Indians-Angels for AL flag? Think again

BUSTER ON BASEBALL

July 23, 1995|By BUSTER OLNEY

The drama in the two-game series between California and Cleveland last week, Angels first baseman J. T. Snow said, was like the seventh game of a World Series.

Albert Belle hit a grand slam off Lee Smith, and "when Albert was up," Snow said, "it was unbelievable. I've never experienced that much noise and intensity in baseball. It was unbelievable."

Sounds like a perfect matchup for the American League Championship Series, eh? Well, it won't happen that way.

If the season were to end today, the Angels and Indians would play -- in the first round of the playoffs, in the best-of-five series, with Cleveland the host of Games 1 and 2, and California host of Games 3, 4, and 5. Texas would play Boston, with the Red Sox host of Games 3, 4, and 5.

The reason is that the playoff format is predetermined, and this year, the teams from the AL East and AL West get home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Rangers, who would be the wild-card team, can't play a team within their division in the first round, so they must play the Red Sox, because Cleveland, the Central leader, must play on the road in Games 3, 4 and 5 of the playoffs.

When October rolls around, this issue will be rehashed, called an injustice. In effect, Cleveland would get no reward for having the best record in the AL during the regular season, beyond a playoff bid. But the purist sentiments that prevail here say tough: The playoff and World Series format has long been predetermined. The NL is host of the first two and last two games of the World Series in the even-numbered years, and the AL is host in odd-numbered years.

If Cleveland is truly the best team, and right now it looks as if the Indians are, they'll find a way to win, home-field advantage or not.

Gwynn wants Padres stability

Padres president Larry Lucchino and general manager Randy Smith are mixing like oil and water, leading to much speculation in and around San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium that Smith's option for 1996 won't be exercised.

Last week, Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn stumped for Smith and manager Bruce Bochy.

"We need some stability," Gwynn said. "You've got a manager and a GM on a one-year deal and I think both of them are doing a good job. There is a good foundation here for a solid organization. The job Bochy has done, the job Randy has done, gets lost in all the shuffle because of all the speculation about the trades. Give our manager a break. Give our GM a break. Let them be rewarded for the job they've done."

Lucchino said Smith's status will be addressed in due time.

Reds get better of deal

Cincinnati's eight-player deal with the San Francisco Giants on Friday enabled the Reds to get the starting pitcher they need (Mark Portugal) to replace Jose Rijo, who may be out for the season.

Darren Lewis, acquired from the Giants in the deal, is a better center fielder than the traded Deion Sanders, whose recovery from a severe ankle sprain has been slow.

Reds GM Jim Bowden is generally disliked in baseball circles, but his aggressiveness is admired.

Bowden recognized that Sanders meant more to the Giants than he would for any other team -- because of Sanders' potential return to the 49ers as an NFL free agent -- and playing that hand enabled Bowden to address his team's problems.

The Chicago Cubs continue to play miserably at Wrigley Field, where they are 14-23.

They lost to the New York Mets, 12-3, on Tuesday, and afterward, manager Jim Riggleman tore into the team. "I felt our play was disgraceful," he said. "The fans deserved to have us put on a better show."

The Cubs' front office, by the way, arranged for the cancer-stricken mother of Mets center fielder Brett Butler to attend the games Monday and Tuesday in a sky box.

"That was nice of them," Butler said.

"My mother doesn't have much time left. Her dream was to see her son play at Wrigley Field and the Cubs granted it. They watched over her the whole time."

McGwire the next Walton?

The medical report on Oakland first baseman Mark McGwire, who left a game earlier last week after hurting one of his toes, was ominous.

His pain may be related to a prior heel injury that kept him out for most of two seasons.

His history is starting to sound a little like that of basketball player Bill Walton, whose foot injuries curtailed what should've been a brilliant pro career.

The Athletics say they have no idea when McGwire will be back in the lineup.

Should O's pursue Merced?

Orioles manager Phil Regan was, quite obviously, sending a message to the front office when he said his team needed another hitter to win the AL East.

The trouble is, there isn't a whole lot available on the open market, beyond the Mets' Bobby Bonilla and Toronto's Joe Carter.

Caving in and trading top outfield prospect Alex Ochoa would be a mistake, and so would dealing for Carter and absorbing his $6.5 million salary for next year.

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