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M’S Fate At Jake Falls On Johnson

Fear and loathing in Cleveland: the Indians now get their crack at Randy Johnson in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

So is Albert Belle cowering in the corner of the Tribe locker room? Has Manny Ramirez been fitted for a brace to keep his neck from swiveling? Will Jim Thome come down with Wade Boggs disease?

Obviously, the pitching brinksmanship of Seattle’s ace over the past 10 days seems to have taken on a life - and a hype - of its own.

“I don’t know how you stop thinking about Randy Johnson,” said Indians manager Mike Hargrove. “He’s so dominating.

“But I don’t think that anyone has told Randy that if you throw your glove out there, you’re going to win. Randy would tell you there is no guarantee he’s going to win when he steps on the mound. If you start changing your thinking, start trying to do things to allow for the fact that you’re going to lose, you never get to the point where you try to win.”

So the Big Unit’s two victories over the New York Yankees in the Division Series and the way he overpowered California in the one-game A.L. West playoff doesn’t faze the Tribe?

“Well, it’s in the back of your mind, sure,” admitted Thome. “He’s definitely the type of guy who can dominate a game.”

He certainly dominated the Indians in their one meeting this season, a 5-3 Seattle victory in Cleveland on July 7. The Indians managed eight hits, but only one for extra bases (Herbert Perry’s double). Johnson struck out 13 - Belle three times - and didn’t walk a batter.

That game at least gave the Tribe a taste of why Seattle feels invincible when Johnson takes the mound. The big left-hander has made 32 appearances, including playoffs, this season; the M’s have won 29 of those.

“Confidence comes with success,” said M’s manager Lou Piniella, “and Randy’s had a whole lot of it this year.”

Is it fair for people to expect victory every time Johnson takes the ball?

“Sure, it’s fair,” said Johnson. “It doesn’t bother me. I think that is a responsibility I took on when I became the pitcher that I am - the same responsibility that a Greg Maddux, a Dave Stewart, Orel Hershiser or Roger Clemens has. Those guys are leaders on their pitching staffs.”

A guy could get hurt out there

Thome didn’t play in the July 7 game against Johnson - he’s a left-handed hitter - and Hargrove may opt to start Alvaro Espinoza at third instead on Friday.

“I faced (Johnson) three or four years ago in spring training,” Thome remembered, “and I tore a ligament in my hand on a check swing. I haven’t faced him ever since.”

What was the pitch he tried to hold up on?

“It was strike three,” Thome laughed.

And what else does Thome remember from that encounter?

“When he was throwing, it looked like he was landing on top of me,” he said.

As the Belle tolls

The Cleveland slugger’s stay in Seattle has been both eventful (a home run in Game 1) and profane.

A caller to KJR Radio on Wednesday said he had a run-in with Belle at The Old Spaghetti Factory. The fan said he’d spotted Belle entering the restaurant, returned to his car to get something for the player to autograph and then approached Belle at his table.

“He said to get out of his face,” the caller said, who was then cut off by the station when he went on to repeat the graphic language reportedly exchanged.

Belle also refused to talk to reporters following Game 1. He did bark at several crowded around his locker neighbor, Omar Vizquel.

The sanitized version: “Get out of my locker. What is this, a barbecue?”

The Long Unit

Asked if his arm felt any different what with all the extra work he’s had lately, Johnson allowed that, “It feels a little bit longer.”

Touching all the bases

Trivia: With all the hand-wringing over Seattle’s starting pitching for the ALCS, does anyone recall the rotation the Mariners’ broke spring training with? Try Randy Johnson, Chris Bosio, Tim Davis, Roger Salkeld and Bob Wells.

The Kingdome banners yet wave: “Sorry, No Voice,” “O.J. Cancelled: Has Mariner Fever,” “Omar defect,” “Club Ed,” “Waiter, there’s a home run in my latte,” and “Just Lou It.”

, DataTimes