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Carlton nears 300; Yanks not clicking

Left-hander Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies, just three wins away from 300 lifetime major league victories, says he still won't talk to the press, even on that historic occasion. Nevertheless, it isn't likely that the owners of the Phillies will hold still for the temperamental Carlton this time. Chances are management will ask (tell?) Steve to attend a general press conference arranged by the club, but with questions restricted to the game itself. And at a salary of more than $1 million a year, even Carlton can't very well duck this one. So far only 15 pitchers in the history of baseball have won 300 or more games, Cy Young topping the list with 511.

Carlton, according to reports, never goes over the strengths and weaknesses of opposing hitters with pitching coach Claude Osteen and has been known to walk out of team meetings that he considered boring. If the 14 inches in the middle of home plate were cut out, leaving just 11/2 inches on either side, Steve would hardly miss it, since he constantly nicks the corners with all the deftness of a razor blade. Basically, Carlton is a power pitcher, with two kinds of fastballs, an excellent curve, plus a slider. What most people don't know is that Steve began throwing a screwball in 1980. Since then, instead of throwing a change-up in what would be considered a normal change-up situation, he'll sometimes fool hitters with a screwball. The reason Carlton's won-lost record has hovered around the .500 mark most of this season isn't because he's lost any of his stuff, insiders tell me, but because of an elbow problem.

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Two years ago I decided to take a shot at interviewing Carlton. Knowing that anything even remotely conventional wouldn't work, I waited until the visitors' locker room at Dodger Stadium was nearly empty, then approached Steve with a ball in my hand. ''I understand you grip your curveball differently than other pitchers,'' I said. Carlton agreed. ''Would you mind showing me where you place your fingers,'' I asked, handing him the ball. Steve started to rotate the ball, then suddenly but politely handed it back, said he had to go, and bolted for the trainer's room, which is off-limits to reporters. It wasn't the first time I hadn't gotten an interview I'd gone after. Yankee inconsistency baffles Zimmer

The New York Yankees' failure to keep up, let alone pull away in the American League East, prompted this comment from third-base coach Don Zimmer, former manager of the Padres, Red Sox, and Rangers:

''I don't know why the Yankees haven't been more consistent. On paper, our personnel seems to be as good as anybody's. But just when we think we've got it all together, like five or six wins in a row, we give it all back by losing two or three straight games. Recently we had a situation where two of the teams just ahead of us in the standings were playing each other. We had a chance to gain on those teams, right? Well, we didn't. While they were splitting a pair of games, we were beaten twice by Oakland. For us to have a chance of finishing first in our division at this point in the race, we'd have to win three of every four games we play between now and the end of the season.''

In what is probably another classic situation of too little too late, the Yankees last week traded two players to be named later to San Diego for pitcher John Montefusco. John, who was 9-4 with a 3.30 earned run average with the Padres, beat the California Angels in his first start in a New York uniform. Montefusco will be a free agent at the end of the year, but is expected to sign a multi-year contract with the Yankees well before that time. Strawberry makes batting leap

* Even though Darryl Strawberry's batting average isn't much, his 21 home runs to date are the most ever by a New York Mets rookie, breaking the record of 19 set by Ron Swoboda back in 1965. Strawberry, whom the Mets didn't pull out of their farm system until May, had a tough break-in period with the club and was hitting only .202 at the All-Star break. Since then Darryl has stayed right around .265.

''If New York hadn't decided to leave me in the minors at the end of spring training, I think I could have hit major league pitching right away,'' Strawberry explained. ''But it's twice as tough coming up after the season has started and not knowing any of the opposing pitchers or what they throw. Actually I'm just beginning to learn what it's all about.'' Tidbits from around the majors

* The Atlanta Braves, who apparently felt they needed one more starting pitcher for their National League West stretch battle against Los Angeles, have acquired right-hander Len Barker from the Cleveland Indians. Barker who had an 8 -13 record with Cleveland, was acquired for three players to be named later. One of those players is reportedly on the Braves' current roster. Barker will be a free agent at the end of the season.

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* General Manager Buzzie Bavasi of the California Angels is more than a little upset with his all-star centerfielder, Fred Lynn. Said Bavasi: ''Lynn never seems to want to play against left-handed pitching. I'm fed up with it, and I think some of his teammates are, too, at least those I've talked with are. Fred is a good fielder and when he's out of the lineup it hurts us.''

* Asked why a player hitting .370 in the minors will often lose 100 or even 150 points from his batting average once he's promoted to the majors, Manager Pat Corrales of the Cleveland Indians replied: ''A lot of it is the pressure that comes from being expected to deliver every day at the big-league level. Physically it's the same player with the same skills; only mentally the situation suddenly becomes too big to handle.''

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