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Another controversy uncorked


CLEVELAND -- And now, we await the next verdict.

Albert Belle, take the stand.

The Boston Red Sox asked the umpires to confiscate Belle's bat after his 11th-inning home run tied the score in last night's playoff opener.

Belle responded by screaming from the dugout and pointing to his right biceps as the source of his power.

At 1:41 a.m. the media received copies of the rules concerning "Legal Bat Criteria." And the game still wasn't over.

It will be remembered for lasting longer than the Simpson deliberations, for the home runs by Boston's Tim Naehring and then Belle in the 11th and of course for Batgate II -- Albert Revisited.

X-rays, please!

Belle came up again with runners on first and third and one out in the 12th, but the Red Sox were terrified of him even with a different bat, and walked him intentionally.

What was left of the sellout crowd chanted "Ed-die, Ed-die," and Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy summoned left-hander Zane Smith -- his seventh pitcher -- to force Murray to hit from the right side.

Murray grounded to third with the infield in, and the Red Sox got the force at home. Jim Thome then grounded to first to end the inning, and the game didn't end until Tony Pena's two-out homer off Smith in the 13th at 2:08 a.m.

But back to the defendant.

Belle just became the first player in history to hit 50 homers and 50 doubles in one season, and his two-run double in the sixth last night tied the score.

The Red Sox are suspicious, or desperate, or both. Belle was suspended seven games last July for suspicion of corking, but what are the chances that will happen again?

Frankly, the bigger loss in this series might turn out to be Aguilera, the Red Sox closer who left the game with an apparent pulled groin later in the 11th inning.

There were two rain delays. It poured off and on all night. Groundskeepers repeatedly added dirt to the mound in the late innings. Aguilera injured himself throwing a pitch to Manny Ramirez, and left the game on a 1-1 count to Pena two batters later.

For the Indians, Jim Poole struck out Dwayne Hosey and Mo Vaughn in the 12th before yielding to the Indians' seventh pitcher, Ken Hill. That's right, Ken Hill, the guy who opened the season as St. Louis' No. 1 starter.

How wild was it?

Jose Canseco and Vaughn went 0-for-12 with four strikeouts. But No. 9 hitter Luis Alicea was 4-for-5 with a leadoff home run in the eighth that tied the score.

Whatever, the pleasure of facing Belle now falls to Erik Hanson, who is 3-0 against the Indians this season, but has yet to face them in a game of this magnitude. Meanwhile, Cleveland's Orel Hershiser has won his last four starts, with a 2.45 ERA.

Hershiser tied Charles Nagy for the club lead with 16 victories, his most since winning 23 for the '88 Dodgers. This is the best he has thrown since then, and since undergoing reconstructive shoulder surgery in '90.

Asked where he stood compared to '88, Hershiser said, "I'm very, very close. I was clocked my last start at 93 mph on one pitch. The game before, I had four or five pitches at 91.

"I'm averaging between 87 and 90 mph. Those numbers were just unheard of a year ago. When you can create that kind of arm speed, it gives you more movement, enables your ball to break sharper."

Hershiser went 3-0 in the '88 postseason, with shutouts in both the NLCS and World Series. He's 37 now, playing for a team far superior to that Dodgers club. And he's just the pitcher you'd want to put the Indians up 2-0.

Roger Clemens should be so lucky.

One-for-nine, that's Clemens in the postseason. One victory in nine career starts. Dave Stewart and Jack Morris are the pre-eminent October pitchers of this era. For one reason or another, Clemens hasn't gotten wins.

It wasn't his fault last night. Clemens held the highest-scoring team in baseball to three runs in seven innings, three runs on five hits. If not for one pivotal sequence in the sixth, this game might have ended a lot earlier.

The play occurred on Belle's double. Red Sox catcher Mike Macfarlane failed to hold a one-hop throw while attempting a sweep tag on Baerga, allowing the Indians' second run to score and Belle to reach third.

Baerga should have been out, Belle might have held on Murray's single, and the Red Sox could have led 2-1. Instead, the game went into extra innings after Alicea's leadoff homer in the 11th.

On and on it went.

And now, we await the next verdict.

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