With the best record in baseball and a comfortable lead in the National League West, the Dodgers are on pace to become the first team to clinch a 2009 playoff berth. . . .
But the Dodgers might never again sew up an October reservation as early as they did in 1981. . . .
That was the year baseball owners decided after a two-month strike to split the season into halves and, 28 years ago today, the Dodgers were declared first-half champions -- as were the New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics and Philadelphia Phillies. . . .
Rookie Fernando Valenzuela and the Dodgers went on to defeat the Yankees in six games in the World Series. . . .
Vegetarian Prince Fielder apparently went bananas Tuesday. . . .
Piazza would be the third Hall of Famer who wore No. 31 for the Dodgers -- after Casey Stengel and Hoyt Wilhelm. . . .
Surely Frank McCourt wouldn't let anyone else wear it. . . .
Bobby Abreu and the Angels, kings of the comeback victory, have kept the Rally Monkey jumping this season. . . .
Albert Pujols felt compelled to inform reporters after hitting his fifth grand slam of the season Tuesday, "I'm human, I'm not a machine." . . .
His production says otherwise. . . .
His agent would disagree, of course, but Eli Manning owes his Super Bowl ring and fat new contract to David Tyree, whose incredible ball-to-helmet catch made it all possible. . . .
Considering that Kobe Bryant hears "MVP" chants in opponents' arenas, his jersey sales are through the roof and he may have been the most popular athlete at the Beijing Olympics last summer, reader Kelvin D. Flier of Compton e-mails to ask, How does Bryant land on a list of sports' most disliked persons? . . .
Good question. . . .
Fans might wonder: How could a list of the top 10 most disliked people in sports not include any agents? . . .
Training camp won't open for another two months, but with the Lakers playing 17 of their first 21 games at Staples Center next season, radio commentator Mychal Thompson this week predicted an 18-3 or 19-2 start for the defending champions. . . .
Television ratings for the Buick Open, won Sunday by Tiger Woods, were up 167% over last year, when the world's No. 1 golfer was sidelined because of a knee injury. . . .
Former USC quarterback Matt Cassel, wearing No. 7 for the Kansas City Chiefs, originally asked for No. 16 but was told the number had been retired in honor of Len Dawson, who asked Cassel at a recent news conference, "Now that you have signed that big contract, what would you pay to wear No. 16?" . . .
Presumably, he was kidding. . . .
In a USA Today poll asking readers if they'd welcome Brett Favre as a TV analyst, 68% said, "No, I'm sick of him." . . .
A Sporting News ranking of college football's top 10 NFL running back prospects includes four from the Pacific 10 Conference: California's Jahvid Best at No. 4, Stanford's Toby Gerhart at No. 5, Oregon's LeGarrette Blount at No. 6 and USC's Stafon Johnson at No. 10. . . .
No. 1 is Clemson's C.J. Spiller. . . .
Olympic silver medalist Mike Whitmarsh, whose suicide last February rocked the beach volleyball world, will be honored before Sunday's men's final at the Hermosa Beach Open. . . .
Fabrice Santoro has played pro tennis for so long that he has faced all but four of the 24 players who've been ranked No. 1 since the ATP started ranking players in 1973. . . .
He won at least once against 17 of the other 20. . . .