Down on the Dodger Farm

Baseball players are not race horses and to prove that bloodlines can mean little in the game you need look no further than the late John Henry Williams. Still, if you'd say that both Rick Bell and Andy LaRoche were born to be ball players, you wouldn't just be mouthing a cliche.

Up to now Rick 's been the least-distinguished member of the Bell clan that can boast of grandfather Gus, father Buddy and brother David while Andy's father Dave was an All-Star reliever in his day and brother Adam is now a budding rookie with the Atlanta Braves. But watch out, the kids are being heard from, too.

Rick's in his eighth year of a career that has seemed stalled in the minors but these days he's doing everything right to change that. Saturday night he was at it again, slamming an organizational-high 10th double and his second home run, raising his batting average to .330 while leading the charge as Las Vegas downed Sacramento (A's) 5-2. And the youngest LaRoche looks more and more like he's on the fast track to success with a double and his fifth homer accounting for four RBI as Columbus outslugged Augusta (Red Sox) 10-4.

Elsewhere Jacksonville picked up runs in the late innings to edge Huntsville (Brewers) 2-1 and move 2 1/2 games ahead in the Southern League East while Vero Beach came from behind twice to nudge by the Dundein Blue Jays 6-5 on an evening fraught with clutch performances.

Vegas had its hitting and pitching all in place in its victory. Cody Ross tripled and single, Antonio Perez doubled and singled while Koyie Hill and Jose Flores also had two hits while on the mound Tanyon Sturtze was right on again with six innings of five-hit, one -run pitching. Mark Johnson (1-1) was strong for 2.1 and Doug Nickle earned his second save in as many days.

This was the fifth win in six games for the 51's, who are still below .500 at 14-16 but only 2 1/2 games back in the Pacific Coast South.

It took a cool million to get LaRoche to forgo a scholarship to Rice late last summer but the price appears to have been right as he's succeeding in low A ball despite having played only six games as a pro in 2003. He, too, had lots of company in the hit department as Jereme Milons ripped his third homer along with three singles, Mike Nixon added a double and two singles and Chin-Lung Hu doubled and singled.

All that was more than enough for the Catfish despite the fact that Chuck Tiffany couldn't provide a suitable encore to his five no-hit innings performance the last time out, lasting only 3.2 this time while getting roughed up for six hits. Omar DeLos Santos evened his record at 1-1 in relief as the Fish (18-11) stayed one game out in the South Atlantic Southern Division.

Randy Leek continued his splendid comeback from arm surgery for Jacksonville (19-10), throwing eight innings in which he allowed just a solitary run but he didn't get the win. That went to Yhency Brazoban (3-0) for a scoreless ninth as the Suns finally broke through in the eighth and ninth. A triple by Nelson Castro accounted for one run with Tony Socarras singling in the other.

Brian Sprout drilled a base-loaded double in the eighth inning to highlight Vero's second rally which was needed because Jonathan Broxton was less than his best, being clipped for five runs in 6.1 innings in which five walks played a large part. Sprout, who had missed time with a sprained ankle, also had two singles while Trey Dyson was 3-3 and Chris Testa clouted his third homer, the first for Vero in the month of May.

Broxton did strike out eight and now has 49 to lead the league. Dimas Reina (3-1) didn't allow anything in 1.2 innings of relief while Brian Steffek pitched a harmless ninth for his third save, lowering his ERA to 0.95 in the process.

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