Next on the horizon for the Cleveland Indians?

By Tom Withers Associated Press Published:

Next on the horizon for the Cleveland Indians?

The Chicago White Sox, of course.

"I haven't counted us out in the division yet," said manager Charlie Manuel. "If we take our time and don't get in a hurry then I think we can definitely give them a run."

In winning their fourth straight Tuesday, the Indians jumped ahead of Oakland in the wild-card standings as Manny Ramirez homered and drove in three runs in a 14-6 rout of the Athletics.

And with the win, the Indians moved within seven games of Chicago.

"We can give 'em a race," Manuel said.

The Indians' season seemed so bleak less than a week ago. They blew leads in three straight games and were swept by Oakland. But they bounced back by winning three straight last weekend against Seattle and now they've guaranteed their fans a wild September ride.

"It's great to be ahead," said Sandy Alomar.

Trying to make it to the postseason for the sixth straight year, the Indians improved to 17-5 at home since July 2 by chasing Oakland starter Gil Heredia (13-9) early.

Cleveland has won 13 of 18 and now leads the wild-card chase by one-half game over the banged up A's _ who have dropped four of five _ and the Red Sox, who lost to the Angels 11-4.

On Aug. 1, Oakland had a 5 1/2-game lead over Cleveland, which had to overcome injuries and inconsistency to crawl back into the playoff picture.

"You're not going to be on top of the mountain every year," said Alomar, who drove in three runs. "We've played all year without guys and we're still around."

Alomar got a little testy with an Oakland reporter who pointed out that the A's were going through some of the same problems the Indians had. Starters Jason Giambi and Randy Velarde sat out with injuries.

"Don't give me that crap that they lost because those guys were out," Alomar said. "We were without Manny, Robbie (Alomar) and Travis (Fryman), and we're still around."

Jim Thome added three RBI for the Indians, who have scored 45 runs in their last four games and gotten a little revenge on the A's, who swept them last week in Oakland.

"I'd be lying if I said we didn't want to come out and send a little message," Fryman said. "A perfect scenario would be to sweep all three and square things up. We're very glad they were back here so soon."

The A's, 18-20 since the All-Star break, have lost 11 of 16. It's obvious they're not the same club without Giambi, who brings intensity and a big bat onto the field.

Oakland blew a chance to get to Chuck Finley (10-9) early, and did little once the Indians opened their big lead.

"We scored enough runs to win," said manager Art Howe. "I thought it was the pitching or the lack of it. We have to play better baseball."

Finley straightened himself out after two shaky innings to win for the first time since July 25. The left-hander allowed three runs and seven hits in five innings for his first win over the A's since July 12, 1997.

Heredia had his worst outing of 2000, lasting a season-low three innings. He gave up six runs and eight hits and dropped to 9-2 on the road this year.

Notes: Sandy Alomar didn't want to discuss A's reliever Jeff Tam throwing two pitches behind his back in the eighth. ... Giambi (strained shoulder) and Velarde (strained neck) are both day-to-day. ... The Indians have won nine of 10 at home. ... Heredia's error was the Athletics' major league-leading 112th. ... Finley, who has now won at least 10 games eight straight years, is just 8-19 in 40 career outings vs. Oakland. ... Eric Byrnes, recalled from Triple-A earlier in the day, singled in his first major-league at-bat in the second. The ball was quickly thrown into the A's dugout where shortstop Miguel Tejada threatened to toss into the stands before putting it aside. Byrnes finished 2-for-4.

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