Scoring Machine The acquisition of Roberto Alomar and the emergence of Manny Ramirez have added even more wallop to the Cleveland lineup and sent the Indians racing around the bases at a record clip

May 23, 1999

Clues to understanding why the Cleveland Indians might turn out
to be the most prolific scoring machine ever in baseball aren't
hard to find. Take four consecutive at bats last Friday by
Roberto Alomar, Cleveland's Veg-O-Matic of a No. 3 hitter. In
those trips to the plate at Tiger Stadium, the switch-hitting
Alomar pulled two run-scoring singles to rightfield, hammered a
home run into the upper deck in right and delicately plunked
down a bunt single that flirted shamelessly with the third base
foul line. Oh, by the way, he also swiped his ninth base in 10
tries this season and played an errorless second base for the
43rd straight game. Talk about your player with tools. Only Bob
Vila has more.

As good as the Indians have been since 1994 (four American League
Central titles and two World Series appearances), they haven't
had another player as proficient at so many facets of the game as
the 31-year-old Alomar, whom they signed as a free agent (four
years, $32 million) last winter to replace Joey Cora, who's out
of baseball. Consequently, Cleveland hasn't had an offense that
could slice and dice opponents like this.

Alomar's fingerprints are all over these Indians. He morphs from
power hitter to pest, depending on what's needed. He tattooed
his home run in the fifth inning on Friday night with two outs,
nobody on and his team trailing by one. He went to the plate
sitting on a changeup from Detroit righthander Brian Moehler,
who he noticed had thrown several changeups early in counts to
Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel, the two hitters ahead of Alomar
in the order. When on the third pitch Moehler did throw a
changeup, Alomar pounced. "I had a bad feeling just as I gripped
it to throw it," Moehler said afterward, "just intuition that he
knew it was coming."

Alomar dropped his bunt leading off the eighth inning with the
score tied, three pitches after spying third baseman Frank
Catalanotto playing even with the bag. The Indians won in the
ninth 4-2, on their way to taking two of three in the weekend
series in Detroit. "I don't just sit there and watch the game
like a fan," Alomar says. "I study the game. There are clues out
there, but you have to study closely."

Clues? Cleveland is carpet bombing the American League with bold
hints of what may come this season. Through Sunday the Indians
boasted not only the best record in baseball (26-10) but also
the best start in the franchise's 99-year history and a
major-league-leading .302 team batting average. Moreover, they
were on pace to become only the seventh club since 1900 to score
1,000 runs (chart, page 51). With 251 runs in 36 games, the
countdown to the millennium had begun. If the Tribe continues to
score seven runs a game, it will shatter the 1931 New York
Yankees' modern record of 1,067 runs. "It's like facing a beer
league softball team--everyone can take you out," Moehler says.
"It's just a matter of when they do it. As a pitcher you almost
want to back up two steps after throwing so you don't get hurt."

As for pitching, well, like Cleveland general manager John Hart,
we'll get around to that later. For now it's a lineup that's
deeper than Proust that has the Indians flying. Through Sunday,
Alomar was seventh in the league in batting (.343) and in
on-base percentage (.442), and first in runs (37), which puts
him on a pace to break Earl Averill's 68-year-old club record of
140. After a subpar 1998, centerfielder Lofton (.329) has his
pilot light burning again. Cleanup hitter and rightfielder Manny
Ramirez was hitting .340, had clouted 10 homers and was leading
the majors in RBIs (47) thanks to seeing 114 runners on base in
his first 150 at bats. Finally, the regular 7-8-9 hitters,
leftfielder David Justice (.283, 26 RBIs), third baseman Travis
Fryman (24 RBIs) and catcher Sandy Alomar (.317), were worthy of
the 3-4-5 spots in most any other lineup (chart, last page of
story).

"Bringing Robbie Alomar here has raised the whole team's
awareness of being fundamentally sound, and that includes having
a better approach in hitting situations," Indians manager Mike
Hargrove says. "As coaches and managers, we can tell players
certain things till the cows come home. But it tends to have a
bigger impact when they hear it from other players. Robbie has
come in here and made everyone more aware of the importance of
things like moving runners and taking pitches."

