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OK, so it's a reach, and only Oliver

By Tom WithersAssociated Press Published: October 5, 1998 12:00 AM

OK, so it's a reach, and only Oliver Stone could come with something as far-fetched. But after seeing what New York did to Texas in the first round, could you blame any team for wanting to avoid the Bronx?

The Indians, though, have been there before. In fact, about a year ago, they came to New York and had a pretty darn good time. Cleveland split its first two games of the division series in Yankee Stadium and went on to eliminate the Yankees in five.

But by knocking out the 1997 Yankees, the Indians might have helped create the monster that is the '98 Yankees, a team that won 114 regular-season games and swept the Rangers last week.

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"I'm pretty sure they're going to be pumped up and will want to knock us out," reliever Mike Jackson said in the din of the Indians' postgame celebration after beating the Red Sox. "We knew that the way the Yankees were playing all year that we would have to go through them if we wanted to get back to the World Series.

"And now they've got to go through us."

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The Indians swear they won't be afraid. And they don't mind playing the underdog role, either. Actually, they seem to be relishing it.

"Maybe we can do it again," shortstop Omar Vizquel said. "I know they've been waiting for another shot at us, and now it's time to go at it."

Going at New York's pitching staff will be the Indians biggest obstacle. Yankees starters David Wells, Andy Pettitte and David Cone held the Rangers, one of the AL's strongest lineups, to a .141 batting average, and Texas got just 13 hits and one run in three games.

But against the Red Sox, the Indians showed much of the same resiliency that helped them upset New York and Baltimore en route to their second World Series in three years. And they did it despite batting just .206 to Boston's .252, getting outscored 20-18 in four games and with a team ERA of 5.00.

"I don't think you get to the postseason by being lucky," Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove said. "You have to be a good ballclub and if you catch a few breaks along the way, you can piece some wins together and maybe beat some people along the way that the experts say you're not supposed to beat.

"We feel very good about ourselves and that we can match up with anyone."

Don't expect the Indians to be shaking in their cleats for Game 1 Tuesday night. Cleveland is loaded with experience, and for all the postgame partying in Boston, a been-there, done-that feeling seemed to emanate throughout the clubhouse.

"They have a great ballclub from top to bottom," David Justice, Cleveland's Game 4 hero said of the Yankees. "But we're confident we can play on the same field with them. The games will dictate who comes up with the big hits and who's going to be the star on any given night."

Last year, the Indians' brightest postseason star in beating the Yankees in the division series was Jaret Wright. Unfazed by pitching at Yankee Stadium as a rookie, he beat the Yankees in Game 2 then came back in his next start to win the decisive fifth game.

Wright, 2-1 with a 3.66 ERA against New York this year, is expected to start the series opener against Wells. Wright thought his postseason might be over last week after he was hammered for six runs in 4 1/3 innings as the Red Sox won Game 1 11-3.

"If you had told me four days ago that I'd be standing in our locker room with champagne flying all over the place, I would have found that very hard to believe," he said. "For me, I'm grateful for the second chance. Because this team refused to fold, I have a champagne

bottle in my hand and we're preparing for New York. You can't beat that."

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