2002-09-28 / Sports

Soriano Has 40-40 Vision

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch
Soriano Has 40-40 Vision By Bryan Hoch Baseball Columnist

Baseball Columnist

The Red Sox are dead, David Wells is steering clear of his beloved all-night diners and the No. 4 train is pointed directly toward October. As far as the Yankees’ regular-season campaign is concerned, there’s just one more piece of unfinished business.

Entering action last Wednesday, shortstop Alfonso Soriano is just one home run shy of becoming the fourth player in history to belt 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season. Very much within reach, the accomplishment would be an incredible cap on what has already been an outstanding season for the sophomore Bomber.

"I’d like to do it," the 24-year-old Soriano admitted this week. "But my dream was to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases, and I did that."

Dream or not, there’s a great deal of chatter at Yankee Stadium revolving around Soriano’s pursuit of the magical mark. Fans cheered each time the 24-year-old native of the Dominican Republic came to bat this week against the Devil Rays, and made their displeasure heard whenever Soriano drew a free pass.

"He is the buzz," manager Joe Torre said. "The 40-40 seems to be capturing everyone’s imagination, in the dugout and in the stands. They’re pulling for him every time."

Perhaps that’s because Soriano has little left to prove, outside of jacking one more fastball out of the park. He’s already shattered Bob Meusel’s 75-year-old club record for doubles in a season, leads the American League in runs scored, has topped the 100-RBI and 200-hit plateaus, and is all but assured of finishing the season with a batting average above .300.

While Torre has treated most of his regulars with kid gloves since the Yankees clinched the division this week, hoping to avoid a devastating injury like the one suffered by Arizona’s Luis Gonzalez, he has allowed Soriano to continue his pursuit of No. 40 as long as he’s not visibly swinging for the fences.

That’s a good thing, because while the Yankees are set as far as the playoffs go, Soriano could still use a boost to make things a bit clearer in the AL MVP race.

The second baseman’s credentials should be good enough to stand alone in the eyes of sportswriters, but he’s hurt by the fact that Jason Giambi (.310, 40 HR, 118 RBI) is also having an outstanding season for the Yankees. A so-called ‘conflict of interest’ lies therein – which of them can truly be considered the "more" valuable player?

Due to that alone, it certainly would not be surprising to see standout Oakland shortstop Miguel Tejada come away with the award when all is said and done. Alex Rodriguez should also warrant some consideration for his marvelous year, despite the fact that the rest of the Rangers are nowhere to be found in the AL West.

No matter, say the Yankees, who anticipate seeing Soriano join the ranks of Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds and Rodriguez as the only 40-40 hitters sometime this week. Giambi and Soriano may not ultimately come away with MVP plaques, but it’s easy to see that the Yankees have a different trophy on their mind anyway.

Bomber Notes

Soriano isn’t the only Yankee chasing a major statistical achievement as the end of the regular season nears. Bernie Williams is hanging tight behind Kansas City’s Mike Sweeney for the American League batting average title, and Derek Jeter is attempting to shake off a rough September to post his fifth straight .300+ season.

Jorge Posada is shooting for his first-ever 100-RBI season, with Williams and Robin Ventura also within striking distance of the mark.

After complaining of back pain during the Yankees’ recent trip to Tampa Bay, Jason Giambi visited a chiropractor in New York this week and had two vertebrae and a rib set back into place. Torre will use Giambi as a designated hitter for most of the remainder of the regular season and hopes to have the first baseman fresh and ready to play the field in the Division Series.

Bryan Hoch can be contacted at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.

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