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Published: Friday, 7/2/2004

Tigers' Rodriguez living up to his credentials as a leader

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT - Ivan Rodriguez came to Detroit not only with a history of solid offensive and defensive production, but with the reputation as being a valuable team leader in the clubhouse.

Rodriguez, who will start for the American League in the July 13 All-Star game, has lived up to and beyond his credentials.

At 37-40 heading toward the season's 81-game midway point, the Tigers are just six wins shy of their 2003 total (43-119).

After becoming the only Tiger (minimum 70 at-bats) to ever hit .500 in a month (43-for-86 in June) by closing with 3-for-5 and 3-for-4 performances Tuesday and Wednesday against Cleveland, Pudge added a 2-for-3 effort that included two doubles and two walks yesterday to raise his major league-leading batting mark to .384.

Asked yesterday if his position as a catcher gives him an advantage at the plate, Rodriguez nixed that notion.

"I just watch the ball and hit it," Pudge replied, simplifying his secret. Rodriguez also has no complicated formula for what it will take for Detroit to continue.

"We've been playing good, so all we've got to do is keep playing the way we are and we'll be fine," he said.

BULLPEN WOES CONTINUE: Even though Cleveland's David Riske has regained his spot as the team's closer, he only earned the win yesterday after blowing his fifth save opportunity of the season. It was the 18th blown save for the Tribe in 31 chances.

Riske accepted blame for his mistake.

"I pitch to my game and throw to my strengths," Riske said of failing against Bobby Higginson, who hit a game-tying homer in the ninth. "I just left the ball down the middle and he adjusted to it and hit it well."

Cleveland did get some help from Matt Miller, the third of five pitchers, and from Rick White, who earned a second-chance save for the Tribe pen in the 10th inning.

"Rick White threw the ball well," manager Eric Wedge said. "Obviously you don't want to walk the leadoff guy [Carlos Pena in 10th], but he made a good pitch to turn a great double play.''

FILLING THE SEATS: "It's been good," Higginson said of the Tigers' recent hot streak. "We knew we had to play well at home to try to get some fans to come out and watch us play.

"Fortunately, we won in dramatic fashion, and that's exciting for the fans. Our record was pretty good [5-1] this homestand and I think we gave them a reason to come back."



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