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A few foul mouths do a job on Indians fans' image

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Cleveland Indians fans have gained a reputation for being among the best in the major leagues, but a few bad apples may have spoiled the image of the whole bunch during last year's playoffs.

Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez told reporters on Wednesday that he received a death threat and a shower of racial slurs from the stands just minutes before taking the mound for his terrific relief performance in Game 5 of last year's Division Series at Jacobs Field.

"I remember being told in the bullpen from that playoff game that I was going to be shot if I came to the mound," said Martinez, who dominated the Indians again Thursday in Cleveland. "I think that came from fans in a panic. They said so [much] discriminating stuff to me that it would sound unreal. They called me a 'beaner' and [told me], 'Go back to your country, you don't belong in America.' All those things I heard from the stands."

Martinez's account of the abuse around the visiting bullpen was supported by bullpen coach Dick Cumberland and reliever Rheal Cormier. But the shameful way in which Martinez was treated only motivated him more when he took the mound to bail the Red Sox out of Game 5.

"It's the first time I ever heard those things and I heard it here in Cleveland," he said. "But I understand it was also a playoff game and a lot of people were upset with the success I've had against their team. They saw that their chances were more limited if I came in, so I'm willing to put up with that."

Martinez displayed amazing mental toughness that day, though no athlete should have to put up with that kind of abuse. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that - unlike controversial Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker - Martinez did not let the fans alter his on-field demeanor and chose not to use the opportunity to slander the whole city of Cleveland afterward.

Padres' cash call

The San Diego Padres face a severe payroll cutback this winter after mounting losses forced the organization to make a $20 million cash call to owner John Moores, club president Larry Lucchino and the trust for Moores' daughter, Jennifer McLeod.

Lucchino said that the team's outlay for players this winter will have to be reduced to put the team back on a break-even budget. The Padres have been operating with a payroll of about $50 million, but are expected to drop it to $40 million-$43 million for the 2001 season.

Club officials expect revenues to rise when the team's new stadium opens in July 2002, and hope that Major League Baseball adopts new revenue-sharing rules that would improve cash flow, but the most immediate remedy is obvious.

"The only thing we can immediately address is what we are spending," Lucchino told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "When our next fiscal year begins on Nov. 1, we will not be budgeted for losses. We will be budgeted to break even."

Baines lost in Soxland

The Chicago White Sox claim they are thrilled to have veteran designated hitter Harold Baines back, but they really don't know what to do with him. He had started only two of the previous 18 games entering the weekend and has been used as a pinch hitter just seven times.

The problem is, he is backing up Frank Thomas and Paul Konerko, both of whom are hitting over .300 and putting up good run-production numbers.

"That's a tough thing for us," manager Jerry Manuel said recently. "We try to get him at-bats. Paul wasn't going quite as well when Harold got here. He was not as hot as he has been of late. It has been kind of a tough thing to handle."

Baines, as usual, isn't complaining. He knows the score, but he'll probably have to leave the club at the end of the season if he is to have any chance of accumulating the 147 hits he still needs to reach 3,000.

Where he might end up is anybody's guess. This time around, it seems unlikely that the Orioles will bring him back.

Helton hammers himself

Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton has lost his chance to hit .400 this season, but he hasn't lost his sense of humor. He recently lapsed into a 9-for-45 slump that dropped his average to .379 and ended the quest to become baseball's first .400 hitter since Ted Williams batted .406 in 1941, then chalked it up to bad pitch selection.

"Let me think, is it because I swing at everything?" Helton said the other day. "When a pitcher yells, 'Watch out!' and you still swing, you know you're not swinging at good pitches. That's happened to me twice."

Damon 'something special'

It's hard to get any attention in Kansas City, but outfielder Johnny Damon has become impossible to ignore. The speedy leadoff man entered the weekend with a .418 batting average in the second half and is on pace to finish the season with 217 hits.

"I'm telling you, he's something special," Seattle manager Lou Piniella said after Damon delivered a 5-for-5 performance against the Mariners on Monday. "He's hitting the ball crisp. He's got 200 hits. And he's hitting the ball for power, too, which he hasn't done consistently in the past. He's really developing into an extraordinary player."

Damon is coming into his own as a marquee player at just the right time. He is eligible for salary arbitration after the season and will be eligible for free agency in 2002.

The Royals offered him a three-year deal worth $15 million earlier this year, but agent Scott Boras set the price at $30 million over five years. Presumably, the asking price is headed north.

Numbers on his side

Arizona Diamondbacks ace Randy Johnson probably cemented his Hall of Fame credentials when he recorded his 300th strikeout of the season and 3,000th strikeout of his career during last Sunday's game against the Florida Marlins. But his impressive numbers run even deeper than that.

He became only the second pitcher in major-league history to have as many as four 300-strikeout seasons, and only the second pitcher to have three consecutive 300-strikeout seasons and 1,000 strikeouts over a three-year period.

The first in each case was Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, whom Johnson credits with helping to turn him into the dominant pitcher he is today. Ryan and Rangers pitching coach Tom House noticed a flaw in Johnson's delivery in 1992 - he was landing on the heel of his right foot, which affected his balance and delivery - and helped him make a mechanical adjustment that turned him into the most dominant pitcher of the decade.

"They told me to fall on the ball of my foot," Johnson said. "Within a month, I was feeling more comfortable. That made me more consistent with my strike zone and my release point. After that, I got more consistent with my mechanics.

"I would definitely [say Ryan] was instrumental in my success. I owe a great deal of gratitude to him for taking the time."

Possible help

New York Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez has had a frustrating year and fully expects the team to trade him this winter. If so, the Orioles might consider him as a possible full-time DH.

Martinez has just one year remaining on his long-term contract with the Yankees, so acquiring him would not require a major economic commitment. Depending on what the Orioles would have to give up, he might be a perfect short-term fit at Camden Yards.

Even in his most difficult season as a Yankee, he's on pace to finish the season with more than 90 RBIs, and - at 32 - he doesn't figure to be over the hill. He would provide the Orioles with flexibility at first base and a veteran left-handed bat in the DH role.

The Yankees haven't said that they will move him, but Martinez has heard the whispers along with everyone else.

He would like to finish the season strong and persuade the club to keep him, but isn't confident that he can alter his fate.

Bordick dilemma

The Mets have a tough decision to make over the next couple of months. They have to decide whether to try and re-sign former Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick or embark on an expensive quest to sign superstar Alex Rodriguez.

It didn't seem like a tough choice a couple of months ago, when Bordick was acquired from the Orioles as a rental player for the remainder of the season, but he has been so steady that he is winning friends throughout the organization.

Even GM Steve Phillips, who has cast his lot with injured Rey Ordonez, admits that Bordick has had a positive impact on the club both offensively and defensively.

"Mike's been exceptional in every way," Phillips said. "With him, an error is just an error, and not the start of a disastrous inning."

There was speculation at the time of the deal that the Orioles might try to re-sign Bordick after the season, but that will be much more difficult if the Mets decide they want him back.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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