If Cleveland stays on its rampage, it will shed its recent image
as a team more familiar with the cruise-control button than the
accelerator. By June 8 last season the Indians had piled up a 10
1/2-game lead in the Central, but then they played only two
games better than .500 in the remaining 100 games. The Tribe
finished with only one more win (89) than the third-place team
in the American League East, the Toronto Blue Jays. More
damning, in that 100-game span Cleveland was 23-25 after losses,
indicating a lack of urgency attached to defeat. The Indians
eventually ended their 50th straight season without a world
championship by losing to the Yankees in six games in the League
Championship Series.

Hargrove opened spring training this season with a sermon on the
importance of being earnest. Cleveland's $70 million payroll,
the sixth highest in baseball, is twice that of anyone else in
the American League Comedy Central, so Hargrove conjured up
other competition. He challenged the Indians with a statistical
goal: win more than 100 games. His message found its way onto
T-shirts many players still wear beneath their game jerseys:

100+
GO HARD OR GO HOME

They have worn them well. Through Sunday the Indians were 8-1
after losses, having failed to bounce back only when they ran
into the remarkable Pedro Martinez of the Boston Red Sox, who
beat them 3-2 on April 25. "Obviously, we know we have a good
team, but this gives us extra incentive," righthanded starter
Dwight Gooden says of Hargrove's challenge.

That Alomar should be at the fulcrum of this hard-core effort
might seem unexpected considering his season with the Baltimore
Orioles last year. He nearly came to blows with Orioles manager
Ray Miller after Miller chastised him for not backing up first
base on a bunt play and for not backing up the rightfielder on a
carom off the outfield wall. (Alomar says that he told Miller
that Miller was wrong on both counts; he insists that the bunt
was dragged, which required him to charge the ball, and that the
outfield-backup responsibility belonged to the centerfielder.)
Alomar really went postal in his last month with the Orioles,
mailing in a .229 finish to give him a .282 average for the
season. Baltimore so tired of his apparent lack of resolve that
it wanted no part of bringing him back, though he is the
franchise's alltime batting leader (.312). "They told me they
were going in a different direction," Alomar says. "I wanted to
stay, even with Ray Miller there. I was tired of moving around.
I liked Baltimore."

If that was true, why did Alomar have his eye on Cleveland even
during the season? "Whenever we played the Orioles he'd tell me,
'I'd love to play in Cleveland,'" says shortstop Vizquel.

The Indians had seemed a perfect fit for Alomar ever since they
prudently traded a fading Carlos Baerga to the New York Mets in
1996. They tried 15 second basemen after the deal, most with the
defensive range of a cigar store Indian. Also, Roberto would
have a chance to rejoin his older brother, Sandy, who has grown
into a leader since the brothers played eight games together
with the San Diego Padres in 1988 and '89. With his big brother
around, Roberto couldn't coast on his prodigious talent. That
was apparent in spring training when Sandy stepped in as Roberto
began to give one of those yeah-I'll-get-you-later brush-offs to
a reporter. Sandy grabbed Roberto's shoulder and said calmly,
"Do it now."

"We didn't blink about bringing Robbie here," says Hart
concerning the latest of his annual roster tweaks. He has had to
make his moves while conforming to the demands of fiscal
responsibility laid down by owner Richard Jacobs, who last week
announced that he was putting the Indians up for sale. It's a
testament to Hart's ingenuity that he could have baseball's
premier offensive team while seven former Indians are hitting
third or fourth for other clubs: Albert Belle (Orioles), Jeromy
Burnitz (Milwaukee Brewers), Sean Casey (Cincinnati Reds), Brian
Giles (Pittsburgh Pirates), Reggie Jefferson (Red Sox), Jeff
Kent (San Francisco Giants) and Matt Williams (Arizona
Diamondbacks). Cleveland never has paid a player $10 million per
year, which portends the trading of Ramirez after this season.

Like Alomar, Lofton, who will be 32 on May 31, is rejuvenated
after hitting .282 last year, 34 points below his lifetime
average entering '98. Cleveland hitting instructor Charlie Manuel
says that last year Lofton "gave in to the frustration" of a
midseason streak in which several hard-hit balls turned into
outs. "This year, from the first day of spring training, he's
been much more enthusiastic," Manuel says. "He takes extra
hitting at least four times a week. He's hitting the ball hard
into the gaps, and he's more aggressive on the bases." Lofton
reached base 73 times in his first 35 games.

