Who in their wildest dreams would have thought

By Ken Berger Associated Press Published:

Who in their wildest dreams would have thought the Cleveland Indians would someday say that?

Dominated by New York for decades, the Indians beat their longtime nemesis in dramatic fashion Tuesday night, coming back from a seven-run deficit for a 10-9 victory that helped clinch Cleveland's third straight AL Central title.

About 10 minutes after Sandy Alomar blooped a game-winning single to center in the ninth, second-place Chicago was eliminated with a 5-3 loss to Minnesota.

Mayhem broke loose at Jacobs Field, and the celebration really began when thousands watched the White Sox make the final out on the scoreboard television.

"We wanted to let Cleveland know that once the postseason gets here, it's time to rock and sock," said Indians first baseman Jim Thome, whose style of wearing knee-length socks spread to the whole team on Aug. 27, his 27th birthday. Cleveland is 16-8 since then.

For those who have followed the Indians long enough, a 10-minute wait to polish off a division title must have seemed like nothing. The Indians were dismal for decades, not winning a championship of any kind for 41 years between AL titles of 1954 and '95.

Even when Cleveland was a contender in the 1950s, those blasted Bronx Bombers kept finishing ahead of them. Cleveland was second to New York five times in the '50s _ from 1951-53 and 1955-56.

"What a way to win it, coming back from seven runs down to beat those despicable New York Yankees," said Debbie Wirtz of Shaker Heights. "And we're going to beat them next week, too."

Indeed, Cleveland will probably have to face New York in the first round of the AL playoffs. This was generally not a welcome scenario in these parts. New York has beaten the Indians 1,002 times, making the Yankees the only AL team to have 1,000 wins against an opponent.

Cleveland's comeback spoiled Tino Martinez's 44th homer, a two-run shot in the third that gave him 141 RBIs. Kenny Rogers started for New York and was shaky, allowing six runs and seven hits in six innings.

The Yankees hammered Charles Nagy again, scoring six earned runs on seven hits in five innings against the Indians' No. 1 starter. Nagy is 0-2 in three starts against New York this season (nine innings, 24 hits, 18 earned runs) and 6-9 in his career.

"For a while, I didn't give anybody much reason to celebrate," Nagy said.

It was quite a time for the Indians to get their first victory in 63 tries when trailing after eight innings. Whether the ripple effect will reach next week's probable playoff matchup is anybody's guess.

"None of us, nobody on this team, nobody in this city, knows how far we'll go," Thome said. "But it's going to be fun."

Joe Torre, manager of the defending World Series champions, tends to think his club can get over it.

"This game doesn't have any bearing on next week," he said.

David Justice hit his 32nd homer off Hideki Irabu in a two-run eighth as the Indians pulled within 9-8, then tied it with a single off Jeff Nelson (3-7) in the ninth to set up Alomar's game-winning hit.

Justice was a member of five division champions during his years with Atlanta, and won two of them while watching another team lose on television at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

"It's a great feeling, the same feeling as when we clinched in Atlanta," Justice said. "They're all exciting."

Alomar had three hits and four RBIs, capping the comeback in yet another thrilling moment for him in this ballpark. Alomar hit the go-ahead homer and was named MVP of the All-Star game in his own park in July.

"I guess I'm always in the right spot," Alomar said. "David Justice's hit gave me a chance to get mine. If he doesn't get that hit, I never get to the plate."

Jose Mesa (4-4), another key figure on that 1995 Cleveland team, got two outs for the victory.

Notes: Torre said before the game that he would not use closer Mariano Rivera because he was tired, explaining why Nelson was used in the save situation in the ninth. ... New York is 28-14 against Cleveland since 1994, including 13-5 at Jacobs Field. ... Cleveland won 27 games in its last at-bat in winning the AL pennant in 1995. ... Nagy's shortest outing of the year came against the Yankees on June 20. In two previous outings against New York, he had a 27.00 ERA and lasted only four innings. ... Irabu has a 7.45 ERA in four relief appearances (9 2/3 innings).

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