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HURST DERBY : Cardinals Take Bid Off Table : Pitcher Weighing Red Sox Ties Against Desire to Be in San Diego

Times Staff Writer

As the leading bidder dropped out of the Bruce Hurst sweepstakes Friday, the Padres were given yet another reason for hope when a close friend of the free-agent pitcher said Hurst told him Thursday that his heart was with San Diego.

The St. Louis Cardinals withdrew their 3-year, $5.1-million offer, leaving Boston and the Padres as the leading contenders for Hurst’s services. And former Padre outfielder Dane Iorg said the Padres would have them now if not for Hurst’s 13 years in the Red Sox organization.

“If it wasn’t for him still feeling obligations to his Boston teammates, he would be in San Diego this minute,” said Iorg, who counseled Hurst for an hour Thursday, their second conversation this week. “When it comes to loyalty, he is a man of great principle, and he still feels loyal to some people back there, although not necessarily the organization. If he can get over feeling those obligations, for his and his family’s sake, he really wants to come to San Diego.”

For the sake of Padre officials’ hairlines, at least they won’t have to wonder about this much longer. Hurst’s agent, Nick Lampros, predicted a decision as soon as Monday, perhaps because, as Iorg confirmed, it is now just a matter of the Red Sox vs. the Padres.

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“Bruce is getting to where he wants this thing to draw to a close,” Lampros said wearily. “I think every team had made their bid, and I don’t expect a whole lot about those bids to change. We should have something for you maybe by the end of the weekend.”

“It’s between the Padres or Red Sox,” Iorg said. “On Thursday he didn’t tell me what he’s going to do--he’s really struggling, it’s driving him crazy--but I know it’s down to two factors. For the sake of his longtime fans and teammates, he is thinking about Boston. But for his family and his future, he is thinking about the Padres. That’s why it really would not surprise me if it was the Padres.”

The Padres have offered $4.7 million over three seasons. The Red Sox have offered $5 million over that same time frame, but the Padres will likely raise their bid as soon as all other offers are final.

“Before we make any statement about our bid, we want to see what all the offers are,” said Dick Freeman, the Padres’ interim president, noting that he did not talk to Lampros Friday and might not talk to him until just before Hurst makes his decision.

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“It has been left in his hands to call me, we’re all just waiting,” Freeman said. “It’s always good when one team drops out. I just wish two more teams would drop out.”

The second team to which Freeman referred is the Angels, who have made a late charge under orders from owner Gene Autry. Autry is upset about the sudden defection of catcher Bob Boone to Kansas City.

Angel General Manager Mike Port, whose club has offered $4.9 million, has been in constant contact with Lampros. Boston sources say he has even provided him with information on his flight time to Atlanta from Orange County for the winter meetings, so Lampros will know Port is not avoiding him during that time.

“Hurst lives close to the area, (and signing him) would be a great thing for us to do,” said Autry, who added about Boone, “This train is gone, we have to catch the next one.”

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If the Angels are again left behind, as expected, it appears it will be enough for the Padres to match the Red Sox offer. Iorg, an outfielder here in 1986, has heard only good things from Hurst about his old team.

“He told me that the while the Red Sox have pressed him, the Padres have been just great, making just a great presentation,” Iorg said. “There’s a lot of things about the way the Red Sox have treated him lately that Hurst doesn’t like. They’ve kind of dumped on him a little.”

The Cardinals dropped out of the bidding one day after leading the race because they wanted a quick response, and Hurst wouldn’t give it.

“It was understood they wanted to hear from us right away, and we weren’t prepared for that,” Lampros said.

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