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Published: Friday, 5/11/2001

Another good day for Clark

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT - Perhaps the Tigers should jockey their schedule a bit and take more advantage of Tony Clark's daytime batting average.

Detroit and the Texas Rangers went at it under natural light yesterday at Comerica Park and Clark was the matinee idol with a three-run double and a tie-breaking solo home run in the bottom of the eighth that gave the Tigers a 6-5 victory and a sweep of the three-game series.

Clark entered the game with a .421 daytime batting average and bumped it higher with a 2-for-3 outing as the Tigers won for the 10th time in their last 13 games.

“Guys are picking each other up,” said Tiger starter Jeff Weaver, who worked into the seventh inning and did not get a decision. “The big thing since we've been playing well is that if you fall on your face it doesn't mean you're going to lose the ballgame.”

Ask C.J. Nitkowski, the Tiger reliever who was called upon to face Texas' Rafael Palmeiro for the second straight game, this time with a runner on first in the top of the eighth. For the second straight game, Palmeiro homered, this time jumping on Nitkowski's first pitch for a shot to right that tied the game 5-5.

Enter Clark, who worked Texas reliever Jeff Zimmerman to a 3-2 count before jacking a fastball over the bullpens and into the bleachers in right field for the game-winning run.

“You're never sure in our yard, but I hit that one pretty hard,” said Clark, who is batting .314 and leads the Tigers with seven home runs and 25 RBIs. “I'm just going up there relaxed, not trying to impress anyone. In the past, I'd try to be a super hero and hit a five-run home run. Now, I realize all I can control is picking a good pitch and putting a good swing on it.”

He did the same thing with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth. After falling behind 0-2, he fought back to a full count and lined a Ryan Glynn fastball against the base of the wall in dead center. Gabe Kapler, the Texas center fielder, froze for an instant as the ball left the bat, then never had a chance as three Tigers scored for a 5-3 Detroit lead.

“There's a lot of room out there, needless to say, and the hardest thing for an outfielder to pick up is a line drive right at you,” Clark said. “You don't know if it's going to carry or sink or slice. You have to hesitate a second.

“I was just fortunate to get myself into good counts in both of those at-bats. I was 0-2 on the one and worked it back to a hitter's count. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, but I expected to get strikes and I was able to put good swings on both of those.”

The drama didn't end with Clark's home run, not when Tiger closer Todd Jones surrendered a two-out hit in the ninth that brought Rangers star Alex Rodriguez to the plate. But A-Rod's frustrations continued to grow (he's 12-of-54, .222, in last 13 games) as he failed to check his swing at a high fastball for the strikeout that ended the game.

“The biggest thing is we're winning close games, we're winning by a run or two,” Clark said. “During the first couple weeks of the season we always seemed to be a hit short or a strike short.”

The Tigers were neither yesterday as they swept a three-game set against the struggling Rangers for the second time this season.

“We didn't club them to death,” said Detroit manager Phil Garner, whose team had just seven hits yesterday, “but we're playing well and it's getting to be fun. The thing I really liked is that after the mistake C.J. made to Palmeiro we didn't give it up. We held it right there, came back and got it done.”



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