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Franz Lidz
June 27, 1988
Cleveland won two of three from New York as the American League East race took off
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June 27, 1988

A High Old Time

Cleveland won two of three from New York as the American League East race took off

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You are watching a human sacrifice. It's the bottom of the sixth inning in Cleveland on Sunday, and New York Yankees reliever Tim Stoddard comes in to pitch with two on, two out and the Indians leading 4-3. Julio Franco hits a single. Willie Upshaw walks. Stoddard throws a wild pitch. Joe Carter walks. Suddenly the score is 6-3.

Stoddard walks the first batter he faces in the seventh. He has nothing, nothing at all. But New York manager Billy Martin has no one warming up in the bullpen. Brook Jacoby doubles. Still no action. Ron Washington walks. Bases loaded. Dave Clark walks. Cleveland leads 7-3. Finally, Martin relents. He brings in Charles Hudson. Andy Allanson hits a grand slam on Hudson's second pitch. The final score is 11-3.

In his office after the game, Martin calmly picks at the greasy ribs on his plate. "I didn't know Stoddard was going to throw that wild pitch," Martin says. "I didn't know he was going to throw three straight walks. Sometimes you've got to go down the drain with a guy."

Great leaders understand the importance of sacrifice. After Sunday's debacle, the Yankees were still in first place in the American League East, although their lead was just half a game over the surging Detroit Tigers and two games over surprising Cleveland. Nonetheless, it was mid-June already, and the Bronx Bombers had only 97 games left to play. With New York, things can blow at any moment. As rightfielder Dave Winfield had said before the series against the Indians began on Friday, "If we drop all three, the lid will really blow off the kettle. It'll be one steamy locker room."

The Yanks lost only two of three, but George Steinbrenner, the Culver military academy graduate who heads the Yankee military-industrial complex, doesn't like to watch his outfit lose at all. Especially in his hometown. Especially to a franchise he once tried to buy. And especially when that franchise finished 1987 with the worst record in baseball.

But this is a different sort of Indians team, one that draws power as much from uplifting thoughts as from its cleanup hitter. "If positive thinking were horse manure," says manager Doc Edwards, "I could grow grass on my desk."

Something has certainly made the Indians grow healthier. Last year's pitching staff had a collective ERA of 5.28, the league's highest since 1956, and no pitcher won more than seven games. At week's end, this season's staff had the league's fifth-best ERA, 3.81, and Greg (Zeke) Swindell and John Farrell were a combined 17-8.

Swindell had been 10-1 before losing three consecutive decisions: he didn't pitch in the New York series. Once known mostly for his overpowering fastball, Swindell, at the precocious age of 23, has become a control freak, allowing only 16 walks in 108 innings. A three-time All-America at Texas, Swindell brings a kind of frat-house enthusiasm to the Cleveland clubhouse. When the Tribe needs runs, Swindell orders his teammates in the dugout to turn their hats backward. He bestows a Zeke of the Week award—a refrigerator-door magnet in the form of the Indians' mascot, Chief Wahoo—to a deserving teammate. "Zeke shows us the game is fun—you can't take it too seriously," says Carter.

Cleveland hasn't been taken seriously so late in a season for years. Perhaps that's why Indians leftfielder Mel Hall downplayed the New Yorkers' visit. "It's nothing serious," he said. "It's just on the schedule." Doug Jones, the red-hot righthanded relief pitcher, felt otherwise. "Anything associated with the Yankees is important," he said. "You tend to put them in a different category. But eventually you realize they put their jocks on the same way we do."

Yet according to Cleveland's designated hitter, Ron Kittle, there's a difference between the two teams. Kittle, who spent parts of the last two seasons with the Yankees, says, "We're out to beat them. And they're out to bury us."

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