CLEVELAND -- With the Cleveland Indians you never know for sure, but it hardly came as a surprise when Sandy Alomar was named American League Rookie of the Year yesterday.
Members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who make the award annually, made Alomar only the third unanimous selection in history.
Alomar received all 28 first-place votes, 140 points in all, to outdistance second-place Kevin Maas of the New York Yankees by 93 points. Kevin Appier of the Royals was third with 31.
"I was ready to win or lose or whatever," Alomar said by phone from Japan, where he and other major-leaguers are playing a series of games against a Japanese all-star team. "I was a little more positive that I would win because I was in the big leagues all season, put up the numbers and made the All-Star team."
Alomar was the most ballyhooed minor-leaguer in the country when San Diego traded him to Cleveland, along with Chris James and Carlos Baerga, for Joe Carter at last December's winter meetings.
The glossy reputation he earned in the minors served to put the pressure on Alomar from the start of the year.
"It made things harder," he said. "I was supposed to be the front-runner for the rookie award, and being traded for Joe Carter meant that people expected a lot."
He produced a lot.
In 132 games, Alomar batted .290 with 26 doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 66 RBIs. His offense surprised even the Indians' hierarchy, who expected Alomar's defense to overshadow his ability at the plate, at least in his first season.
"You always pray for the best but are prepared to accept less," Indians president Hank Peters said from the annual general managers' meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I didn't expect Sandy to hit as well as he did. We thought batting .250 or .260 with 50 or 60 RBIs would be a good year for a catcher just breaking into the big leagues."
In many respects, Alomar was a better offensive player than his overall numbers suggest.
For example, in crunch time, from the seventh inning on, he batted .315. And he got better as the season wore on, despite being plagued most of the year with a chronically sore thumb.
During the final two months of the schedule, Alomar batted .367 with nine RBIs in 60 at-bats after the sixth inning. He won a game against Toronto Sept. 21 with a solo home run in the 13th inning.
"The thing that really impressed me was that late in the season Sandy was a big player in big games," Peters said. "Sandy didn't fold against the better teams. He just got better."
Alomar batted .351 with an 0-and-2 count, best among AL catchers and 187 points higher than the major-league average.
He also batted .455 with the bases loaded, and his .376 batting average against left-handed pitchers was tops in the league.