Belle hits on a solution as easy as 1-2-3

July 26, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

You see, it's very simple. Albert Belle can sleepwalk against Cuba, dog it in the outfield, snap at his manager. He can fail to run out grounders, post insubordinate petitions, even flip off fans.

He can do all that and more in a town desperate to love and be loved, a town willing to forgive just about anything from their beloved Orioles.

None of it will matter, as long as Belle hits.

That, above all, was his problem until his three-homer detonation yesterday in the Orioles' 8-7 victory over Anaheim in 11 innings: He wasn't hitting as expected, particularly with runners in scoring position, his specialty in the past.

Well, Belle finally delivered an electrifying clutch performance, hitting a two-run homer to pull the Orioles within 3-2, a three-run shot to pull them within 7-6 and an opposite-field blast off Troy Percival to tie the score with two outs in the ninth.

By the 11th, the remnants of the crowd of 44,724 actually were chanting, "Al-bert! Al-bert!" in response to a classic Belle sequence that didn't exactly enhance Japanese-American relations.

Then again, maybe Japanese right-hander Shigetoshi Hasegawa should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. By hitting Belle, he turned the fans in favor of a player that they had come to despise.

They show me no love, they show me love, they show me no love

THEY LOVE ME!

"Actually, I was shocked," Belle said at a post-game news conference. "That's the way it's happened before -- you do bad, they boo you; you do good, they cheer for you.

"Actually, I'm disappointed that it's come to a time when they boo me. But it's a long season. I'm not going to get a hit every time in clutch situations, but over the course of the season I'll get a lot of clutch hits.

"And then to turn around and have the nerve to cheer for you that's the way baseball goes."

Yes it is, especially when you're earning $65 million and playing as if you received a five-year jail sentence rather than one of the most lucrative contracts in major-league history.

Who cares if Belle waived his no-trade clause? He's a walking no-trade clause.

But naturally, the fans rallied behind him after he produced his first three-homer game in more than four years, then got drilled with the first pitch thrown by Hasegawa in the 11th inning.

How fitting that the Orioles wore the black and gray of the Oakland Raiders on "Turn Ahead the Clock Day." For a moment there, it looked like Belle was going to turn into Jack Tatum.

It took a village -- specifically, umpire Ed Hickox, manager Ray Miller and first base coach Marv Foley -- to persuade Belle to leave the batter's box and take first base.

What did Belle say to Angels catcher Matt Walbeck?

"I don't know," Walbeck said. "You'll have to ask him."

Shockingly, Belle was available to answer, breaking a 4 1/2-month silence with local reporters by inviting them for coffee and cake in the third-floor media lounge.

All right, so he skipped the refreshments.

Next time, OK?

"I just told Walbeck to go out there and tell Hasegawa to throw over the plate," he said. "I mean, I don't speak Japanese so I don't think he could understand if I was yelling at him.

"So, I told Matt Walbeck to go out there and tell him in Japanese to throw the ball over the plate. And I told the umpire and Ray [Miller] I wasn't going to fight."

Fight?

Belle is a hitter, not a fighter.

For the record, Hasegawa speaks English. He said that he heard Belle deny getting hit to Hickox. But he claimed not to hear the profanities the slugger shouted at him after reaching first base.

Belle, reviving a stunt he successfully pulled off last season, attempted to continue his at-bat, telling Hickox, "I'm not going to first. I'm not going to first."

"I kind of smiled because you could understand it as a hitter," Anaheim first baseman Mo Vaughn said. "I would have been the same way. You want to be up there in a situation like that."

Belle was so agitated, he disregarded that B. J. Surhoff represented the winning run at second base with one out. Jeff Conine, Will Clark and Cal Ripken were the next three hitters, but Belle evidently wanted to drive in Surhoff himself.

Team guy that he is, Belle relented after Hickox threatened to eject him -- and after Miller told him he needed Belle to stay in the game, seeing as how the Orioles were out of position players.

"Ray thought I wanted to go out to the mound, but I told him I wanted to stay and hit," Belle said. "I knew we were short on players. I'm not going to disappoint my teammates -- these are the guys I go to battle with on an everyday basis."

Miller sounded less convinced.

"We have a little understanding from the beginning of the year," he said. "If I get my hands on him, that means he has to calm down."

Which leads to a question:

Is Miller a manager, a baby sitter or a lion tamer?

In any case, Miller didn't quite portray Belle as a victim.

He said that if Conine had hit a ground ball with Belle on first, "there would have been a dead middle infielder out there."

And he said that he went directly to Belle after the winning run scored, "because I thought he was going right to the middle of their dugout.

"Albert's never really out of control. But when he gets mad, something's going to get hurt," Miller said.

Well, something got hurt yesterday, and somehow it was fitting that Belle struck down Angels.

"Al-bert! Al-bert!" the crowd chanted.

And if he continues to hit?

"Four more years! Four more years!"

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