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You wouldn't have known it from the past

By John AffleckAssociated Press Published: October 15, 1997 12:00 AM

You wouldn't have known it from the past three days.

As Cleveland took two of three games at home from Baltimore, the Indians faithful made Jacobs Field shake every time an Oriole hitter had two strikes on him. They wore those goofy red socks and hugged strangers. With each Sandy Alomar at-bat and Baltimore out, they became more convinced they'll win not just the AL title but the World Series.

Not even Monday night's 4-2 loss to the Orioles could shake their sense of destiny. If anything, Cleveland's two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth reinforced fans' confidence.

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"I'm glad they didn't just die," said Bill Dutton as he left the stadium. "We're definitely still in this thing and we've got a great shot to win one in Baltimore."

After a season in which Cleveland struggled to win a weak division, the Indians can still take the AL championship series by winning Game 6 or 7 in Baltimore. The Orioles victory on Monday cut the Indians lead in the best-of-7 series to 3-2.

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Although few in this city of a half-million will admit it now, even the most die-hard fans never expected to be in this position. The city felt this team was less talented than both its 1995 and '96 playoff teams.

But nothing builds faith in destiny like clutch hitting and a couple of breaks. Cleveland has had both in the postseason.

Against the Yankees, there was Alomar's eighth-inning homer in Game 4 followed by Omar Vizquel's game-winning single _ a ricochet off the glove of pitcher Ramiro Mendoza _ that saved Cleveland from elimination.

Against the Orioles, there was the bizarre end to Game 3, with Marquis Grissom scoring on a stolen base during a botched squeeze play to give Cleveland a 2-1 win. There was more of the same in Sunday night's Game 4 as Alomar scored from second on a wild pitch and later hit the game-winning single.

Even in Monday night's loss, the game ended with Cleveland base runners on second and third.

The net result has been a city in the throes of a collective obsession and baseball love fest.

"We're definitely going to take it all," Rhonda Lewis, a Chief Wahoo painted on her face, said as she left the stadium. "I've had this feeling for a few games now and I still have it."

Such enthusiasm has been visible not just in the thousands of fans partying outside Jacobs Field hours before _ and after _ each game. It's not just the "Go Tribe!" banners that hang from virtually every major downtown office building.

It's the little things. It's the "Go Tribe" sign that a parking attendant took the time to write on notebook paper and stick on the entry gate to his garage.

It's people like Lisa Senart, Carolyn Furfard and Louise Hoff, three sisters wearing Indians earrings, bracelets and pins, who were taking pictures of Jacobs Field 10 hours before Monday night's game.

They had just returned from a weekend wedding Baltimore, where they were the only Indians fans. All of them were hoarse from cheering in a hostile crowd.

"We did great," Hoff said. "We won money and had a good time."

And, of course, there are the red socks _ Cleveland's latest gift to the fashion world. The Indians took to imitating Jim Thome's style of wearing his socks with his pants hiked up to his knees on the first baseman's birthday Aug. 27, and have superstitiously kept them there ever since. The city has joined in the fun.

"We sold out of red socks twice _ and we're a soccer store," said Kathy Astley, a salesperson at The Frontline Soccer and Sport Shop. "People came in complaining that they couldn't get red socks anywhere else."

Donna Baznik loaded up on red socks for herself, her husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandson before Monday night's big game.

"To me, the socks symbolize pulling together as a team," Baznik said. "I'm a total believer."

In Cleveland, who isn't?

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