In the pennant race

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:16 AM ET

MIAMI -- He says this month isn't any different than his first 10 Septembers in the majors.

But, what about the atmosphere of his first pennant race?

With that, Carlos Delgado's eyes widen and he flashes his million-kilowatt smile.

"Off the field is different," the Florida Marlins first baseman said last night before a wild, 13-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in a game with wild-card implications.

The Houston Astros lead the National League wild-card race, half a game ahead of the Phils, while the Marlins fell 1 1/2 games off the pace.

And in a race tighter than Shania Twain's jeans, the surprising Washington Nationals were 2 1/2 back going into last night's game in San Diego.

"There is a lot of scoreboard watching. Usually in the dugout before a game, we have four writers and three camera guys, who get their sound bytes and leave. But look at that," said Delgado nodding to the media crowd surrounding manager Jack McKeon.

"The atmosphere off the field is exciting. I'm not playing it down. Once the game starts, it is the same as always. You have to empty your tank to try and win every game, no matter where you are in the standings."

Despite a bad wrist which resulted in a 15-day trip to the disabled list, Delgado has a .305 average. He has done the usual in the run production: 31 homers -- including a two-run shot in the first inning last night -- and 107 RBIs. Usual for him, not everyone.

"That time off might have helped him," McKeon said. "He hit a three-run homer the first-game back against San Francisco. He's been real consistent for us."

Delgado, 33, is living in a house he bought in North Miami Beach and will marry his long-time girlfriend Betzy ("that's B-E-T-Z-Y, eh?") Garcia in December. Garcia is from Delgado's home town of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

The Marlins signed Delgado -- the Blue Jays' all-time RBI leader -- to a four-year, $52-million US deal with a $16-million option for a fifth year, which includes a $4-million buyout Jan. 25. At the time, the Marlins had hoped a new stadium deal would happen. It has not.

Now there is trade talk the Marlins could move Delgado this winter.

"I've heard it. Will I be in this uniform at the end of the contract? I don't know," Delgado said with a shrug. "All I know is that the other day the owner (Jeffrey Loria) stopped by my locker to say: 'Don't pay any attention to the trade rumors.' We'll see, we'll see what happens."

What has happened so far is that the Marlins, who have won the World Series twice (1997, 2003) since the Jays won in 1993 and are in the hunt again. That is what Delgado wanted to experience when he left Toronto. That is why Delgado didn't sign with the New York Mets, who offered more money.

We remember Delgado's agent David Sloane saying the spring: "We thought that without Carlos the Mets were a fourth-place club and with Carlos they were still a fourth-place club."

Sloane was wrong. The Mets sit last.

After 10 years with the Jays, what does Delgado miss most?

"Everything," he says quickly. "The downtown core. Here, everything is spread out. Here we get have a lot of games delayed by rain. I miss the restaurants close to my house."

Delgado had a Toronto fix when the Marlins played the Nationals in D.C., while the Jays were in Baltimore earlier this month. He made the drive to Baltimore's inner harbour, visiting with current Jays Vernon Wells, Frank Catalanotto, Roy Halladay and Orlando Hudson at the team hotel.

"I'm not reacting any differently," Delgado said of his September. "I'm trying not to put any pressure on myself."

He is, however, trying to make it a September to remember.


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