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Published: Wednesday, 6/20/2001

Sparks stymies Yankees on 85 pitches

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT - Like the New York Yankees' pursuit of pitcher Steve Sparks' knuckleball, the Detroit Tigers fluttered around last night at Comerica Park waiting for something to happen.

For the three-time defending World Champions, nothing ever did happen as they chased after Sparks' elusive offerings like butterflies in the breeze.

For the Tigers, it took a while, but their bats finally caught up with rookie lefty Randy Keisler and his successor, Ramiro Mendoza, for a 7-1 victory.

Detroit scored twice in the sixth inning against Keisler to take a 3-1 lead, plus four more off Mendoza in the seventh.

“They're so disciplined and try to get their pitch to hit, so I wanted to show them I was going to throw a lot of strikes early in the count and get 'em swinging, and it worked out that way,” Sparks said of three-hitting the Yankees.

“I could tell, later on in the game, that the knuckler was dropping a little more because I was getting more ground balls. I didn't feel the wind too much, but I felt the humidity was going to make the ball probably move a little bit. It was heavy out there.”

In nine innings, he faced one batter over the minimum (28). Without striking out a single batter, Sparks cruised through the Yankee lineup on 85 pitches (55 strikes) in this two-hour and 20-minute contest.

New York never got a hit after catcher Todd Greene's RBI single in the third inning and, with the Tiger infield turning three double plays, the Yanks didn't leave one runner on base.

“It was ridiculous,” rookie catcher Brandon Inge said of the movement on Sparks' knucklers. “It wasn't only moving, but it was changing speeds so well. They didn't have a chance. I'm not cutting them down, it's just that that's the best I've seen him throw.

“He hit his spots, kept the ball down and the thing was moving. I'm not talking inches, I'm talking feet. The ball would start out on the outside part of the plate and come back to the inside in the last five feet of the flight of the ball. It was unbelievable.

“It was no fun for me. I've got a headache. My eyes hurt from trying to follow that ball into the mitt.”

Sparking the Detroit offense were the 1-2 hitters in the lineup.

Center fielder Roger Cedeno was 3-for-5 with three stolen bases leading off, and second baseman Damion Easley went 4-for-4 with a double.

Tiger DH Dean Palmer delivered the key hits, a 422-foot solo homer to left in the fourth and a two-run double in the seventh.

New York took a 1-0 lead in the third when Scott Brosius tripled up the gap in left-center and scored on Greene's infield single off third baseman Jarrod Patterson's glove.

After stranding Cedeno and Easley on third and second, respectively, in the opening inning, and leaving the bases loaded without scoring in the fourth, the third time was charm for the Tigers.

Keisler was hit hard three times in a span of four pitches and Detroit took a 3-1 lead.

With one out, right fielder Juan Encarnacion hammered Keisler's first pitch 424 feet to left for a solo homer.

Shortstop Shane Halter followed with a triple off the fence and scored on Patterson's single.

Leading off the seventh, Cedeno doubled to left on an 0-2 pitch to greet Mendoza and scored on Easley's single to left. After Bobby Higginson singled, Palmer belted a double to center for two more RBIs and a 6-1 lead.

“It always makes you sick to see a guy throw well and you not score runs,” Palmer said of the missed opportunities early, “but I never felt that way tonight. I felt we were going to score some runs. We were seeing some good pitches and having some good at- bats, so I had a feeling we were going to score some runs.''

The Detroit Tigers purchased the contract of left-handed pitcher Heath Murray from Triple-A Toledo yesterday and designated left-handed pitcher Kevin Tolar for assignment.

Murray was 0-2 with a 5.56 ERA in 222/3 innings in 17 games with the Tigers earlier this season. The 28-year-old reliever had one save and allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings in Toledo.

Tolar walked 13 batters in 92/3 innings with the Tigers and had a 7.45 ERA.



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