Indians must get into swing Pitching questions make more offense a necessity

October 08, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Nothing has come easily for the Cleveland Indians this year. They opened the season minus two of the most productive players in the game -- Albert Belle and Kenny Lofton -- and had to overcome a long series of pitching injuries just to hold off the sub-.500 Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers in the lightly contested American League Central.

Their presence in the AL Championship Series is something of an upset, even though they faced the wild-card entry in the first round of the playoffs, but don't be fooled. The Indians are not going to stand on the curb and watch the orange-and-black parade pass by.

General manager John Hart moved decisively in the winter and spring to assure that the Indians would have a formidable offensive lineup. He acquired power-hitting third baseman Matt Williams from the San Francisco Giants in anticipation of Belle's becoming a free agent. He traded Lofton to the Atlanta Braves in a huge deal that brought Marquis Grissom and David Justice.

The result: The Indians are not the imposing offensive team they were with Lofton and Belle, but they still have an explosive attack that can erase a lot of pitching mistakes and may have to.

The Indians opened the season with a seemingly solid starting rotation that included Jack McDowell, Orel Hershiser, Charles Nagy and promising Chad Ogea. They survived the Division Series on a gutsy effort by Hershiser and a breakthrough performance by rookie Jaret Wright. They'll need more of that magic to defeat the deeper, better-balanced Orioles.

So, here are five things that the Indians must do to get to the World Series:

1. The old guy has to come through again.

Hershiser stepped up in Game 4 of the Division Series, showing why they call him "The Bulldog" and why he is known as one of baseball's best clutch pitchers. But there aren't a lot of miles left in his 39-year-old arm.

Hershiser will pitch a potentially pivotal Game 3 and probably would be the starter in the decisive seventh game if the series went the distance.

2. They must have the Wright stuff.

The young right-hander has the right bloodlines. He's the son of former California Angels 20-game winner Clyde Wright, and the scouts say he's got a chance to be much better than his father.

He's just 21 years old, but you wouldn't have known it by the way he bounced back from a shaky start to pitch six strong innings in Game 2 of the Division Series against the New York Yankees. And you certainly would not have known it by the way he shook off a ton of pressure to out-duel left-hander Andy Pettitte in Game 5.

3. The offense has to play bigger against the Orioles, because the Indians cannot afford to reduce the ALCS to a battle of the bullpens.

The Cleveland offense averaged 4.2 runs in the first playoff round, but the Indians probably don't have enough pitching to make that stand up again.

4. The real Jose Mesa has to show up.

The Indians' closer got off to a rocky start this year, but the former Oriole came back to re-establish himself as a front-line closer and was on the mound for the final 1 2/3 innings of the club's one-run victory in Game 5 on Monday night.

The Orioles have more depth in the bullpen, but Mesa is a horse who can pitch the final two innings if necessary.

5. The Indians have to suck it up.

The Orioles had Monday off to recover from their hard-fought victory over Seattle Mariners ace Randy Johnson the day before. They are at home. They are healthy. They have a rested pitching staff that is configured well for a seven-game series.

The Indians came from behind to score an emotional victory in Game 4, then had to outlast the Yankees in a tense one-run game late Monday night to advance to the ALCS. They have to be drained, but they can't afford to let down.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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