RAPE CHARGES PUT A CLOUD OVER INDIANS' MESA.
Jose Mesa is facing criminal charges and he's glad to get to Florida to get away from them for a while.
Mesa, the Cleveland Indians' closer, faces a March 31 trial on charges that he raped a woman on Dec. 22 in a Lakewood, Ohio, hotel. He faces a three- to 10-year prison term if convicted.
Returning to baseball is keeping Mesa from dwelling on his upcoming trial, although it's something the Indians can't forget.
``I'm here in spring training getting away from that stuff,'' said the 30-year-old Mesa. ``I just have to put my mind here in baseball and that's it.''
One of baseball's most intimidating pitchers, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Mesa appeared in 69 games last season and recorded 39 saves, second in the American League behind John Wetteland's 43 for the New York Yankees. He finished second in voting for the American League Cy Young Award in 1995, when he had a club-record 46 saves.
While Mesa is able to focus on baseball as he awaits his trial, Indians manager Mike Hargrove has to make contingency plans for the closer position.
``If for some reason (Mesa) can't assume those duties,'' Hargrove said, ``we'll go with Eric Plunk, Paul Shuey or Alan Embree.''
All three throw 95 mph, Hargrove said, and all three are capable of being a closer. Last season the trio, which averages 6-foot-3, 211 pounds, combined to strike out 243 batters while walking 85.
With numbers like those, it's no wonder Hargrove refuses to push the panic button before the Indians open their season April 2 at Oakland.
``The bullpen is the strongest part of our pitching staff,'' Hargrove said. ``Hopefully, it'll all work out.''
According to the Lakewood, Ohio, Police Department report, two 26-year-old women said Mesa and a friend sexually assaulted them in a hotel. The police report says Mesa and his friend met the women in a popular downtown Cleveland area called the Flats, and that Mesa took one of the women's purse to entice her into his vehicle. He drove to the hotel with the woman, while his friend and the other woman followed in another car.
The women told police they went to the hotel with the intention of getting the purse and leaving.
The friend, David Blanco, faces charges of gross sexual imposition and carrying a concealed weapon.
Mesa, who pleaded innocent, said he's not worried about the outcome of the case.
``Whatever is going to happen will happen,'' Mesa said. ``Everybody is supporting me.''
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Mar 9, 1997|
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