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Belle Breaks Media Silence

Albert Belle finally got the love he was seeking _ a standing ovation during which the hometown fans chanted "Al-bert! Al-bert!" in genuine admiration.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Belle was booed vociferously when he seemed to lope after a drive off the right-field wall, turning a routine double into a triple.

If nothing else, Belle has evoked all sorts of emotion at Camden Yards during his first season with the Baltimore Orioles. Through it all, Belle kept his feelings to himself, with the exception of a few handwritten signs on the side of his locker.

One of those placards, posted after the All-Star break, read: "Half-a-year down, 4½ years to go so don't fight it and show me some LOVE!!!"

The sign was directed at the Baltimore media, but the sentiment apparently extended toward the city's fickle fans.

Belle put down his markers and sat behind a microphone Sunday, ending his silence after putting on the kind of performance the Orioles expected when they bestowed a five-year, $65 million contract on the surly slugger last December.

Belle hit three homers, drove in six runs and was in the middle of the game-winning uprising in the 11th inning as the Orioles won their sixth straight, rallying behind Belle to beat Anaheim 8-7.

After receiving his first standing ovation since opening day, Belle marked the occasion by speaking in front of cameras and reporters for the first time since spring training.

He said he planned to remain in Baltimore for the length of his contract and explained that he can't always go 4-for-4 and carry the team on his back, as he did Sunday. He also criticized the fans who taunt him during those times when he fails to live up to his reputation as one of the best hitters in the game.

"I'm not going to get a hit every time in clutch situations, but over the course of the season I'll get a lot of clutch hits," he said. "I'm disappointed it's come to a time when they boo me. ... And then to turn around and have the nerve to cheer for you, that's the way baseball goes."

Not much has gone according to plan for the Orioles and Belle this season. With Belle accounting for a big chunk of the team's $78.5 million payroll, the Orioles expected to press the New York Yankees for the AL East title.

But by June 12, Belle was batting .249 and the Orioles were 12 games under .500. Although the Yankees comfortably lead the division, Belle is now batting .283 with 24 homers and 69 RBIs and Baltimore is within 8½ games of a wild-card spot.

"We dug ourselves a hole and now we have to our way out. We have a lot of ground to cover," Belle said.

With a hot bat, Belle can help. Before Sunday, his career in Baltimore was defined by his dugout argument with manager Ray Miller, his occasional jog to first base on grounders, the beer bottle he threw through a television in the visitors' clubhouse at Tropicana ield, his obscene gestures to fans in the Camden Yards bleachers on June 4 and his effort to boycott an exhibition game against the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate.

But the guy can hit, and he showed his spunk Sunday by initially refusing to go to first base in the 11th inning after being hit by a pitch. Miller said he would be delighted to have Belle around for as long as he's the manager.

"Maybe he's not the eloquent speaker that some writers would want him to be, but he comes to play every day and tries to beat your butt and he doesn't make any excuses," Miller said. "I like players like that."

If the Orioles don't complete their turnaround, there's a good chance Belle will outlast Miller in Baltimore. Regardless, Belle steadfastly insists he isn't going anywhere.

"That's why I put the sign up in my locker - 4½ more years," he said. "I'm not going anywhere."

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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