O.K., O.K., so the Cleveland Indians weren't the best team in the American League in 1987—as a certain magazine boldly proclaimed they would be, only to wind up with egg all over its logo. So they were the worst. Nobody's perfect, right? So instead of tearing up the league, the Tribe lost 101 games to become the first team in major league history to sandwich a winning season between two 100-loss ones. Foreseeing big things for the Tribe was an idea just slightly ahead of its time.
1988. That's what we really meant. This will be the year that the Indians finally contend for something besides the cellar, although after last season's debacle no one in manager Doc Edwards's clubhouse wants to look beyond tomorrow. Heck, when it has been 20 years since you've finished as high as third, you don't start worrying about first place in April.
And yet that's where Cleveland found itself on Sunday after a 4-1 win over the hapless Baltimore Orioles that left the Indians with an 11-2 record and a 1�-game lead over the New York Yankees in the American League East. As second baseman Julio Franco said when the Tribe beat Baltimore 1-0 Saturday to go ahead of the Yankees, "You come back in September and tell me that, and I kiss you."
What's so remarkable about Cleveland's fast start—its best since 1966—is that the Indians have done it with almost the same players they had last year when they won only one of their first 11 games. "There's no pressure on us this year," says centerfielder Joe Carter. "We didn't make a blockbuster deal, but we tried to improve our defense. Three runs will win us a ball game now. Last year we needed eight or nine."
Or more. Cleveland's 1987 home opener before a crowd of 64,540 foreshadowed what was to come. The Indians got 12 hits and 11 runs. And lost.
Here are some other nasty stats from that disastrous season:
?The pitching staff had a 5.28 ERA, the highest in the majors in 31 years, and gave up 957 runs, the most since 1939. They also issued 606 walks, second-most in the league, and allowed a club-record 219 homers.
?The Indians were 14-51 in games in which they scored from three to five runs, by far the worst record in the majors. The St. Louis Cardinals, in contrast, were 45-26 in such games.
? Phil Niekro, the 48-year-old knuckleballer, was leading the team in wins (seven) when he was traded in mid-August. By the time the season ended, only two other Cleveland pitchers managed to equal that total.
?To top it off, the Indians committed a league-leading 153 errors.