TORONTO -- Gene Lamont had to be the most relieved person in SkyDome when Game 3 of the American League Championship Series began last night.
For the second straight day, Lamont found it necessary to reveal his unhappiness with a disgruntled ballplayer. This time it was George Bell, who may have talked his way out of Chicago even faster than anticipated.
Long after Thursday's off-day workout, Bell vented his frustration to a Toronto writer, with Lamont the sole target of his criticism. "I don't respect Gene Lamont as a manager or a man," Bell told Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun.
"What he's doing to me is cruel. He's not showing me any respect. I'm not the only unhappy guy in the clubhouse. There are 10 or 11," said Bell, who refused to name any of the others, saying, "I only speak for myself."
Lamont joins a long list of managers who have displeased Bell. Previously his most celebrated battle had been with former Blue Jays manager Jimy Williams (now the third-base coach for the Atlanta Braves). They had numerous clashes over the decision to move Bell from left field to designated hitter. Eventually both were gone, with Williams replaced by current manager Cito Gaston in 1989.
In his attack on Lamont, Bell claimed he wanted to clear the air to "defend myself." And the White Sox manager wasted no time replying.
After calling Bell into his office for a private chat, Lamont held a news conference while the White Sox were taking batting practice before last night's game.
"I didn't call him [after reading the comments in the paper]," said Lamont, "because I wanted to talk to him face-to-face -- look him in the eyes.
"I told him I didn't appreciate what he had to say. George is entitled to his opinion, but I feel he bit the hand of one of his biggest boosters."
Bell indicated that Lamont had gone back on his word, a charge the manager denied.
"I had the knee operation [during the summer] and busted my butt to get back on time," Bell was quoted as saying. "They told me they wanted me ready for the playoffs. And this . . . nothing."
Lamont, however, said the White Sox didn't tell Bell to get ready for the playoffs. "We told him to get ready for September," said Lamont.
Bell, who finished with the worst numbers of his career, hitting .217 and finishing the season in an 0-for-23 slump, said he felt he shouldn't be judged by how he finished the season.
"I live for situations like this," he was quoted as saying. "I should be in the lineup. Geno is treating me like a two-year player. Geno was over in that Triple-A league when I had my best years, so he doesn't know what I can do."
Bell, who refused to talk to the media at Thursday's workout and again before batting practice last night, did not soften his criticism of Lamont on a pre-game interview on Canadian TV. "I don't want to be selfish," he said, "but I'm not the only one -- 48 percent of the players on this team are mad."
Stottlemyre still starting
Despite an 11-12 regular-season record, Todd Stottlemyre didn't lose his spot in the Blue Jays' starting rotation for postseason play.
A year ago, Stottlemyre was an effective setup man in the bullpen when the Blue Jays won their first World Series title.
He was headed for a similar assignment this year until Jack Morris was sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Even though his overall record doesn't support it, Stottlemyre is viewed as a big-game pitcher by the Blue Jays.
That reputation dates back to his performance against the Orioles in a 2-1, 11-inning victory that enabled the Blue Jays to clinch a tie for the American League East title on the third-to-last day of the season in 1989.
"I take that as a compliment," said Stottlemyre. "Any time you have the confidence of your teammates, there's nothing more you can ask. Beyond that, there's not a whole lot that matters.
"Last season [when he lost his starting spot during the playoffs] I felt like the last six weeks of the season was as good as I had been all year. This year, the last seven to 10 starts, I probably threw as good as any time I did all year. But I was ready to respect whatever decision Cito was going to make.
"Right now, I'm more excited than surprised to start tomorrow night [tonight]," said Stottlemyre, who lost his last two starts. He gave up five first-inning runs in a loss to the Yankees Sept. 26, and the Blue Jays had to wait another day to clinch their third straight division title.
Stottlemyre, who has an 0-2 American League Championship Series record, made five postseason appearances last year, allowing only one run in 7 1/3 innings.
Rookie ready for pressure
Stottlemyre's opponent, rookie right-hander Jason Bere, won his last nine decisions during the regular season. He said he won't be fazed by the White Sox's situation.
"I've pitched under pressure all season and for the most part, I've handled it pretty well," he said. "I just have to go out there and block everything out.
"Nothing prepares you for this moment. Playing Wiffle ball in the back yard, 3-and-2, bases loaded, two outs, is probably the closest thing. But that's not reality . . . this is reality," said Bere, who did not face the Blue Jays this year.
Hacker's first pitch
Rich Hacker, the Blue Jays' popular third-base coach who was seriously injured in an automobile accident during the All-Star break, threw out the first ball last night.
Hacker suffered severe head and ankle injuries while driving home from the St. Louis airport on July 11. He has made a remarkable comeback and hopes to return to the coaching box next year.
AL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
CHICAGO WHITE SOX vs. TORONTO BLUE JAYS Blue Jays lead series, 2-1 Gm. Result
Blue Jays 7, White Sox 3
2 Blue Jays 3, White Sox 1
3 White Sox 6, Blue Jays 1
Gm. Date Site Time
4 Tonight Toronto 8:12
5 Tomorrow Toronto 4:10
6* Tuesday Chicago 8:12
7* Wednesday Chicago 8:12
TV: All games on chs. 11, 9