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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / AMERICAN LEAGUE

Cleveland Indians Vs. Boston Red Sox

September 29, 1998|TIM KAWAKAMI

SCHEDULE

Today: Boston (Pedro Martinez, 19-7) at Cleveland (Jaret Wright, 12-10), 10 a.m., ESPN.

Wednesday: Boston (Tim Wakefield, 17-8) at Cleveland (Dwight Gooden, 8-6), 10 a.m., ESPN.

Friday: Cleveland (Charles Nagy, 15-10) at Boston (Bret Saberhagen, 15-8), 1 p.m., ESPN.

Saturday: Cleveland (Bartolo Colon, 14-9, or Wright) at Boston (Pete Schourek, 1-3) if necessary, time and TV TBA.

Sunday: Boston (Martinez) at Cleveland (Wright or Gooden), if necessary, time and TV TBA.

RED SOX AT A GLANCE

Lineup

*--*

CF Darren Lewis .268 3B John Valentin .247 1B Mo Vaughn .337 SS Nomar Garciaparra .323 LF Troy O'Leary .270 DH Mike Stanley .256 RF Darren Bragg .279 C Scott Hatteberg .276 2B Mike Benjamin .272

*--*

Analysis: Other than the Yankees, Boston is probably the most balanced team in the league. Valentin, Vaughn, who lost the batting title to Bernie Williams by only two points, and Garciaparra make this offense go. If that trio is humming, the Red Sox can score a ton of runs. Meanwhile, the Red Sox pitching staff has held up consistently, and across the board. With big performances from Martinez, Wakefield, Saberhagen and a record-breaking season from closer Tom Gordon--42 consecutive saves, 46 for the season--Boston had the arms to avoid long losing streaks. Also, Lewis, Garciaparra and Benjamin give the Red Sox up-the-middle confidence on defense. If there's a weakness, it's on the bench. In the late innings, Boston just doesn't have any big bats to send out as pinch-hitters, in big contrast to the Indians.

Key Reserves: Outfielder Damon Buford (.282, 10 HRs, 42 RBIs), catcher Jason Varitek (.253, 7 HRs, 33 RBIs).

Team batting: .280, third in American League.

Team pitching: 4.18 ERA, second in American League.

INDIANS AT A GLANCE

Lineup

*--*

CF Kenny Lofton .282 2B Joey Cora .276 1B Jim Thome .293 RF Manny Ramirez .294 DH David Justice .280 3B Travis Fryman .287 LF Richie Sexon .310 C Sandy Alomar .235 SS Omar Vizquel .288

*--*

Analysis: Different parts of this powerful lineup have been bruised this season, but it never really mattered because the Indians, once again, had no competition in the Central Division. Thome was an MVP candidate before missing much of summer because of a broken hand and hasn't gotten back into the groove. Lofton never seemed to really get going. After hitting six postseason homers in 1997, Alomar hit that many in all of 1998. Fryman is nursing a sore back. Ramirez (45 homers, 145 RBIs) was the real arrival, shaking off suggestions of immaturity and putting up the same numbers Albert Belle used to in Cleveland. The pitching staff is deep, but not particularly overpowering, especially considering that Wright and Colon struggled through the late summer with tired arms. Gooden and Nagy were the most consistent starters after the All-Star break.

Key Reserves: Outfielder-DH Brian Giles (.269, 16 HR), outfielder-DH Mark Whiten (.283, 29 RBIs).

Team batting: .272, sixth in American League.

Team pitching: 4.44 ERA, fifth in National League.

KEYS TO THE SERIES

Can the sometimes overeager Indian hitters stay patient and get hittable pitches from Martinez, Wakefield and Saberhagen?

Can Vaughn forget his disastrous 0-for-15 fizzle against the Indians in the 1995 playoffs?

Since neither Boston's Gordon nor Cleveland's Mike Jackson has had a long career as a closer--though both had marvelous seasons--will either, or both, be able to shoulder the pressures of the moment? If there are trouble signs, can Boston's Dennis Eckersley or Cleveland's set-up-man-by-committee step in for the crucial outs?

Records: Cleveland 89-73; Boston 92-70.

Head to Head: Boston won season series, 8-3.

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