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OTHERS HAVE SPRING FLING, YANKS FALL

He may not see Barry Bonds on a baseball diamond until July, but for now we have Brian Roberts.

Yes, Roberts, the Baltimore Orioles second baseman. He's on fire, battling Alex Rodriguez himself for the American League home run lead; blasting hits all over the field; helping to push the Orioles into a surprising lead in the AL East.

Laugh if you must, pointing out that he recently came down to earth with a 0-for-13 trip into the dumpster, but Roberts immediately levitated again with a 7-for-14 rip. This career .270 hitter with a four-year total of 12 home runs and a four-season average of 31 RBIs entered today's series finale against Tampa Bay with a .379 average, eight homers and 26 RBIs. He had a .417 career average against Tampa Bay coming into the weekend.

Roberts is far from the only baseball surprise. Check out Derrek Lee, the solid if unspectacular first baseman for the Cubs. Lee has power, but he's never driven in as many as 100 runs in a season. Right now he's Sammy Sosa without the hip-hop and the blown kisses to the heavens.

In eight previous National League seasons, mostly with the Florida Marlins, Lee never hit .300 or above. He did average 28 home runs in his last five seasons, but if this season had ended Wednesday, he would have won the league's triple crown for average, RBIs and homers.

There are other strange things happening. Last week, the Detroit Tigers, dormant for years, started a lineup in which every man was hitting .300 or better. The Chicago White Sox, with a team makeover based on pitching, speed and defense, are streaking.

In the National League, the Arizona Diamondbacks were supposed to be starting over from scratch after a 51-111 season. Instead, they went trading and free-agent signing, and they entered the weekend with the best home record in baseball as well as the lead in the NL West.

Strangest of all is the plight of the Yankees, who had a losing April. Not only can't they win on the road, they don't have a winning record in Yankee Stadium. When A-Rod had that three-homer, 10-RBI day against Anaheim last week the conventional wisdom was the Yankees had found their way, that first place was just a few days away. No sooner had they found their stride than they began stumbling once again.

Hideki Matsui, who, along with Gary Sheffield, has constituted whatever constants were in the Yankee batting order since opening day, fell into a 1-for-13 slump. Neither first baseman/designated hitter Jason Giambi nor Tino Martinez could reach .250, much less .300. Bernie Williams is looking his age, 36, at the plate and in the field.

What's wrong with this team? What's the explanation for this topsy-turvy time in baseball?

There is an easy answer: It's May Day!

Crazy stuff almost always happens in baseball during April and May. By Mother's Day, Roberts is likely to resume his previous role as a middle-of-the-road second baseman with a skill for stealing bases. Lee isn't going to win the National League triple crown. He may not even hit .300 for the first time, but he's a near-cinch to break 100 RBIs.

The Tigers will cool off, but they'll be troublesome. The White Sox may win the American League's Central Division, but they're unlikely to run away with it. The Diamondbacks will win more than 51 games but less than 70.

Which brings us to the Yankees. The expectation was they would battle Boston right to the end in the American League East. The trouble with that expectation is that the division may be a lot more competitive than anyone expected, and the Yankees may have to do a lot of scrounging for victories before they can battle anyone at the end.

There is way too much age on this roster. Kevin Brown was always a curmudgeon, but now his cranky ways are more difficult to take with his ERA at 6.63. Randy Johnson is still worth a strikeout an inning, but his quirky personality may not be fit for a pennant run in New York with all its media pressure. Mike Mussina has been slipping for a couple of seasons, and now he's 36.

I doubt whether Mariano Rivera's few blown saves were anything more than an April happening, but the Yankees' trouble now is how to get to Rivera with a lead.

But let's remember that the trees aren't fully green yet.

Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.