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For Sox No-Hitter, a Fly Ball in the Ointment

IT is doubtful that a more suspenseful blow to spoil a no-hitter was ever struck than the one Chicago's Dan Pasqua drove to deep center field in Fenway Park last week. As it pierced Boston's night air, the fly ball spelled potentially big trouble for Red Sox pitcher Danny Darwin, who had been unhittable through 7-1/3 innings. Would it ruin Darwin's no-hitter and a shutout, too, by sailing into the seats for a home run?

Playing shallow to protect against a ball dropping in front of him, Boston's stocky center fielder Billy Hatcher gave chase, racing back, back, back. The significance of his pursuit was lost on no one. At the base of wall he leaped, his timing perhaps a split-second off, and saw the ball barely elude his glove and carom off the wall. Pasqua made it to third, but didn't score, as Darwin completed a one-hit shutout, and kept the skidding Red Sox from a fourth straight defeat.

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If Darwin had erased Pasqua's hit, he would have been the first Red Sox pitcher to turn in a no-hitter since Dave Morehead, a career 40-game winner, did it in 1965. Darwin, a 16-year veteran, had considered quitting baseball earlier this season. Would-be kings

In what seems to have become an annual rite, a number of college football experts are picking Florida State to finish the new season at or near the top of the national rankings. The fact is, the Seminoles have yet to win a national title. They continue to come exasperatingly close, winning 11 consecutive bowl games and securing top-four status each of the past six seasons. The University of Miami, their chief cross-state rival, keeps beating them. Miami has won seven of their last eight meetings, several

by narrow margins. Missed last-minute field goals cost the Seminoles a victory and a tie in 1991 and '92, respectively.

Florida State will help launch the '93 season when it meets Kansas Aug. 28 in the Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. Bargain-basement Padres

In an effort to remain afloat, the San Diego Padres have undergone a radical "downsizing," shrinking what was a team payroll of $24.5 million four months ago to about $10.5 million.

Some media critics have accused owner Tom Werner of stripping the franchise of major league talent, including 1992 National League home-run and batting champions Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield, respectively. The Padres's payroll is now the lowest in the majors, with 13 of 25 players earning the minimum wage of $109,000.

The cost-cutting is reflected in the team's performance. The Padres are 37 games out of first place, through Sunday, and, some say, a questionable major league entry. It is dangerous for the major leagues and a stark symbol of the upstairs/downstairs dichotomy between the deep-pocketed teams in major markets (with huge TV revenues) and those of significantly lesser means in smaller markets. It is the game's most pressing current issue, and the one that has made revenue-sharing the focus of recent owners'

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meetings. Touching other bases

* Little League baseball has had to crack down again on countries trying to enter loaded teams in its World Series. Earlier this month, Taiwan and the Dominican Republic joined Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines in being disqualified from the tournament (now under way in Williamsport, Pa.) for using ineligible players. The Filipino team was stripped of the championship last year for doing the same thing. The Dominican team had over-age players, while the Taiwanese squad was drawn from a larger playe r pool than allowed. Asian teams take youth baseball seriously and have won the title 20 of the last 26 years.

* As major cities go, Manchester, England, ranks pretty low in glamour. So why does Bob Scott, chairman of Manchester's bid committee for the 2000 Olympic Games, think the rainy, industrial metropolis is in serious contention with Sydney and Beijing? "We don't believe it's a competition between postcards," he says. British Prime Minister John Major obviously takes the bid seriously: He's made plans to be in Monte Carlo in September to push Manchester's bid at a meeting of the International Olympic Commit tee.

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