No mistaking these Indians for lovable losers

INSIDE PITCH

September 11, 1995|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

They used to make fun of the ballpark, the town and the team, not necessarily in that order.

No more.

Jacobs Field has replaced the "mistake by the lake," the common nickname for Cleveland Stadium. Spurred by a park that is a mirror image of Camden Yards and the recently dedicated Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, the city has enjoyed a remarkable rebirth.

And the Cleveland Indians have become the best baseball team money didn't have to buy. Did all of this start with the release of the movie "Major League" and escalate with the filming of the sequel at Camden Yards?

Or is all of this just a figment of Bob Uecker's imagination?

After watching the Indians systematically, if not overpoweringly, dismantle the Orioles over the weekend, a scary thought developed. They are on the verge of becoming the first team in 41 years to post a percentage over .700 (Cleveland did it in 1954, the same year the Orioles started), and yet the Indians may not have hit their peak yet.

The reason? Their pitching, already the best in the American League, figures to get better. Chad Ogea and Mark Clark, who started two of the three games against the Orioles, are not exactly household names. Neither is Charles Nagy, but all three are quality, young starters who have improved consistently during the course of this season. And the Indians have another prospect, Alan Embree, who was the hardest thrower in the Triple-A American Association this year.

While the Indians have, deservedly, built a reputation as baseball's most powerful comeback team, the pitching staff has not been given its due. As demonstrated over the weekend, the Indians have the enviable ability to stay in games when they're not scoring a lot of runs.

Were it not for the pitching staff and a sound defense, many of those comebacks (such as yesterday's 5-3 win over the Orioles) wouldn't have been possible. In three games, the Orioles scored in only four of 27 innings.

A pitching staff that keeps opponents off the scoreboard for 23 of 27 innings isn't going to lose many games. And obviously, the Indians haven't.

They can't count on much more mileage from Dennis Martinez and Orel Hershiser, but the two veterans have provided a bridge to the young starters. The same is true of Eddie Murray and the solid array of young hitters around him.

And here's more bad news. The Indians have more young talent on the horizon. In a recent Baseball America poll rating prospects in the Single-A Carolina League, players on the Indians' team in Kinston finished first in 11 of 18 categories.

Which means that in a couple of years the Indians will be ready to infuse even more young talent. Imagine how good they might be when "Major League III" comes out.

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