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Alomar's heroics come early as Cleveland goes up 3-1

Sandy Alomar hit a two-run homer in the second inning, and the general reaction was: Isn't he supposed to wait until the ninth inning to do that?

Mr. Magic and Team Triumph did not disappoint.This was yet another night for Alomar in a season that defies belief. It was another stop on this momentous journey into October for the Indians, who are winning every which way and erasing two generations of misery for their fans.

Go ahead. Find somebody in Cleveland who has a voice. Find someone who isn't wearing red tube socks hiked to the knee.

Find somebody who didn't think Alomar would win Game 4 of the AL championship series when he stepped to the plate with two outs in the ninth.

After scoring from second on a wild pitch in the fifth inning, Alomar drilled the game-winning hit into the left-center field gap off Armando Benitez in the ninth. Manny Ramirez scored and the Indians beat the stunned Baltimore Orioles 8-7 Sunday night to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.

"You never know in the Jake what's going to happen when we're down," Ramirez said.

Orioles manager Davey Johnson had a different take on it. Somehow, some way, by some bizarre fluke, Baltimore faces elimination in Game 5 tonight.

"Somebody's messing with fate, the way I look at it," Johnson said.

Somebody with red socks and an Indians jersey. Somebody who endured decades of baseball that was so hopeless it inspired a movie called "Major League."

Even Ricky Vaughn and Jake Taylor - played by Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger - would be proud of this Tribe.

"We play like there is no tomorrow," Alomar said.

With some hocus-pocus at home plate and another amazing clutch hit, Alomar has carried the Cleveland Indians to within one win of the World Series.

First, Alomar scored from second on a wild pitch in the fifth on a bizarre play that rivaled the wacky 12th inning of Game 3. Then, after the Indians blew a 7-5 lead, Alomar hit a game-winning single off Armando Benitez in the ninth.

"These games have been tearing my heart out," said Jaret Wright, rocked by three homers by Brady Anderson, Harold Baines and Rafael Palmeiro in the third inning. "I sit on the bench and go through all kinds of emotions."

The rest of the Indians have been slow to pick up on the magic that has touched Alomar all season.

The Cleveland catcher won MVP honors with a decisive two-run homer in the All-Star game at Jacobs Field. He drove in the winning run with a ninth-inning single as the Indians clinched their third straight AL Central title by beating the New York Yankees.

Then came the Game 4 homer against New York in the division series.

And now this.

"We expect to play Game 7 every day we come to the ballpark," Alomar said. "We don't take anything for granted, no matter who we're playing.'

Alomar gave the Indians a 2-1 lead with a two-run homer off Scott Erickson in the second. His RBI single in the fifth led to the strange parade of runners on Arthur Rhodes' wild pitch.

"It's been unbelievable," Alomar said. "This team hasn't played like this the whole season. It seems like in the postseason, we are a different team."

Baltimore pulled within one in the seventh and Jose Mesa blew the lead in the ninth. He allowed the first two runners to reach on a walk and a single, and Rafael Palmeiro hit an RBI single off the reliever's glove.

"I was practicing stress management," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said.

Ramirez led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk - the first runner in three-plus innings against reliever Alan Mills. Lefty Jesse Orosco came on and almost picked Ramirez off first, which would have been a replay of the ninth in Game 3.

Kevin Seitzer sacrificed Ramirez to second. And after Williams walked on a 3-2 pitch with two outs, Alomar came to the rescue.

"I've been two runs down and down to my last strike and won a ballgame, so don't tell me about fate taking over," Johnson said, referring to the New York Mets' comeback against Boston in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. "We have a ways to go yet."

Rhodes relieved Erickson with two outs in the fifth and loaded the bases with a walk to Brian Giles. Rhodes then bounced a 2-2 pitch to Marquis Grissom, allowing David Justice to sprint home with the go-ahead run.

Catcher Lenny Webster, at the center of the controversial game-ending play Saturday, chased after the ball this time and flipped to Rhodes, who was upended by a hard-sliding Justice. The ball got away, allowing Alomar to race home all the way from second, giving the Indians a 7-5 lead.

"From what I understand, Justice was holding Arthur from getting to the ball," said Webster, who didn't chase the ball in Game 3, thinking Omar Vizquel had foul-tipped it on his missed squeeze that allowed Grissom to score the winning run.

Reliever Brian Anderson, who grew up on the outskirts of Cleveland, was as stunned as anybody by this weekend that has made the Jake quake.

"Growing up here, the Indians were never in the postseason or threatened to be," said Anderson, a late addition to the playoff roster who pitched 3 1-3 innings of one-hit relief after Wright was knocked out in three innings.

*****

Additional Information

Indians vs. Orioles

ALCS Game 5, today

Start: 6:11 MDT. TV: FOX (Ch. 13). Radio: KSL-1160.

Pitching matchup: Baltimore (Kamieniecki 10-6) at Cleveland (Ogea 8-9).

Series: Indians lead 3-1.