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INDIANS’ PAST MAKES WIN OH SO SWEET

SHARE INDIANS’ PAST MAKES WIN OH SO SWEET

The Cleveland Indians were never lovable losers. They never had a cute ballpark like Wrigley Field or a colorful manager like Casey Stengel.

No, there was nothing nice about the Indians.They were a terrible team playing in a place called the Mistake by the Lake. They'd been bad ever since Willie Mays robbed them with that catch more than 40 years ago, so brutal they inspired movies about a team that never won.

All of that made this win so much nicer.

Cleveland clinched its first trip to the World Series since 1954, beating Randy Johnson and the Seattle Mariners 4-0 Tuesday night to win the AL playoffs 4-2.

Winning pitcher Dennis Martinez and the rest of the Indians ran off the bench and met on the mound to celebrate the moment. Manager Mike Hargrove, who played seven seasons for the Indians and never finished higher than next-to-last, looked almost surprised that his team - the most dominant club in the majors this year - had made it so far.

"Maybe a little bit of disbelief, not really disbelief, but can this really be happening," Hargrove said. "So I guess maybe it was a situation where I had to pinch myself to make sure this was the Cleveland Indians and Mike Hargrove in this position. I found out that it really was."

The Indians, who won 100 games in the shortened regular season and swept Boston in the first round of the playoffs, will play the team with the record in the National League, the Atlanta Braves.

Game 1 of the World Series will be Saturday night in Atlanta. Greg Maddux, likely to win his fourth straight Cy Young Award, will start for the Braves, probably against AL playoffs MVP Orel Hershiser, 7-0 lifetime in the postseason.

"Now this team and staff is playoff-tested and they are ready for the World Series," Hershiser said. "The players who have lived through the Cleveland years of the depression of no wins, and the fact of `Here we are, we've made it, we've got to do something,' there was almost an urgency of winning the games early on."

The last time the Indians won the World Series was 1948, when they beat the Boston Braves, and Bob Feller was their star player. The Hall of Fame pitcher was at the Kingdome to see Cleveland clinch this pennant - kind of the way it happened in the movie, "Major League."

The Indians did it behind Martinez, Carlos Baerga and Kenny Lofton.

Martinez pitched seven innings of four-hit ball, earning the first win of his career in the postseason and becoming the oldest pitcher, at age 40, to win a league championship series game.

"Finally I did something that we can all remember," said Martinez, who once pitched a perfect game for Montreal.

"We did something for the people of Cleveland. They've been waiting such a long time."

Baerga had three hits, including a solo homer that capped a three-run eighth and finished Johnson. Baerga batted .400 in the series.

Lofton, whose RBI single in the fifth made it 1-0, had the play of the game, scoring from second base on a passed ball by Dan Wilson in the eighth. Lofton, knocked down by Johnson on the third pitch of the game, came back with two hits and batted .458 in the series.

"First of all, I'm glad for the city of Cleveland to be able to experience this because they haven't experienced this in 41 years," Lofton said.

Certainly not for a long time at old, empty Cleveland Stadium. Next week, though, the Series comes to gleaming, sold-out Jacobs Field.

The Braves await.