Williams survives change, pain, slump Indians third baseman calls inconsistent year 'toughest' of his career

October 24, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians' postseason media guide introduces Matt Williams by saying what began as a frustrating season turned into one of the most productive years of his career. Ask Williams, and he has a different version.

"It's probably been the toughest year I've ever been through," he said.

Acquired in a trade with the San Francisco Giants that had Bay area fans howling in disapproval, Williams finished the regular season with a .263 average, 32 homers and 105 RBIs, and won his fourth Gold Glove at third base. He endured the pain of a bone bruise on the middle finger of his right hand, and taxing slumps that including a .181 average in June and resulted in him being dropped from the cleanup spot.

He was given another chance to feel better about his season, with the Indians reaching the World Series, and has responded with a .400 average, one home run and seven runs scored.

"I never saw Matt lose his focus during a ballgame," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said. "I never saw Matt make excuses for anything. All I did was see Matt Williams show up every day to play. He played hard and played to win, and he expected everybody around him to do the same thing. And I like people like that."

Williams said his year has been "inconsistent professionally, tough personally. It hasn't been good." He wouldn't elaborate.

"Matt is a private person and I think that we all should respect that privacy," Hargrove said.

"I'm not going to get into my personal business," Williams said, "but as far as professionally, it was just inconsistent. I had good weeks and bad weeks, and every baseball player wants to be as consistent as he possibly can. You help your team more in that fashion."

He's helping the Indians now, when they need it most. Williams tied a World Series record in Game 4 by reaching base five times (three hits, two walks). The last player to do it was Cincinnati's Billy Hatcher (four hits, one walk) in Game 2 of the 1990 Series.

Hot Eisenreich takes seat

Florida manager Jim Leyland sat down one of his hottest hitters, using Darren Daulton as his designated hitter instead of Jim Eisenreich, and playing Jeff Conine at first base.

Eisenreich had started the past two nights, going 4-for-6 with a home run, three RBIs and a walk. His two-run homer in the sixth inning of Game 3 reduced Cleveland's lead to 7-5 and began a Marlins rally toward a 14-11 win.

Leyland said he went with the right-handed hitting Conine because he's batting .437 against Indians right-hander Orel Hershiser and gives the Marlins better defense at first than Daulton, a converted catcher who has had nine knee operations.

"We've been a little sloppy," Leyland said.

Daulton has been on a roll, going 7-for-15 in this series, including two doubles, home run and seven runs scored. In the end, his numbers won out over Eisenreich's.

White's struggles continue

The Marlins are batting .272 in the Series but haven't gotten much production from the leadoff spot. Veteran Devon White was 3-for-18 (.167) with seven strikeouts before going 2-for-4 last night. He struck out four times in Game 4 -- one shy of the Series record set by New York Yankees pitcher George Pipgras in 1932 -- and tied a Series record with five straight before last night.

It's the continuation of a difficult postseason for White, who has only 11 hits in 54 at-bats (.203) with 17 strikeouts, though he remains atop the Marlins order. He did hit a grand slam that clinched the NL Division Series against the Giants.

White said he's not "trusting" his hands.

"He's getting the body going," Leyland said, "but he's charging a little bit. He swung at some bad balls [Wednesday] when he had the count in his favor."

Asked if he was concerned about White, Leyland said, "Devon is fine."

Extra, read all about him

That extra pitcher Hargrove added keeps benefiting the Indians.

Left-hander Brian Anderson joined the roster for the AL Championship Series, and he has allowed only two earned runs in 9 2/3 innings spanning five appearances. He was credited with a save in Game 4, giving up one hit and walking none in three shutout innings. It was the first three-inning save in the World Series since Atlanta's Mike Stanton in 1992's Game 5 at Toronto.

"We've been having a little inconsistency trying to get to [Paul] Assenmacher and [Mike] Jackson. Brian has helped us bridge that gap, and that means a lot," Hargrove said.

"We were able to really save our bullpen [Wednesday] night because Brian was able to come in and pitch well for us. He's been a valuable addition to it and we're glad he's on our side."

That's certainly true of rookie Jaret Wright, who went the first six innings Wednesday and left with a 6-3 lead. Anderson also replaced Wright after three innings of Game 4 of the ALCS against the Orioles and retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced, biding time until the Indians rallied to win.

"I'll probably take him out to dinner or something like that," Wright said.

Cook on streak at right time

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