They seem to be saying, 'I told you

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They seem to be saying, 'I told you so.'

A few weeks ago, some were ready to write off the Indians, who played well below their potential for most of the season. Now, after a three-game sweep of the White Sox and a two-game split with AL East-leading Baltimore, the magic-number count has begun: 16.

"A whole lot has been said and written about this ballclub, and I think it was undeserved in a lot of cases," said manager Mike Hargrove, whose team is 18-9 since Aug. 12.

"People expected too much," catcher Sandy Alomar said. "You get caught up in names. 'Oh, they've got All-Star names, they're going to win.' It doesn't work that way."

At this point, the Indians don't care why it's working. Theories abound, starting with the "high socks" superstition employed to celebrate Jim Thome's birthday and enforced by Omar Vizquel, chief of the fashion police.

Thome, a throwback in many respects, wears knee-high socks the way the old-timers did. On Aug. 27, his 27th birthday, someone on the team suggested to Vizquel that everyone wear his socks like Thome that night.

"OK," Vizquel said, rallying the troops with the biggest battle cry since the Alamo. "Socks up."

The Indians scored 10 runs in an inning and hammered the Anaheim Angels 10-4. They are 9-3 since hiking up the hose and lead the Milwaukee Brewers by a modest but season-high six games.

"I still hate the high socks," Vizquel confided. "But hey, we're winning."

While their impact on the quality of baseball played by their inhabitants is questionable, the socks must say something about team unity. Everyone should get a chance to watch grown men dicker about the proper way to wear baseball socks.

Just when Alomar thought he could keep a straight face when talking about it, Manny Ramirez sauntered by. Alomar lost it when he saw Ramirez, a free-spirit often with an agenda unknown even to him, was walking around with cowboy boots over his uniform socks.

"The guy's nuts, dude," Alomar explained.

Cleveland's turnaround is more than just a fashion statement. The Indians are looking like a dangerous postseason team because their bullpen has come around _ and so have longtime National Leaguers Matt Williams and Marquis Grissom.

Jose Mesa, who struggled in the first half after being acquitted of a rape charge, has 10 saves in his last 13 appearances and hasn't allowed an earned run in 17 1/3 innings.

"I think Jose is throwing as well right now as all of 1995," said Hargrove, referring to the year Mesa had 46 saves in 48 chances and Cleveland finished a utopian 100-44.

Williams had his career-high 24-game hitting streak snapped Tuesday night in a 9-3 loss to the Orioles. The third baseman batted .357 with six homers and 27 RBIs during the streak, giving him a respectable 31 homers and 96 RBIs.

Grissom was 1-for-3 Tuesday night and has hit in 14 of 16 games (.426) to raise his average from .245 to .265.

"I don't want to say it's a relief," said general manager John Hart, who took a risk by filling Cleveland's lineup with ex-National Leaguers in trades that included the blockbuster deal with Atlanta for Kenny Lofton. "I think it's just reality."

The Indians will need more than superstition to get through the home stretch of 21 games in 18 days, including at least three doubleheaders.

But they are winning, and they are relaxed. Are the socks and the chemistry just a coincidence, or cause and effect?

They'll leave that to the hosiery historians.

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