Indians close but still no cigar

Thursday, October 15, 1998

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEW YORK -- Manny Ramirez climbed the wall giving chase to a ball that would fall at his feet. Lost it in the lights, he said later. Didn't brood about it one bit.

"It's all right," Ramirez said amid the midnight melancholy in the Cleveland clubhouse. "It was a good game. At least we scared 'em."

There are no consolation prizes in the baseball playoffs, no honorable mentions, no reprieves. But maybe there ought to be. When the New York Yankees advanced to their 35th World Series Tuesday night, the Indians returned to the drawing board in search of solace.

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"I don't think that anybody who has never been there can realize how difficult it is to do," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said, of the continuing quest to win a World Series. "That is not to say we can't do it. It's just very difficult. Everybody has to do the same thing. You take your shot. You catch a few breaks along the way.

Try, try, try again

"We came within two outs of winning one last year. This year we didn't win, either. We will try again next year."

This year, the Indians gave the Yankees a good scare, and they did not miss terror by much. The best-of-seven series stretched to six games, and might have lasted longer had the horrific Ted Hendry made a correct call at second base or Ramirez managed to keep his eye on the ball.

Yet the Indians' regrets were tempered by realism, by the knowledge that their front-line starting pitching is faulty and that second base remains a riddle. Shortstop Omar Vizquel compared the pain to "a knife stuck in your heart," but other Indians could see a bigger picture.

"At the end of the day, we'll look back and say it was another good season," said Cleveland General Manager John Hart. "In the short term, it's just another bitter pill to swallow."

"Last year was the big hurt,"said Sandy Alomar, the Cleveland catcher. "We were within two outs of winning the World Series and lost it. This time we lost to a great team, the best team of the 90s, I think."

History? We'll see

That much remains to be seen. The Yankees have won 121 games -- 114 in the regular season, seven more in the playoffs -- but their place in history is still predicated on their upcoming competition with the San Diego Padres. Absent baseball's ultimate prize -- the pretty trophy with the golden pennants -- a great team is remembered as much for its disappointment as its deeds.

"We aren't kidding ourselves here," says Yanks manager Joe Torre. "We know there are two seasons. And we know we will be judged by how we do in the second one."

Sports can be cruel that way. Some of the greatest seasons end with suffering. Some of the finest teams are viewed as failures.

"There is no such thing as second place," Yankees executive George Weiss declared during the peak days of the Yankees' dynasty. "Either you're first, or you're nothing."

This is the burden of the modern Indians and, to an even greater extent, the Atlanta Braves. When the Padres won the National League Championship Series Wednesday afternoon, beating the Braves 5-0 the most dominant team of the decade was left with one World Championship to show for eight seasons of sustained excellence.

Cleveland's torment spans half a century. Once the outcome of Tuesday's game seemed obvious, when the Yankees turned their 9-5 lead over to Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning, some of the spectators at Yankee Stadium began taunting the Tribe with a chant of "1948," a reminder of how long the Indians have been waiting to win it all.

"It breaks your heart," Bart Giamatti once wrote upon the elimination of his beloved Red Sox. "It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone."

Giving 'em a good scare only goes so far.

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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