Injury bug bites Belle, 2 teammates


CLEVELAND -- Fast and furiously, the bad news emanated to and from the Cleveland clubhouse yesterday, a triple-whammy of injuries.

Early in the afternoon, the appearance of slugger Albert Belle limping on crutches into the Indians clubhouse stunned his teammates. Belle had turned his right ankle as he unsuccessfully attempted to dodge a pitch by Norm Charlton in Game 3 Friday night. His ankle, which also was hit by the pitch, swelled so much that he had X-rays yesterday morning, which proved negative.

Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove attempted to keep the news from the media as long as possible. However, midway through Hargrove's pre-game news conference, a reporter who had seen an early copy of the Indians' lineup -- without Belle, an MVP candidate -- asked the manager if this was for real.

"I haven't made out my lineup," Hargrove said, in a slight fib.

Well, someone else asked, is there a chance Belle won't play?

"There's a chance he won't be," Hargrove acknowledged, before adding that Belle's status would be examined day-to-day. But there is a chance Belle could miss the rest of the playoffs.

Indians second baseman Carlos Baerga said, "He may be the best hitter on our team. . . . We'll miss him, but someone must step up a bit and do the job for us."

Hargrove announced immediately that pitcher Dennis Martinez, scheduled to start tonight's Game 5, is being pushed back a few days to pitch Game 6, because of some shoulder stiffness. Orel Hershiser, who was supposed to throw Game 6, will pitch tonight on three days' rest.

"Orel felt good about coming back on three days' rest," Hargrove said, "and we decided to give Dennis the extra couple of days."

One reporter prefaced a question by referring to Martinez's arm as sore. "Let's get one thing straight," Hargrove said, evenly. "Dennis is not sore. There's a difference between stiff and sore."

Whether Martinez is stiff or sore, there is a chance he will not be able to pitch Game 6.

Then, about half an hour before the game, a lineup change was announced -- Tony Pena in place of regular catcher Sandy Alomar. Alomar slept awkwardly and woke up with a stiff neck.

Hershiser remembered how in 1988, when he pitched for Los Angeles, the Dodgers played through a staggering series of postseason injuries and won the World Series.

"I don't think there's anyone in the clubhouse who's sitting in there thinking 'We don't have a chance,' " he said. "It's just another obstacle to be overcome."

Johnson's stuff debated

Baerga, on the Indians' chances: "It is very important we get out of here up 3-2. We will have to face Randy [Johnson] on Tuesday, and if Randy beats us, we still have another chance to win Wednesday."

Some of the Indians noticed that Johnson threw more sliders than fastballs in Game 3, and that his fastball didn't have its usual zip -- perhaps the result of many innings thrown in the postseason.

"They were showing him on TV throwing 95 and 96 mph," Baerga said, "but I know what Randy looks like when he is really throwing very hard. . . . I don't think he had his good fastball last night."

Hershiser in Game 7, too?

Hershiser said he would not rule out the possibility that he could pitch in Game 7, on two days' rest. The last time Hershiser pitched on three days' rest, throwing for the Dodgers, he pitched a complete-game victory against the New York Mets on July 9, 1993. . . . Belle had four walks and was hit by a pitch in the first three games. However, Charlton said the Seattle staff is not under orders to pitch around the slugger. "Not at all," he said. "But we're also not stupid." . . . Charlton was drilled in the forehead by a line drive early in the season, which left a massive and bloody welt on his head. He says he suffers no after-affects. Or maybe just one. "It might have kept me off the cover of GQ magazine," he said. . . . Three of the best hitters in the series who had been slumping got hits last night: Edgar Martinez is now 1-for-15, Tino Martinez is 2-for-15 and Eddie Murray, who had a two-run homer, is 3-for-17 in the series. Belle is 2-for-11.

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