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Hershiser Hot at Right Time for Cleveland

September 14, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN

With an 8-1 record in the postseason, it's no surprise that Orel Hershiser is heating up as fall approaches.

The former Dodger right-hander turns 39 Tuesday, but he has provided second-half stability to an injury-riddled and inconsistent Cleveland Indian rotation, going 6-0 since the All-Star break, giving up two earned runs or fewer in nine of 10 starts.

"I'm trying to peak at the right time," he said. "That's the deal when you get to my age. This is the time of year we've been waiting for.

"Hopefully the ability will match the mind-set."

The Indians seem to be peaking too, surviving the injuries, lineup changes and a miserable July-August span that threatened the status of Manager Mike Hargrove to finally take control of the American League Central.

The Indians are headed for a third straight postseason appearance, matching the club's total in the previous 93 years.

"Is it all coming together?" Hershiser said. "I think it is. Did we have some problems earlier? Yes. But a lot of that was because there were a lot of expectations.

"We weren't supposed to have any problems, so every problem was a big deal."

Albert Belle and Kenny Lofton left. David Justice, Marquis Grissom and Matt Williams arrived. Six pitchers went on the disabled list. General Manager John Hart blasted the club and indicted Hargrove for a lack of focus and fundamentals.

"I'll take it any way we can get it," Hart now says of the imminent division title. "Pretty, ugly, it doesn't matter. You just want to get to the playoffs, because that's what good teams do."


The Indians seem headed for a first-round matchup against the wild-card New York Yankees. They get what baseball calls the home-field advantage, but how much of an advantage is it for the Indians when the wild card gets the first two games of the best-of-five series at home? The same scenario took place last year, when the Indians had the best record in baseball but lost the first two games to the wild-card Orioles in Baltimore and were eliminated in Game 4.

"Baseball is a marathon, and winning a division is the hardest thing to do," Hart said. "So why should we give the wild-card team the advantage of playing the first two games at home? The wild card should get one game at home. It should get no advantage."

Eventually, Hart added, the division series will be a best of seven--"It's just a matter of how to get it done."


Assuming that with realignment the AL will continue to use the designated hitter and the NL won't, no team will be hurt more than the Seattle Mariners, who are expected to move to the NL, losing Edgar Martinez as a DH.

Unless the Mariners dumped Paul Sorrento and moved Martinez to first base, the two-time batting champion would have no position.

And despite the two years and $8 million he has left on his contract, Martinez said he would consider "the possibility of retiring" since he isn't sure he "would be happy in what the team would want me to do."

Teammate Jay Buhner is also unhappy about the possible league switch.

"I'm a creature of habit," he said. "I don't like the NL. I don't like the style of play. I like five-hour games."

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