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Not-so-funny thing happened to Martinez, Dodgers on way to title

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Los Angeles Dodgers are trying to solve the mystery of Ramon Martinez, who has hit a giant pothole on the road to the National League Cy Young Award.

Martinez (16-11) will start today's season series finale against the Atlanta Braves, no doubt hoping to pull out of a lengthy slump in time to give the Dodgers a very important victory. Trouble is, nobody really knows what's wrong.

Six weeks ago, he was one of the most overpowering pitchers in baseball, and the Dodgers were cruising to a division title. Since Aug. 6, he is 2-6 with a 6.38 ERA, and the club has allowed the Braves back into the race.

The most popular theory is that he is suffering from a tired arm, though he has not approached the 234 1/3 innings he pitched on the way to a 20-6 record in 1990.

"If I was tired," Martinez said, "I would say that I was tired. I am fine. I am not hurt. Nothing hurts. I've just had a couple of bad days, but I'll come out of it."

He shouldn't be tired today. Manager Tom Lasorda gave him a full week's rest after he was shelled in the early innings of last Sunday's loss to the Braves at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

In spite of Martinez's disappointing performance, the Dodgers have picked up the pace considerably to counter the late challenge from the Braves. The club had been waiting all year for the heart of the lineup to get into sync, and Kal Daniels, Eddie Murray and Darryl Strawberry picked a good time to pull together.

In the first 18 games of September, the three of them combined for 12 home runs and 55 RBI. That's an average of an RBI a game for each.

The Braves continue to play well, but the chemistry of their lineup was altered dramatically by the loss of major-league stolen-base leader Otis Nixon to a drug-related suspension.

Jose Canseco, whose agent recently asked the Oakland Athletics to trade him, told reporters last week that he doesn't really want to leave, but he doesn't want to put up with the abuse he has been taking from the fans.

"It's up to the fans," he said. "I hope they respond before [general manager] Sandy Alderson does. This is something that has been bothering me a long time. I had a slow start, and the fans booed me. They didn't remember what I've done in the past.

"The last homestand, I had to have three fans ejected from right field. They called me a homosexual, and that's the only thing they said that you can print. If my wife can't go to the ballpark, I don't want to be there."

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The Cleveland Indians don't know what to do with former stopper Doug Jones, who has a 2-0 record and a 1.62 ERA after his first two major-league starts.

Jones, who struck out 13 Detroit Tigers in eight innings Tuesday, was outrighted by the club earlier this year after a horrendous half-season in the bullpen. But he built up his arm strength with the Class AAA Colorado Springs Sky Sox and has returned to put the club in a difficult situation.

He will earn more than $2 million for the 1991 season. The Indians would have to pay him at least $1.6 million (assuming the maximum allowable salary cut of 20 percent) to bring him back next year. That's a lot of money for an unproven starter or a long reliever, even by today's standards.

Jones will remain in the rotation and make three more starts this year. If he continues to do well, the Indians could try to trade him

this winter.

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The Tigers entered last night's game with a 6-14 record since Aug. 27, when the club was tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for first place in the American League East. That includes the second three-game sweep they suffered at Cleveland Stadium this year.

The Indians went 6-0 at home against the Tigers for the first time in franchise history, but Detroit manager Sparky Anderson isn't ready to credit Cleveland with knocking his team out of the playoffs.

"Cleveland has never given us trouble," he said. "I guess they've turned things around. But I won't look back at these six games. The games I'll look back at are what we've done since we were tied for first place."

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There was a lot of wishful thinking going on last week in Boston, where a rumor surfaced that the Red Sox were trying to reacquire outfielder Dwight Evans from the Baltimore Orioles.

"Nobody has said anything to me about that," Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman told The Boston Globe. "What would we do with him?"

Evans has proven to be healthy, and he is a proven hitter, especially in clutch situations. The Red Sox have suffered a series of recent personnel losses, including outfielders Ellis Burks and Mike Greenwell, but they don't seem particularly interested in bringing Evans back.

"Apparently, there hasn't been an official inquiry between Lou and the Orioles, or Lou would have mentioned it to me," Red Sox president John Harrington told the Globe. "We've heard talk from fans about [Evans'] coming back. I think what might have started it is Greenwell's injury. To be honest, we've heard talk about Dwight even when we were in Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame induction."

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Remember how moving to the outfield seemed to take the life out of Randy Milligan at the plate? Well, there apparently are two sides to every story.

New York Mets slugger Howard Johnson has changed positions again, and it has been reflected in his batting average, but not FTC the same way it affected Milligan.

Since Johnson moved from the infield to the outfield, his offensive production has increased -- and it wasn't too bad to begin with. In his first 14 games in right field, he batted .353 with six home runs and 17 runs scored.

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Trivia quiz: With his 30th home run on Wednesday, Cal Ripken became the sixth American League player in the past 50 years to have 30 homers and 40 doubles in the same season. Two of the other five players to perform the feat are former Orioles, though neither did it in an Orioles uniform. Name them.

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San Francisco Giants manager Roger Craig, who underwent an angioplasty last week to open clogged arteries around his heart, has indicated that he intends to return to his job next year.

Craig met recently with club owner Bob Lurie and president Al Rosen, who apparently assured him that he will be the Giants' manager in 1992 if he chooses to come back.

"They told me they want me back next year," he said. "They told me it's up to me. They told me to take all the time I need.

"I always said I wanted to manage as long as I was having fun and as long as I had my health. This year hasn't been much fun and it hasn't been the healthiest, but I don't know if I'd be any healthier if I was retired and living on my ranch."

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The Orioles don't seriously believe that Chito Martinez will be the American League Rookie of the Year, but, just for fun, the public relations department has sent out bags of Cheetos cheese puffs to selected baseball writers in each major-league city to enhance Martinez's name recognition.

Martinez got the nickname from his grandmother -- not the snack food -- but if he establishes himself in the major leagues, don't be surprised if he shows up in a commercial for "the cheese that goes crunch."

The news release also asks potential Rookie of the Year voters to consider third baseman Leo Gomez, who leads all major-league rookies with 15 home runs and has made just one error in his past 70 games.

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The Chicago White Sox got a scare last Sunday when their charter plane from Ontario, Calif., to Chicago blew an engine and had to make an emergency landing in Des Moines, Iowa.

"It was the first time I've ever seen Ozzie Guillen quiet," said reliever Donn Pall.

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The White Sox refuse to count themselves out of the AL West race, even though it would take a collapse of the magnitude of the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies to keep the Minnesota Twins out of the playoffs.

"We still have a shot," pitcher Jack McDowell said. "We play the Twins six times, and they play Toronto six times."

The White Sox, who will be playing the Seattle Mariners while the Twins take on the Blue Jays, probably would have to take five of the six head-to-head meetings with the Twins to have a realistic chance of winning the division title.

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Trivia answer: If you got this one without spending six hours with The Baseball Encyclopedia," you probably could hold your own in a trivia contest with Phil Wood. The two former Orioles to hit 30 homers and 40 doubles in one season were Fred Lynn, who did it for the Red Sox in 1979, and Doug DeCinces, for the California Angels in 1982. The other three to do it in the past 50 years are Joe Carter (1991), Don Mattingly (1985-86) and Tony Oliva (1964).

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