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TIME KEEPS TICKING AWAY AND BRETT'S STILL 4 HITS SHY

Although he says his status has improved to "hour to hour," time is ticking away in George Brett's pursuit of 3,000 career hits.

The Kansas City Royals' designated hitter was unable to play Tuesday for the second straight game due to strained muscles in his left shoulder.With 2,996 career hits, he now has five games left this season to become the 18th major leaguer to get 3,000. Brett, 39, wants to hit the mark before the season is over, although he says he definitely will be back to finish the job in 1993 if he doesn't do it now.

As he had the two previous days, he was to test the shoulder today to see if the pain has eased enough for him to play against the California Angels.

"If I'm 80 percent and pain-free, I'll play," Brett said.

It took him just four swings at the batting tee Tuesday to realize his shoulder was still too sore for him to play.

The Royals close the four-game set at Anaheim Stadium Thursday afternoon before returning home to finish the season against Minnesota this weekend.

"I don't want it to come down to my last at-bat, not come down to needing four hits in three games; I want to get it done," Brett said.