Indians' 'new voice' needs to tone down


Not that the Cleveland Indians blew it or anything, but Charlie Manuel already has lost more games to the Orioles than Mike Hargrove did all of last season.

Hargrove went 9-1 against the Orioles in 1999. Manuel is 1-2 with a team picked by many to win the American League, and his only excuse is that he didn't get the privilege of managing against Ray Miller.

Manuel always could claim that the past two games shouldn't count against his record, seeing as how he was ejected from both. But unlike Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, he doesn't have enough juice to manipulate his won-lost mark according to his absences.

Some gotta win, some gotta lose.

Good-time Charlie's got the blues.

It's not Hargrove's personality to jab a vanquished Cleveland opponent like Ravens coach Brian Billick, and claim, "I'm just a fired manager trying to get by "

But the Orioles' new manager had to love watching the Manuel-operated Indians, knowing that general manager John Hart called for a "new voice" when he announced Hargrove's firing after last year's playoff defeat to Boston.

The Indians have a new voice, all right:

"@#$! @#$! @#$! @#$!"

Manuel lasted into the third inning Wednesday night, and into the sixth inning of last night's 6-2 defeat. He is scheduled to go nine tonight in Tampa Bay, but he'll need to be watched carefully.

In fact, the Indians should consider putting him on a pitch count.

Hart, one of the game's brightest executives, evidently didn't pay attention to the Orioles in '95 under Phil Regan, or in '98 and '99 under Miller.

Why would you put a new driver behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce? Why would you trust a first-year manager with a supposed World Series contender?

Manuel was upset with a called strike on Roberto Alomar with the bases loaded and none out in the fifth inning, and a pitch that he thought was strike three immediately prior to Charles Johnson's three-run homer in the sixth.

Mike Bordick followed with another homer, at which point Manuel removed starter Charles Nagy. He was ejected by plate umpire Bill Miller as he returned to the dugout from the mound.

"I wanted to say something to him, and say something in a nice way," Manuel said. "Maybe I didn't understand. I wasn't going to question balls and strikes. I wanted to ask him where a pitch was at. I didn't get very far."

Manuel then engaged in a heated, chest-to-chest confrontation with Miller, similar to his shouting match with plate umpire Ed Rapuano the previous night. Crew chief John Shulock escorted him from the field as if he were the Fort Lauderdale police escorting Matt Riley from a nightclub.

Hart said he was not alarmed that Manuel has yet to manage the entirety of an Indians defeat. Sure, John. And Bobby Knight will be the next Secretary of State.

"I didn't hear what was said," Hart explained. "I saw the game, saw the pitches. There were certainly some questionable calls. [But] I was a little surprised when he went out again."

Would Hart agree that Manuel's performance didn't, uh, look good?

The GM chose his words carefully.

"It's unusual," Hart said.

Very unusual, said Hargrove, who had Manuel as his hitting coach in Cleveland the previous six seasons.

"I never saw that manifest itself during a game, not even close," Hargrove said. "But Charlie talked about the things he did as a young player. I knew he had a pretty good temper."

That, ladies and gentlemen, is an understatement. Remember how Hargrove was criticized in Cleveland for being too sedate? Well, his replacement could use a Valium.

The truth is, Manuel might be the third-best manager in the Indians' dugout, behind Jim Riggleman and Grady Little. In this series, he looked like the second coming of Miller, arguing the wrong things at the wrong times.

Think about it: The Orioles took two out of three from the Indians, and their only loss came on the day Mike Mussina pitched. So much for the Moose-and- the-Cabooses rotation. The Cabooses are pulling the Moose!

The Orioles got three-hit games from Will Clark and B. J. Surhoff last night, three innings of one-hit relief by Buddy Groom, two RBIs by Bordick and one by Albert "Mr. April" Belle.

Most important, they got six solid innings from former Red Sox right-hander Pat Rapp on the same day that a Boston Globe sports writer referred to Ramon Martinez's 1 1/3-inning, seven-run start Wednesday as "positively Rappian."

Long live the curse of The Bambino.

Last night was a Bohemian Rapp-sody.

Hargrove occasionally drew criticism in Cleveland for his handling of the Indians' pitching staff, but he made the right call removing Rapp after 106 pitches, and showed an even nicer touch sticking with Sidney Ponson the previous game.

Would Miller have pulled Ponson during his 41-pitch second inning?

"Oh yeah," said Ponson, who allowed five runs in the second on Wednesday, then one run over the next four innings. "That's not even a question."

Said Hargrove: "I think we were getting to a point to where we were going to have to get Sidney out of the game if he didn't right himself. But he did do that. He took a negative situation and turned it into a positive.

"If I had taken Sidney out in the second inning, we would have had to have played kind of a spring training game -- two innings out of one guy, two innings out of the next guy, an inning out of this guy. Then, we would have come into today's game with nothing out in the bullpen at all."

That was a frequent occurrence under Miller, but for once, the managerial questions at Camden Yards didn't revolve around the skipper in the home dugout.

The line on Manuel: 1-2, two ejections, a .729 expletive percentage.

Some gotta win, some gotta lose.

Good-time Charlie's got the blues.

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