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Indians want Belle good and mad Calm demeanor and bat have teammates worried


CLEVELAND -- When Albert Belle is going good, Cleveland Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel said, he's usually very angry. Destructive.

"You see a different one every day," Vizquel said of Belle's eruptions. "I've seen him throw coolers, break telephones, throw cookies. . . . He's really something. He could go 3-for-3 and would pop out in his last at-bat and drive himself psycho."

But during the first two games of the World Series, Belle has been abnormally sedate with his emotions and at the plate. Atlanta has pitched him almost exclusively on the outer half of the strike zone, and he has one single in six at-bats. Belle has as many errors (four) as RBIs in the postseason.

"He's been real calm," Vizquel said, "and understands that you can't let the frustration [affect] one at-bat to the next."

Maybe that's the problem, center fielder Kenny Lofton said. "He has to do something," Lofton said, "break a bat, break up the clubhouse, just something to get it going. I even tried to break a bat last night, but it didn't work."

In the days after Belle's bat was checked for cork in 1994, he went on a tear. But Lofton noticed that since the Boston Red Sox challenged the legality of Belle's bat in the first game of the AL divisional series, Belle has struggled.

"To me, Albert hasn't been the same since they cut his lucky bat," Lofton said. "I don't know why they had to cut it. They could have just X-rayed it.

"I've tried to get in his head a little. I wish he would break a bat or show some kind of frustration."

Belle doesn't usually talk to the media, and he declined comment again yesterday.

Avery to start Game 4

The temptation for starting Greg Maddux in Game 4 weighed on Atlanta manager Bobby Cox. The Braves need two wins to wrap up their first championship since 1957, and if Maddux pitched Game 4, then Cox could guarantee that the three-time Cy Young Award winner would start two more games, albeit on only three days' rest.

In the end, however, Cox decided it would be better to pitch Maddux once more in the series, on his usual four days' rest. Left-hander Steve Avery will start Game 4, Maddux Game 5, if necessary.

Avery helped his own cause by pitching well against Cincinnati in the National League Championship Series. "Avery is throwing too good," Cox said. "I told him if we were down 0-2, or 1-1, I'd probably still start him in Game 4. I think it's important to have healthy, rested starters. This will keep Maddux on four days' rest and [Tom] Glavine on five days'. With the length of the season and the expanded playoffs, it's important."

Cox also announced that Ryan Klesko will be his designated hitter, and Luis Polonia will start in left field.

Lofton still in overdrive

Lofton has run the bases so aggressively that NBC announcer Bob Costas criticized him during Game 1 for being too reckless. Lofton, who has four stolen bases, took issue with Costas' comments yesterday.

"All you have to do is look back at the game to understand what I did," Lofton said. "In the first inning of the first game, I got on base, stole two bases and scored a run. After that, the next guy to get on was [Jim] Thome in the fifth inning.

"I was just trying to make something happen and score a run."

Around the horn

The reaction of Atlanta first baseman Fred McGriff to Jacobs Field: "This place is crazy." What McGriff meant was that the park clearly was built for hitters. . . . Ken Hill likely will start Game 4 for Cleveland. . . . Tonight's Series game will be the first played in Cleveland since Oct. 2, 1954. . . . This is the 43rd time a team has taken a 2-0 lead in the World Series. On the 42 previous occasions, the team with the 2-0 lead has gone on to win the championship 32 times, or 76.2 percent. No team has ever lost the World Series after taking a 3-0 lead. . . . Merlyn Mantle, the widow of former New York Yankees great Mickey Mantle, will throw out the first pitch before Game 3.

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