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INDIANS PROMISE TO KEEP HANDS OFF BISONS, BUT THERE'S A CATCH

As they have in the past, the Cleveland Indians are promising they won't destroy the Buffalo Bisons' roster with call-ups in the midst of the International League playoff push.

But don't look for catcher Einar Diaz to be with the Herd much past Sept. 1. It looks like he'll be gone to Cleveland before the regular season ends.

"To say he'd be a candidate for a call-up is an educated and informed observation," Mark Shapiro, Cleveland's director of minor-league operations, said this week by phone from Jacobs Field. "We haven't had much out of our catchers this year at the major-league level and we need to make a decision on a back-up for next year.

"Einar has had a great offensive year and we know we will not get him through waivers again (because he is out of minor-league options and could not be returned to Buffalo if called up). We felt he needed one more year of development at the Triple-A level and he's had a big offensive year."

Diaz and infielder Enrique Wilson appear to be the only candidates for call-ups as soon as major-league clubs can expand their rosters to 40. Others such as outfielder Alex Ramirez and pitcher Mike Matthews have a good chance to see Cleveland for the first time when the Herd's season is completed.

"We're interested in looking at players to see how they fit at the major-league level, be it for the postseason roster and for 1999," Shapiro said. "Alex has had a remarkable year in terms of run production and power potential. We know he can contribute at the major-league level and can definitely compete for a spot next year."

Matthews is on Cleveland's 40-man major-league roster. Herd lefty Jason Jacome, the club's victory leader, has a slim chance at a call-up. He is not on the 40-man list and was drubbed by the Cleveland media last year after getting bombed in a start at Yankee Stadium.

The Tribe pushed him way down the pecking order, but he's had a sensational year in Buffalo and should have some free-agent offers in the offseason.

Datz gets good marks

Shapiro said he is thrilled with the Bisons' recent playoff push, especially in light of their 30-33 start under Jeff Datz, a first-year manager in Triple-A.

"Jeff has made a conscious effort to enjoy himself more and he's done an exceptional job," Shapiro said. "He has a strong staff in Blackie (pitching coach Bud Black) and (batting coach) Dave Keller. With their help, he's done a good job in learning at that level and being flexible.

"The knock on him was that he wasn't flexible and maybe that wasn't legitimate. He's had to be with all the player movement and he's combined that learning with the desire and work ethic he's always shown us."

Datz has been far less difficult to deal with for players, front office and media than his reputation indicated. And he has improved his time management and handled all the tasks of a Triple-A manager.

As a game manager, he falls well short of past Buffalo skippers such as Terry Collins, Marc Bombard and Brian Graham. But after falling apart in the ninth inning of a key game earlier this month against Pawtucket, Datz has been solid.

He outwitted Terry Bevington four straight nights last week in Syracuse with proper use of his bullpen and bench, helping the Bisons sweep the season's key series that turned a runaway into a pennant race.

Wait doesn't help Pawsox

There was good reason for IL president Randy Mobley to instruct umpires to wait four hours trying to get in Tuesday night's Toledo-Pawtucket doubleheader.

First off, the double postponement -- which won't be made up because it was the teams' last meeting of the season -- means Pawtucket will play only 142 games. That's two fewer than the Bisons and one fewer than Syracuse, which won't have a June rainout at Norfolk made up.

Winning percentage will be the determining factor for playoff berths, and that could go either way for Buffalo. Having more wins may not be enough because, for example, an 80-64 record by the Bisons would finish behind a 79-63 mark by the Pawsox.

Pawtucket wanted to play the games, however, figuring its seven-game winning streak would be extended by a pair of wins over the IL's worst team. The first game was tied, 2-2, through seven innings when the rains hit.

It was 12:15 a.m. before umpires gave up. The teams had a chance to be on the field in the 4 a.m. neighborhood before the second game would have ended.

IL items

The Bisons are batting .308 and have scored 116 runs while going 11-3 against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre despite virtually no help from two main power sources. Richie Sexson and Phil Hiatt are just 11 for 71 with two homers and 29 strikeouts in the games against the Red Barons. . . . The Durham Bulls' 11-game winning streak that ended Wednesday is bad news for the rest of the IL contenders. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays seem to be leaving Durham alone to make a run for the Triple-A World Series in Las Vegas. . . . The Louisville Redbirds will be known as the RiverBats beginning next season. The 'Birds agreed to change their name after their affiliation switched from St. Louis to Milwaukee this season; the Cardinals allowed Louisville to keep the name for one final season while the club had a "name the team" contest. . . . With all the talk about the Bisons, Syracuse and Pawtucket, it's been easy to overlook the rise of the Ottawa Lynx in the North Division. Once 25-39, the Lynx pulled even at 61-61 with Wednesday's win over the Bisons.

LAST-DITCH DINGERS

Einar Diaz's game-winning home run Wednesday night was the fourth time this month the Bisons have won a game at North AmeriCare Park on a last-pitch homer. The Herd had never accomplished that feat more than three times in any previous season since the ballpark's 1988 opening.

The Bisons have a franchise-record six such victories this year, two courtesy of Brandon Wilson. The list of game-winning dingers downtown:
Runners
PlayerOpponentInningDateOn BaseScore
Einar DiazScranton-WB9 8/1 8/9 805-4
Brandon WilsonScranton-WB12 8/1 5/9 804-3
Jeff MantoRichmond108/ 5/9 804-3
Phil HiattRichmond10 8/4 /9803-2
Brandon WilsonIndianapolis10 7/1 4/9 814-2
Enrique WilsonOttawa9 6/1 1/9 813-2*
Torey LovulloNew Orleans12 6/1 9/9 704-3
Torey LovulloIowa11 6/7 /9704-3
Herbert PerryNew Orleans9 5/3 1/9 616-5
Rich AudeLouisville95/ 8/9 415-4
Greg TubbsOmaha12 4/1 5/9 402-1
Greg SparksDenver9 8/3 /91 15-3
Steve CarterIndianapolis9 8/1 9/9 026-5*
Jeff CookNashville10 5/1 7/9 017-5
Orlando MercedOkla. City10 4/2 5/9 014-3*
Jay BellRochester 7 5/2 4/8 901-0**
Jeff King Louisville9 4/6 /8903-2
* reversed a deficit
** second game of doubleheader

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