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Not anymore. The last-place Tigers blew out the

By Ken BergerAssociated Press Published: August 14, 1997 12:00 AM

Not anymore.

The last-place Tigers blew out the AL Central-leading Indians 13-3 in the first game Wednesday night, then succumbed 9-1 in the nightcap. Detroit manager Buddy Bell, an Indians bench coach in 1994-95, angrily criticized Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove for putting on a squeeze play with a big lead late in the second game.

With the Indians leading 6-1, Omar Vizquel bunted Brian Giles home against lefty Mike Myers, who threw the ball to the backstop allowing Vizquel to go to second. Kevin Seitzer continued the five-run inning by doubling Vizquel home and scoring on a single by Sandy Alomar.

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Bell called the squeeze a "Little League play."

Hargrove, speaking in the other clubhouse and unaware of the controversy, explained his reason for squeezing for the third time this season.

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"When you don't use it very often," Hargrove said, "it comes pretty much as a surprise."

"Surprise?" an incredulous Bell asked. "All I know is I didn't see it for two years when I was over there. I saw it a couple of times in the College World Series, though. Let's put it this way: You just don't do it."

Later, Hargrove said he smoothed things over with Bell, telling his friend he lost track of the score in the confusion of the inning.

"I wanted one more run," Hargrove said. "But when Omar squeeze-bunted and I saw we were up 7-1, I said 'Oh shoot.' Because I don't run up the score on people I hate, much less people I consider my good friend. Buddy said he understood."

But Bell wasn't the only one fuming.

"Nobody in this room appreciated it," Phil Nevin said. "You didn't see us squeeze home a run when we were up big in the first game. For me, that's showing up my team."

Even so, Nevin said don't expect any brawls in the series finale on Thursday.

"We don't want to start a war or anything over it," Nevin said. "We have a lot of friends over there."

Orel Hershiser came off the disabled list and rescued Cleveland, pitching 5 2-3 strong innings as the Indians salvaged the second game. Eric Plunk, re-emerging as a force in the Cleveland bullpen, combined with Paul Assenmacher and Jose Mesa for 3 1-3 innings of two-hit relief.

The Tigers hit four homers in the first game, which saw Damion Easley get every hit in the cycle but a single. Willie Blair befuddled the Indians and became the fourth ex-Cleveland pitcher to beat them in their last five home losses. The Angels' Ken Hill beat them on July 30, followed by Scott Bailes and Terry Clark of Texas last weekend.

Hershiser (10-5) won in his first start since July 28, reaching double-digits in wins for the 11th time in his career. He threw only 78 pitches, allowing one run and five hits with two walks and two strikeouts.

The 1988 NL Cy Young Award winner was on the DL with a stiff back and was taken out of several July starts with a strained groin.

To make room for Hershiser, the Indians put reliever Albie Lopez on the DL between games with a strained right calf _ further infuriating Bell. Lopez pitched two innings Tuesday and 1 1-3 in the first game of the doubleheader.

"That's irresponsible," Bell said. "It's the most blatant use of the DL that I've seen in a long time."

Lopez already had one stint on the DL this season with the same injury, and was activated July 28.

"The calf was bothering him," Hargrove said.

With the split, Cleveland is 10-18 since July 18 _ the day after Hershiser's last victory. They are clinging to a 2 1/2-game lead over second-place Chicago.

"It's not like the guys aren't trying hard," said Giles, who has replaced Marquis Grissom in the leadoff spot and went 3-for-4 with a triple and three runs. "We're just playing inconsistent baseball."

Cleveland backed Hershiser with two runs in the first, one each in the third and fourth, and five in the eighth. Grissom, benched for two straight games and in a 13-for-91 slump, batted ninth and was 3-for-4. Matt Williams had an RBI double and a single.

Grissom, frustrated by a sub-par offensive season, made two outstanding catches in center. He snared Bobby Higginson's line drive in the left-center field alley in the first, then tracked down Travis Fryman's shot to nearly the same spot in the sixth.

Cleveland took a 2-0 lead in the first on Alomar's RBI single and Williams' bloop double against Detroit starter Glenn Dishman (1-1).

The Indians got an unearned run in the third when right fielder Higginson collided with second baseman Easley on Williams' popup. Higginson was charged with a two-base error, and Williams scored on a double by reserve Jeff Manto to make it 3-0.

Giles led off the fourth with a triple down the right-field line and scored on a soft single to right by Seitzer. Giles also had an RBI single in Cleveland's five-run eighth.

The Tigers got their only run in the fourth on Tony Clark's sacrifice fly.

Blair (12-5), traded by the Indians with Eddie Taubensee for Kenny Lofton and Dave Rohde in 1991, won his first start in Cleveland since getting hit in the face by Julio Franco's liner on May 4. He allowed three runs and nine hits in eight innings, walking one and striking out two.

"I didn't even think about what happened. Not one bit," said Blair, who missed only four weeks. "As far as I'm concerned, that was a long time ago. It's history. I haven't thought about it since I came back, and I didn't today."

Higginson hit two homers in the opener, and Easley added his 18th homer along with a double and triple. Nevin added a two-run homer, going-back-to-back with Higginson against John Smiley (1-2), who was roughed up for six runs and 11 hits in 5 2-3 innings in his third start with Cleveland.

The Tigers turned it into a blowout with seven runs in the eighth off relievers Paul Shuey and Lopez.

The crowd really got upset when Manny Ramirez made things worse with an incredibly rare baserunning blunder in the bottom of the inning.

Ramirez hit an RBI single to make it 13-3, advanced to second on catcher's indifference and inexplicably started running back to first. He scrambled back to second, but was tagged out by shortstop Deivi Cruz.

It seemed the only explanation was that one of the infielders duped Ramirez.

"Manny said that he thought it was a foul ball," Hargrove said. "I asked him if anybody told him it was foul, and he said no.

"I've never seen that happen in all the years I've been in baseball. And I won't see it again."

Notes: The Indians were 12-0 against the Tigers last year, but are 5-5 this season. ... The Tigers set a season-high with nine extra-base hits in the first game. ... Grissom sat out the first game even though he is 4-for-9 with a homer in his career against Blair.

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