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September 30, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN


* Tonight--Cleveland (Orel Hershiser, 14-6) at New York (David Cone, 12-6), 5 p.m.

* Thursday--Cleveland (Jaret Wright, 8-3) at New York (Andy Pettitte, 18-7), 5 p.m.

* Saturday--New York (David Wells, 16-10) at Cleveland (Charles Nagy, 15-11), 4:30 p.m.

* Sunday--(If necessary) New York at Cleveland, 4:30 p.m.

* Monday--(If necessary) New York at Cleveland, 5 p.m.


Cleveland 86-75, New York 96-66.


New York won season series, 6-5.




Pos. Player Avg. 2B Bip Roberts .302 SS Omar Vizquel .280 RF Manny Ramirez .328 1B Jim Thome .286 3B Matt Williams .263 DH David Justice .329 C Sandy Alomar Jr. .324 LF Brian Giles .268 CF Marques Grissom .262


* ANALYSIS: The Indians won their third consecutive Central Division title but struggled. Rotation ace Jack McDowell was lost early, setting the tone. The latest loss was particularly costly. Left-hander John Smiley, who was acquired in July and would have started tonight in an attempt to offset the left-handed power of Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill in Yankee Stadium, broke his arm warming up in the bullpen two weeks ago, leaving the club to use three right-handers against New York. The return to form of Jose Mesa as the closer in a deep and flexible bullpen compensated somewhat for the injuries. Cleveland continued to produce offensively, despite the departure of Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Julio Franco, among others.

* KEY RESERVES: The second-half acquisition of Roberts improved the Indians' versatility. Giles, who had 17 homers and 61 RBIs, packs some punch and will play left field when Roberts plays second. Kevin Seitzer (.268) is an experienced hitter.

* TEAM BATTING: .286, third in the league. The Indians were second in home runs with 220.

* TEAM PITCHING: 4.73, ninth in the league. The injury riddled pitching staff had only four complete games. Only the Oakland Athletics had fewer, two.




Pos. Player Avg. DH Tim Raines .321 SS Derek Jeter .291 RF Paul O'Neill .324 CF Bernie Williams .328 1B Tino Martinez .296 LF Chad Curtis .284 3B Wade Boggs .292 C Joe Girardi .264 2B Rey Sanchez .312


* ANALYSIS: The Yankees roll into the playoffs, having won five in a row and 17 of their last 22 games. They are in top form and capable of beating anyone, providing Cone's shoulder tendinitis has eased and Wells has overcome the mechanical flaws that contributed to five successive losses in late August and early September. Three Yankees--Martinez, O'Neill and Williams--drove in 100 runs or more, and Mariano Rivera saved 43 games as John Wetteland's successor. New York gets the first two games at home, hardly a disadvantage for the wild-card team.

* KEY RESERVES: The Yankees have considerable bench strength and a number of ways to go with it. Manager Joe Torre chose to sit Cecil Fielder and play Curtis (15 homers, 55 RBIs) in left, and use Raines as his designated hitter for Game 1, primarily because Curtis provides better defense in Yankee Stadium. Catcher-DH Mike Stanley (.297, 16 homers, 65 RBIs) and third baseman Charlie Hayes (.258, 11, 53) add to the mix. Darryl Strawberry, a factor last year but limited to 29 at-bats this year by a knee injury that required surgery, is not on the playoff roster.

* TEAM BATTING: .287, second in the league. Yankees were also second in hits and runs, and led in two important and related categories, walks and on-base percentage.

* TEAM PITCHING: 3.84, first in the league. Yankees were third in strikeouts, complete games and saves.


Hershiser, as he has in other Octobers, must come up big for the Indians to have a chance. With the loss of Smiley two weeks ago, Cleveland has to ask Wright, the impressive rookie, to withstand the pressure and hysterics of the Bronx as the Game 2 starter, compounding the pressure on Hershiser.

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