The Indians have been so relentless that 16 of the first 36
starting pitchers to face them lasted fewer than five innings.
Only one, Martinez, made it through eight. Opposing starters
were 6-16 with a 6.84 ERA against Cleveland through Sunday. "You
can't let their depth intimidate you," says Detroit's Dave
Mlicki, who was plastered for eight runs in four innings during
a 12-7 Tribe win last Saturday, "but you can't make mistakes.
They're the type of team that if you make mistakes, they'll make
you pay."

At the plate Cleveland is a lefthanded-dominant team that
especially destroys righthanded pitching, a major advantage in a
league that is so thin on lefthanded pitching that 82% of the
Indians' at bats this year have been against righties.
Cleveland's offense is so good that its own starters were 17-6
despite a bloated 5.22 ERA. No one sounded more appreciative of
the Indians' run-scoring than righthander Dave Burba, who on
Saturday ran his record to 4-1. "Yeah, I'm 4-1, but that's not
because of my pitching. It's because of this team," he says.
"I've never dreamed of a team like this."

Hart has never been able to turn up a No. 1 pitcher, and the
uneven work of Burba, Gooden, Bartolo Colon, Charles Nagy and
Jaret Wright has kept him wishing for Philadelphia Phillies ace
Curt Schilling. That desire, though, has been diminished by a
seven-man bullpen that may be the best in baseball. Hargrove
loves to manipulate matchups with his three lefthanders and
three righthanders in front of closer Mike Jackson, who through
Sunday had converted 22 straight save opportunities since last
August. Reclamation project Steve Karsay, one of those
righthanded setup men, is pumping 98-mph fastballs and breaking
off nasty curveballs four years after elbow surgery had seemed
to have permanently reduced the velocity and movement of his
pitches.

With not quite a quarter of the season played, the Indians have
been so dominant that Detroit general manager Randy Smith says,
"Cleveland could play .500 from here on out and win the
division." He may be right, but this time the Indians are
capable of making an impression more lasting than that. The
clues can't be missed. There may be a thousand of them.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY V.J. LOVERO Manny Foiled The Indians' Manny Ramirez slides safely into third during Sunday's game against the Tigers, only to be stranded there in a rare Cleveland loss (page 48). [Leading Off] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO Battering Ramirez With a major-league-leading 47 RBIs, the opportunistic Ramirez hadn't missed too many chances to drive home teammates. THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO Murderers row Roberto Alomar (above), Jim Thome and Lofton (right) are among the Tribe hitters who give pitchers no pause. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO

At week's end the Indians were producing runs at a
major-league-record pace of almost seven a game. At their
current rate, they would become the first team to score 1,100
runs in a season and, curiously, the first since the advent of
the 162-game schedule to reach 1,000. All six teams that have
had 1,000 or more runs in a season since 1900 did so in the
154-game era.

TEAM YEAR RUNS RBI LEADER RUNS LEADER RECORD
(FINISH)

Yankees 1931 1,067 Lou Gehrig (184)* Lou Gehrig (163) 94-59 (2nd)

Yankees 1936 1,065 Lou Gehrig (152) Lou Gehrig (167) 102-51
(1st**)

Yankees 1930 1,062 Lou Gehrig (174) Babe Ruth (150) 86-68 (3rd)

Red Sox 1950 1,027 Walt Dropo (144) Dom DiMaggio (131) 94-60 (3rd)
Vern Stephens (144)

Cardinals 1930 1,004 Frankie Frisch (114) Frankie Frisch(121) 92-62
(1st)

Yankees 1932 1,002 Lou Gehrig (151) Earle Combs (143) 107-47
(1st**)

*American League record ** Won World Series

Bottoms Up

If you're looking for a soft spot in the Cleveland batting
order, you won't find one. As the numbers through Sunday
demonstrate, among American League teams the Indians were
getting the best run production out of the bottom third of the
lineup, thanks mainly to No. 7 hitter David Justice (below).
Despite missing nine of the Indians' 36 games with an injured
left calf, Justice was hitting .283, with eight homers and 26
RBIs, and had scored 17 runs.

TEAM BA HRs RBIs RUNS

Indians .277 18 74 68
Royals .295 10 63 60
Devil Rays .271 8 47 60
Blue Jays .287 18 72 59
Mariners .296 18 63 58
Red Sox .262 6 42 56
A's .227 8 43 54
Rangers .243 15 52 52
Twins .238 9 59 47
White Sox .255 9 41 47
Angels .247 12 46 44
Yankees .203 12 42 44
Orioles .227 12 45 43
Tigers .243 9 38 41

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)