As a youngster, Hershiser participated in a skills

By Tom Withers Associated Press Published:

As a youngster, Hershiser participated in a skills contest in baseball's most famous ballpark. He's pitched there since, and tonight he'll take the mound there again. This time, though, there'll be New York Yankees in the batter's box and much more at stake than a plastic trophy.

"It's a return to a childhood dream," said Hershiser, Cleveland's Game 1 starter against New York in the AL playoffs. "When I was eight years old, I was there in a throw, hit and run contest. It was like a big league dream. Now I'm 39 years old. It's 31 years later, and I'm pitching there in a big league playoff game."

Hershiser (14-6) has already pitched in plenty of big league playoff games, compiling an 8-1 mark in 13 postseason starts.

"I've been fortunate to pitch well in the spotlight," Hershiser said before the Indians worked out Monday night. "It's the time when careers can be made or broken."

Both the spotlight and a national television audience will be focused on Hershiser and Yankees starter David Cone (12-6). The big-name, big-game pitchers are but one of several intriguing head-to-head confrontations in the best-of-5 division series.

"It's a tough matchup," Cone said. "It's a good team matchup, and a good matchup individually."

It will be the Indians' power and offensive balance against the Yankees' superior starting pitchers. Cleveland's bullpen vs. New York's deep bench. AL Central champs vs. AL wild card. Two World Series titles vs. 23.

Following their Monday workout, New York manager Joe Torre ended the only remaining suspense for the series by naming David Wells his Game 3 starter. The left-hander (16-10) will face Charles Nagy (15-10) on Saturday in Cleveland.

Torre chose Wells, who has been inconsistent during his first season in New York, over Dwight Gooden despite Gooden's 3-0 record against the Indians this season.

Torre did have a couple of minor surprises when he announced his starting lineup for Game 1. Tim Raines will bat leadoff as the designated hitter, with Chad Curtis, traded to the Yankees by the Indians earlier this year, batting sixth and playing left field. The decision to use Raines puts Cecil Fielder on the bench.

Fielder appeared to take the news fairly well.

"Deja vu, baby. Whatever," said Big Daddy, who sat for Game 1 of last year's opening-round series against Texas. "I'm just going to be ready to play when the time comes."

Torre also decided to leave his two most maligned pitchers, Hideki Irabu and Kenny Rogers, off his postseason roster for the first round.

Cone's performance in the opener could be the key to the series, and to the Yankees' ability to defend their title. The right-hander has admitted he's not 100 percent after being sidelined with tendinitis in his shoulder.

He pitched five no-hit innings against the Indians last week, and was encouraged by his off-day workout over the weekend in Detroit. He says he's pain-free, but couldn't predict what he would be able to do against the Indians.

"I'm taking it pitch by pitch, inning by inning," he said. "All I can do is the best I can with what I have."

On Monday, both Hershiser and Cone had high praise for each other.

"The ultimate gamer," Hershiser said of Cone. "He's in his prime and I'm in the twilight, but I still have teeth, and we'll just go at it."

Cone on Hershiser: "He's one of the best big-game pitchers of our generation."

For the first time in three years, the Indians are entering the postseason as decided underdogs. Cleveland's record is the worst among the four AL entrants, and a few weeks ago New York reliever Jeff Nelson's comments that the Yankees would rather face the Indians than the Seattle Mariners were highlighted and posted on the wall in the Tribe's clubhouse.

"Anybody who plays the world champs should be the underdog," Hargrove said. "I have no problem with that."

Neither does Hershiser.

"If Nelson's happy with this, so are we," he said. "I didn't want to play the Mariners, either. Who wants to face Randy Johnson twice in a five-game series? Those are guaranteed defeats."

Oh, and what about that contest 31 years ago, Orel?

"I finished third out of four," he said. "I'd like to know where the other three guys are."

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