With 22 wins in their last 24 games heading into the weekend, the Yankees are playing their best ball since 1953.

And with 19 wins in 25 games, the Boston Red Sox are staying close in the AL East.While it's way too early to say who will win the division, this much in clear: If the Yankees and Red Sox play like this for the next month, the second-place finisher will be virtually assured of the AL wild card.

Anticipation already is building for the first games of the season between the teams: May 22-24 at Fenway Park and May 28-31 at Yankee Stadium.

In their first 29 games, the Yankees had 46 steals and 32 homers. Since 1919, the Yankees have had more steals than homers in only three seasons: 1989 (137 steals, 130 homers), 1976 (163-120) and 1969 (119-94).

WOOD IN DEMAND: Kerry Wood's agents haven't had much free time since the Chicago Cubs rookie struck out 20 on Wednesday in just the fifth start of his major league career.

Alan and Randy Hendricks are used to the clamor. They also represent Roger Clemens, who was the only pitcher to fan 20 in nine innings before Wood's performance against Houston.

"This ain't our first rodeo," Alan Hendricks said.

Within 48 hours of the final out, Wood had received about two dozen endorsement offers, according to Hendricks.

WHY LUXURY BOXES MATTER: Seattle and Cleveland were in the playoffs last season, meaning they were among baseball's top eight teams.

They also happened to be the only clubs to release their 1997 financial statements, and a look at them shows what a difference a new ballpark makes.

Cleveland had operating revenue of $140 million and Seattle had just $78 million. The Indians, playing in Jacobs Field, which opened in 1994, took in $49.2 million from tickets, to $40.5 million for Seattle. And Cleveland had $17 million in broadcast revenue to $10 million for the Mariners.

SLOW POKES: With the season nearly 20 percent over, baseball's effort to speed up games has had little success.

Overall, the average time of a nine-inning game is 2 hours, 49 minutes, down less than 2 percent from last year's average of 2:52.

NL games have averaged 2:42, just 3.5 percent faster than the 2:48 average last year. AL games have averaged 2:56, one minute less than last year.

COMMISSIONER SEARCH: Not that many people think Bud Selig is leaving any time soon, but Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris, head of the commissioner search committee, says he may be ready to issue a recommendation to the ruling executive council when it meets in Seattle on June 9.

Given that McMorris originally said he hoped a commissioner would be in place by the 1997 World Series, that probably means the council won't forward any recommendations to full ownership until their meeting in September - or in January 1999 - or in March 1999.

Even then, many clubs are expected to refuse to consider any candidates, preferring to stay with Selig.

PAYROLL STANDINGS: Going into Saturday weekend, just two teams with a payroll under $40 million were above .500: Milwaukee and Anaheim. And just two teams with payrolls above $40 million were under .500: Toronto and Colorado.