08/31/2004 11:00PM

Some tempting NL longshots

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What a difference two weeks makes.

On Aug. 16, the Yankees led the Red Sox by 10 1/2 games in the AL East. As of Tuesday night, the Yankees' lead was down to 3 1/2 games, and we might actually have a pennant race on our hands. It's too bad that Las Vegas sports books took down their divisional odds long ago, otherwise those who bet the Red Sox when they were down would be holding some huge tickets. Don't be surprised to see casinos post odds in the next week or so on the Yankees-Red Sox race.

All sports books still have World Series futures, and most still offer odds to win the AL and NL. Teams like the Yankees and Red Sox have been among the favorites all season, and they're priced too low (Yankees at even money to win the AL pennant and 2-1 to win the World Series, according to Las Vegas Sports Consultants, and the Red Sox at 5-2 and 9-2), but there's still some potential value on the senior circuit.

The red-hot Astros and the Marlins are back in the NL wild-card race. Two weeks ago, I mentioned that the Marlins, who made a late-season run last year, were available at between 20-1 and 30-1. Well, they're still available at 20-1 to win the NL and 40-1 to win the World Series. The Astros - even though they were also only three games behind wild-card leaders Cubs and Giants - are listed at 35-1 to win the NL and 70-1 to win the World Series.

They might be worth a stab.

Jeremy shows his standards

Later this month, on Sept. 25, ESPN will premiere the movie "Hustle," its production of Pete Rose's rise to fame in baseball and his banishment for gambling on the game.

The promos come as Jeremy Roenick of the Philadelphia Flyers has been getting asked hard questions after his name turned up as a client of National Sports Services, a Florida-based company that was raided last month for claiming to provide inside information to bettors. Roenick said he bet only on football and basketball, and even invoked the name of Rose in his defense that he never bet on hockey.

"It would be the stupidest thing in the world," Roenick said in an interview with ESPN's Steve Levy. "Everyone knows Pete Rose and what happened."

Roenick, who police estimated spent $100,000 on selections, though he says it was closer to $50,000, claimed that he does not have have a gambling problem and is embarrassed by the situation and that he has quit cold turkey. When asked when was the last time he made a football bet, Roenick said "January."

At least it shows he's not such an addict that he hasn't been able to resist the temptation to bet on Arena Football or NFL Europe.

Mandalay Bay packing them in

The NFL regular season is still one week away, but Las Vegas's sports books will be crowded this weekend with college fans and bettors.

"Last Saturday, for just the USC game, we had so many people in here you couldn't see the carpet," said Mandalay Bay's race and sports book director, Tom Capics. "This Saturday is going to be crazy."

Especially at his place. In addition to the full slate of college games, Mandalay Bay is hosting an exciting boxing card on Saturday night, so the book will be full of not only football fans but fight fans, too.

It's actually a twin bill, as Lamon Brewster puts his WBO heavyweight belt on the line vs. Kali Meehan, and Cory Spinks and Miguel Angel Gonzalez battle for the undisputed welterweight title.

Capics opened Brewster as a -800 favorite (risk $8 to win $1) over Meehan and it has been bet down to -750, with the buyback on Meehan at +500. Spinks opened and remains a -700 favorite.

Race and sports book notes

* This Friday night the last drawings will be held for Station Casinos' trip to Del Mar on Labor Day. Bettors earn a drawing ticket for every $20 race wager at the main stations: Palace, Boulder, Texas, Sunset, Green Valley Ranch, and Santa Fe. Drawings will be held at the conclusion of Del Mar's Friday card. There will also be drawings for $300 and $200 cash at each property.

* The field of the Stardust Invitational had a shake-up as Dave Cokin and Bob Donahue withdrew from the tournament. They were replaced by handicapper Rob Veno and independent oddsmaker Cesar Robaina. The first matchup of the $10,000 winner-take-all single-elimination tournament takes place next Friday night, Sept. 10, with defending champion David Stratton taking on single-named professional bettor Fezzik. The second week, Sept. 17, will pit former Steve Wynn sports book director Jimmy Vaccaro (the Mirage) vs. future Wynn sports book director Vincent Magliulo (Wynn Las Vegas, to be opened April 28).