Indians' turnabout leaves them boggled

ON BASEBALL

May 05, 2002|By PETER SCHMUCK | PETER SCHMUCK,SUN STAFF

The Cleveland Indians are on their way to Baltimore to open a three-game series at Camden Yards tomorrow night. The Orioles can only hope they don't bring the law of averages with them.

The Indians got off to an impressive 11-1 start and looked as if they were going to run right off with the American League Central title. They entered the weekend in the throes of a two-week, 2-14 slump that has dropped them into third place and clearly shaken their confidence.

"When you go through bad times like this, usually one part of your game bails you out," said first baseman Jim Thome. "But we haven't pitched, hit or played good defense."

Manager Charlie Manuel said Tuesday that the team had hit rock bottom when it was buried by the Anaheim Angels, 21-2 - the third-worst loss in club history - but the Indians were outscored 15-2 in the final two games of the series.

During the 16-game slump (through Thursday), the defense has made 16 errors, the offense has batted just .224 and the pitching staff has seen its combined ERA climb from 3.20 to 5.33.

The upside: The Indians, like the Orioles, are in the midst of a long string of games against teams with sub-.500 records, so there is hope that they'll right themselves.

If they don't, Manuel could be the next guy on the managerial hot seat, though general manager Mark Shapiro insists that he is not contemplating a change.

"Charlie has showed good enthusiasm and energy," Shapiro told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I've been pleased with him and the staff. They can't do anything more."

Should the situation continue to sour, however, it would not be a major surprise if former Orioles star Eddie Murray gets the chance to manage the team for the remainder of the season.

Who's next?

The managerial dominoes have been falling with unprecedented frequency during the early weeks of the season, which has only increased speculation about pending changes in several other franchises.

The Chicago Cubs, for instance, are off to a disappointing start after apparently upgrading the starting lineup with the midseason acquisition of Fred McGriff last year and the off-season addition of free agent Moises Alou. Manager Don Baylor clearly is one of the managers on the hot seat, but club president Andy MacPhail refuses to discuss the situation.

"That has become the baseball equivalent question to `Have you stopped beating your wife?' " MacPhail told the Chicago Sun-Times. "There's no way to answer it that doesn't somehow keep the discussion going that really has no business going. If we say there is no issue, then it is the dreaded vote of confidence. If we say we don't want to talk about it, then everybody thinks something is imminent. Really, we are just trying to get ourselves turned around and play the type of baseball we know we are capable of playing. And I am pretty confident that is going to happen."

Tough break for B.J.

Former Orioles outfielder B.J. Surhoff will be out for the season after tests confirmed that he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Now, the question is whether he'll attempt to continue his career next year.

Surhoff, at 37, could decide that it's time to retire and spend more time with his family, which still resides in the Baltimore area. If he does, there likely would be a job in the Orioles organization if he wants one. He has long been a favorite of owner Peter Angelos.

Who knows? He could even end up coming to camp with the Orioles next spring.

Hurdle-mania

The Colorado Rockies entered the weekend on a six-game winning streak that dated to the day that Clint Hurdle replaced Buddy Bell as manager, but the veteran players in the clubhouse know that there is more to a real turnaround than changing one piece of the puzzle.

"I don't know if it's Hurdle-mania, but I think it was a wake-up call as much as anything else," Rockies pitcher Denny Neagle. "Everyone in this room who's smart enough realizes it was not Buddy Bell's fault. It was our fault. Yes, sometimes it's nice when you have a change of pace and fresh start, but it's also a wake-up call that told us, `We better get it in gear here. They made a change because we weren't getting it done.' "

Clothing arguments

We're not making this up. Seattle Mariners fan Dave Chesson has asked the American Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit on his behalf because he was prohibited from wearing a T-shirt at Safeco Field with a vulgarity referring to the New York Yankees.

Mariners security personnel insisted he remove the T-shirt because it violated the stadium's code of conduct, which apparently is a bit more stringent than, say, the code of conduct at Yankee Stadium.

This probably won't reach the Supreme Court, but local ACLU official Doug Honig expressed support for Chesson's position.

"Insulting the other team is part of baseball," he said.

Two of a kind

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