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Williams survives change, pain, slump Indians third baseman calls inconsistent year 'toughest' of his career

THE BALTIMORE SUN

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians' postseason media guide introduces Matt Williams by saying what began as a frustrating season turned into one of the most productive years of his career. Ask Williams, and he has a different version.

"It's probably been the toughest year I've ever been through," he said.

Acquired in a trade with the San Francisco Giants that had Bay area fans howling in disapproval, Williams finished the regular season with a .263 average, 32 homers and 105 RBIs, and won his fourth Gold Glove at third base. He endured the pain of a bone bruise on the middle finger of his right hand, and taxing slumps that including a .181 average in June and resulted in him being dropped from the cleanup spot.

He was given another chance to feel better about his season, with the Indians reaching the World Series, and has responded with a .400 average, one home run and seven runs scored.

"I never saw Matt lose his focus during a ballgame," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said. "I never saw Matt make excuses for anything. All I did was see Matt Williams show up every day to play. He played hard and played to win, and he expected everybody around him to do the same thing. And I like people like that."

Williams said his year has been "inconsistent professionally, tough personally. It hasn't been good." He wouldn't elaborate.

"Matt is a private person and I think that we all should respect that privacy," Hargrove said.

"I'm not going to get into my personal business," Williams said, "but as far as professionally, it was just inconsistent. I had good weeks and bad weeks, and every baseball player wants to be as consistent as he possibly can. You help your team more in that fashion."

He's helping the Indians now, when they need it most. Williams tied a World Series record in Game 4 by reaching base five times (three hits, two walks). The last player to do it was Cincinnati's Billy Hatcher (four hits, one walk) in Game 2 of the 1990 Series.

Hot Eisenreich takes seat

Florida manager Jim Leyland sat down one of his hottest hitters, using Darren Daulton as his designated hitter instead of Jim Eisenreich, and playing Jeff Conine at first base.

Eisenreich had started the past two nights, going 4-for-6 with a home run, three RBIs and a walk. His two-run homer in the sixth inning of Game 3 reduced Cleveland's lead to 7-5 and began a Marlins rally toward a 14-11 win.

Leyland said he went with the right-handed hitting Conine because he's batting .437 against Indians right-hander Orel Hershiser and gives the Marlins better defense at first than Daulton, a converted catcher who has had nine knee operations.

"We've been a little sloppy," Leyland said.

Daulton has been on a roll, going 7-for-15 in this series, including two doubles, home run and seven runs scored. In the end, his numbers won out over Eisenreich's.

White's struggles continue

The Marlins are batting .272 in the Series but haven't gotten much production from the leadoff spot. Veteran Devon White was 3-for-18 (.167) with seven strikeouts before going 2-for-4 last night. He struck out four times in Game 4 -- one shy of the Series record set by New York Yankees pitcher George Pipgras in 1932 -- and tied a Series record with five straight before last night.

It's the continuation of a difficult postseason for White, who has only 11 hits in 54 at-bats (.203) with 17 strikeouts, though he remains atop the Marlins order. He did hit a grand slam that clinched the NL Division Series against the Giants.

White said he's not "trusting" his hands.

"He's getting the body going," Leyland said, "but he's charging a little bit. He swung at some bad balls [Wednesday] when he had the count in his favor."

Asked if he was concerned about White, Leyland said, "Devon is fine."

Extra, read all about him

That extra pitcher Hargrove added keeps benefiting the Indians.

Left-hander Brian Anderson joined the roster for the AL Championship Series, and he has allowed only two earned runs in 9 2/3 innings spanning five appearances. He was credited with a save in Game 4, giving up one hit and walking none in three shutout innings. It was the first three-inning save in the World Series since Atlanta's Mike Stanton in 1992's Game 5 at Toronto.

"We've been having a little inconsistency trying to get to [Paul] Assenmacher and [Mike] Jackson. Brian has helped us bridge that gap, and that means a lot," Hargrove said.

"We were able to really save our bullpen [Wednesday] night because Brian was able to come in and pitch well for us. He's been a valuable addition to it and we're glad he's on our side."

That's certainly true of rookie Jaret Wright, who went the first six innings Wednesday and left with a 6-3 lead. Anderson also replaced Wright after three innings of Game 4 of the ALCS against the Orioles and retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced, biding time until the Indians rallied to win.

"I'll probably take him out to dinner or something like that," Wright said.

Cook on streak at right time

Marlins reliever Dennis Cook has made the rounds in 10 major-league seasons, pitching for seven teams, including the Indians twice. And he's making the most of his time in the postseason, winning twice and throwing eight shutout innings over six appearances. He also has struck out eight, and opponents are batting .042 against him.

The only hit off Cook was a single by Marquis Grissom in Game 3 of this series.

It's enough to give a guy a swelled head, but not Cook. "I've done all right," he said.

"Pitching in the bullpen is kind of a streaky thing. You just hope the timing is right. It's nice to have people talking good about you, but they will be talking bad about me as soon as something bad happens. You can't take it too seriously, good or bad."

Around the horn

The age differential between last night's starters, Hershiser (39 years, one month, seven days) and Florida's Livan Hernandez (22 years, eight months, two days) was the greatest in World Series history -- 16 years, five months, five days. Hernandez became the first rookie starter to win at least two World Series games since the New York Yankees' Spec Shea in 1947 vs. Brooklyn. If the Series goes seven games, Al Leiter will start for the Marlins. Hargrove is considering bringing back Game 4 starter Wright on three days' rest, "but as of right now, it's Charles Nagy." The Marlins' staff has a 6.75 ERA through five games, allowing 33 earned runs and walking 30 in 44 innings. "We've walked too many people and if we continue to do that, we're not going to win this series," Leyland said. Florida's Edgar Renteria became the first player in World Series history to strike out twice in the same inning, when he started and ended the sixth inning. Grissom donated a bat used during his 15-game World Series hitting streak to baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Cleveland's David Justice has 22 career walks in the World Series, one behind Jim Gilliam for seventh on baseball's all-time list. Indians catcher Sandy Alomar is tired of his pitchers going to 3-2 counts. "I've never seen anything like that," he said before Game 5. "It's like some of our guys pitch like they don't want to get hit. We need to be more aggressive." Marlins pitcher Alex Fernandez will have surgery Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala., to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Dr. James Andrews will perform the surgery. If Andrews finds a partial tear, Fernandez could return by the All-Star break next year. Neither team will work out on today's day off. Leyland said: "If we're not ready by now, we're in big, big trouble."

Pub Date: 10/24/97

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