danys Baez said.

Piniella said his house in Tampa lost a few trees and some screening. He had not been out to his house on North Redington Beach but was confident it was fine.

Tropicana Field didn't fare as well. Several cloth panels covering the inside of the stadium's roof were ripped by the winds. One, on the third-base line, was ripped severely.

TRAVEL TROUBLES: Jeanne forced the Red Sox to fly into town Monday. The team bused from Fenway Park to Logan Airport at 8:40 a.m., took off at 9:56 and landed at St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport at 12:43 p.m.

The only glitch: "Bumpy, very bumpy," pitcher Pedro Martinez said. "A bumpy flight."

_ DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times staff writer

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