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Jesus Saves!

By Phil Janowicz

COLUMNIST

Amid all the trades and division jockeying, one story seems to have fallen through the proverbial cracks of Major League Baseball. No, I don’t mean the excellent playing of Mark Loretta or the arrest of Sausage Boy Randall Simon.

I’m talking about Jesus Colome of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Coming off a less than stellar 2002 campaign, Jesus was back with the Devil Rays this year with a shot at the closer’s role, but Lance Carter swooped in to take that title away from Jesus. In 2002, Jesus had the highest ERA among all relievers who pitched at least 40 innings with a mark of 8.27. He had a .341 batting average and a .414 mark against lefties. Needless to say, Lou Piniella wasn’t looking forward to his bullpen this season.

This season, Jesus had a rough start highlighted by a six hit, five run, three home run shelling by the Yankees on April 4. For the next two months, Jesus seemed to have lost his possible closer job and worked more as a long reliever and in earlier innings. He seemed to have shown his full potential in May, posting a 1.62 ERA in 16.2 innings with 20 strikeouts and only five walks. Noting this improvement, Piniella gave Jesus his first save opportunity of the year on June 3 at Wrigley Field in what would turn out to be a bad end to a corker of a game. Jesus walked two batters and hit two more to allow the tying run to score, blowing a great performance by starter Jeremi Gonzalez.

Jesus was given opportunities again on June 15 against Pittsburgh and July 9 at Oakland. Both times, the young pitcher gave up multiple runs and multiple walks to blow both opportunities.

Jesus recorded his first save of the season and his young career on July 26 by pitching two perfect innings with three Ks. Jesus came in ahead 9-6, but when the Devil Rays scored another run in the top of the ninth, Piniella decided not to waste Lance Carter and see how Jesus would fare closing out this game.

Then, on July 30 in Toronto, Jesus was given his first one-inning opportunity to close a game. Leading 5-3, Piniella called on the strike-out specialist instead of Lance to finish off the Blue Jays. Jesus pitched a perfect ninth with one strikeout to notch his first one-inning save of his career. “We’re going to give him closing experience,” Piniella said after the game. “We’ll use [Lance] Carter in closing situations, too. And you might see some other kids in that role, too.” Congratulations Jesus, on your possible new closer status.

With the immense young talent the Devil Rays have, next year might be the second coming of a powerful closer.

Jano Awards

Batting: “Lake” Placido Polanco of the Philadelphia Phillies. Over the past month, Polanco has been consistently on fire with 26 runs scored, three home runs, 19 RBIs, two stolen bases, and with a scorching Pujols-esque .429 average. Since coming over from the Cardinals, Polanco seems to have found his new home in the town of brotherly love.

Honourable Mentions: Aaron “Sonic Boom” Guiel and “Touched by An” Angel Berroa of the Kansas City Royals. With Mike Sweeney still out with neck problems, Guiel and Berroa have really stepped it up in his absence, keeping the Royals atop the AL Central. In the last month, Guiel has 18 runs, eight home runs, 21 RBIs, two stolen bases, and a .295 average in the leadoff spot. The Royals’ rookie shortstop Berroa has 17 runs, seven home runs, 25 RBIs, one stolen base, and a .337 average. One of the more memorable video moments in the past month occurred after Carlos Beltran hit a walk-off home run off Mike Cameron’s glove at Kaufmann Stadium. As the entire city of Kansas City cheered, Angel Berroa came running out of the dugout with the huge cooler of Gatorade and dumped it on Beltran at home plate. These Royals love to play together and have the best team chemistry I’ve seen since everyone teamed up to go on strike. Look for the Royals to go far this year.

Pitching: Jesus “Star of My” Colome of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. See section above.

Honourable Mention: “He Shall Be” Livan Hernandez of the Montreal Expos. He has been exactly what the Expos have needed in Vlad’s absence, pitching the way he pitched in Florida in 1997. In the past month, Livan has four wins with 42 Ks, a 1.65 ERA, and a 0.88 WHIP. Now with Vlad back and Vidro reeling, Livan should hopefully keep the Expos in playoff contention.

Utility: Desi “Have You Driven a” Relaford “Lately” of the Kansas City Royals. Called the focal point of the Mariners’ team last year, Relaford has brought the same intensity to Kansas City. Able to play any position except pitcher and catcher, Desi has been consistent all season for the Royals with clutch hitting, an above .400 mark against lefties, speed, and great fielding abilities. Tony Pena can count on him any day he wants at any position and know he’s getting a great player.

Honourable Mention: Theo “Logy” Epstein of the Boston Red Sox. He has been a God-send for the Red Sox. Only 29 years old, Theo has been able to bring his baseball philosophy to Boston and has made several key acquisitions that have given the Red Sox a great shot at the playoffs this year. In the offseason, acquiring Millar, Mueller, Walker, Ortiz, Giambi, and a good bullpen as of late, Theo showed early that he knew what made a good baseball team. Now, during the season, Theo has grabbed Todd Jones, Gabe Kaplar, “BK” Kim, Scott Williamson, and Jeff Suppan for the playoff push. I hope you hang around here in Boston for a long time.

Boner of the Week/Month: Jose “Plateau” Mesa of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Showing off what made the Indians run him out of town after 1997, Mesa has compiled an 11.42 ERA and a 2.65 WHIP in the past month. It’s painful to say that Mike Williams is better than Mesa.

Honourable Mention: Armando “You Suck” Benitez of the New York Whatevers. You are terrible. ’Nuff said.