Given what they've accomplished thus far, it might

By David Ginsburg Associated Press Published:

Given what they've accomplished thus far, it might be wise to believe them.

The Indians are back in the World Series for the second time in three years, using an 11th-inning homer from last-minute starter Tony Fernandez to beat the Baltimore Orioles 1-0 Wednesday and win the AL Championship Series 4-2.

Cleveland seeks to cement its first World Series championship since 1948, beginning Saturday night on the road against the Florida Marlins.

The Indians went 86-75 during the regular season, struggling at times before winning their third straight AL Central title. Then came the playoffs, and things started getting a little magical.

First, the Tribe rallied from a 2-1 deficit to eliminate the defending champion New York Yankees in the best-of-5 division series. Then Cleveland ousted the team with the best record in the league, beating the Orioles with four one-run victories.

Baltimore won 12 more regular-season games than the Indians.

"If people really looked at the character of this ballclub, if they looked at the reasons why we were sputtering all year long, they'd understand injuries have had a lot to do with our regular season," manager Mike Hargrove said.

"It's no coincidence that our team straightened out and started playing better baseball in September. We've got a good bunch of guys who have a lot of heart, a lot of character and a lot of talent."

This team differs from the 1995 squad, which lost the World Series to Atlanta, in a variety of ways. The Indians no longer have Albert Belle, but they have a keen grasp of the fundamentals and the desire to incorporate teamwork into the formula for winning.

Example: With the game scoreless and the Orioles threatening with runners on first and second with no outs in the seventh, third baseman Matt Williams scooped up a bunt by Roberto Alomar and wheeled to throw out the lead runner. Geronimo Berroa then hit into a double play.

Four innings later, Fernandez, replacing late scratch Bip Roberts at second base, hit his first homer in 133 career playoff at-bats to send the Indians to victory.

Cleveland was the underdog in both playoff series, another departure from 1995.

"This is a totally different feeling. We're in a position where we weren't supposed to be," Cleveland starter Charles Nagy said. "In '95 we were picked to go to the Series and win it all. From top to bottom, everybody's doing the little things we have to do to win."

Nagy did his part in Game 6, matching zeroes with Mike Mussina into the eighth inning.

The Indians managed only one hit in eight innings off Mussina, who turned in his second straight sensational performance in a losing cause. Mussina left after having thrown 108 pitches in his second successive start with three days' rest.

Mussina set an ALCS record with 15 strikeouts in Game 3, but the Orioles failed to score during his seven innings and lost 2-1 in the 12th. The right-hander was even sharper this time, retiring 20 of the first 21 batters while allowing only a leadoff double by David Justice in the fifth.

He left after allowing only one hit, two walks and striking out 10.

Mussina's line for the ALCS: 15 innings, four hits, no earned runs, 25 strikeouts and two no-decisions. He set records for strikeouts in an ALCS (25) and in one postseason (41).

Baltimore stranded 14 runners and went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Rafael Palmeiro was the worst offender, going 0-for-3 and stranding five.

Cleveland managed only three hits and won the game anyway.

The Indians finally broke the scoreless battle in the 11th, when Fernandez launched a 2-0 pitch from Armando Benitez over the 25-foot scoreboard in right field to stun the crowd of 49,075. Roberts was removed from the lineup after taking a line drive below his left thumb.

"I knew something special was going to happen tonight, but I couldn't tell you I was going to hit a home run," Fernandez said. "It worked out for the best. I'm glad I was able to contribute in a positive way."

Benitez also gave up the game-winning hit in Game 2, a three-run shot by MVP Marquis Grissom, and the decisive RBI single to Sandy Alomar in Game 4.

"Unfortunately, he's a young pitcher and when you get behind in the count you can't afford to throw a pitch up in the strike zone. It didn't happen all year," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said.

Brian Anderson got the win, pitching a scoreless 10th inning, and Jose Mesa got three outs for the save.

The Orioles won a league-best 98 games during the regular season and were the third AL team to stay in first place from wire-to-wire.

They'll be remembered as the first of those three to fail to win the World Series.

"I don't think we have anything to be disappointed about. We got to the

ALCS for the 2nd year in a row. We just didn't get it done," Baltimore

outfielder Eric Davis said. "Our pitchers pitched their tails off, their

pitchers pitched their tails off. It's just a situation that someone had

to lose."

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