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General Manager John Hart is bolting, “Rock Head” is now in town, and the Indians are battered, bruised and aging.

But is this the “Year of the Tribe”?

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There's nothing quite like it in Major League Baseball (MLB).


I mean, where else but in the Bronx, excuse the New York accent – the Brrrrrronxx - can you hear "Manny Sucks! Manny Sucks! Manny Sucks!" chanted over and over and over again at Yankee Stadium.

In freaking May.

Ah yes, don't the Boston Red Sox - particularly slugger Manny Ramirez - know that warm and fuzzy sound all too well! Oh, and this humble New York inspired sonata too!

"You've got to be a part of it! New York! Newwwwwww Yoooooork! If I can make it there, I'm going make it anywhere..."

And make no mistake about it, Ramirez’s current team and former one, the Tribe, must find a way to takeover the Bronx. For if they can make it there, they can make it anywhere.

At least for one week in October.

The reason is simple: the road to the World Series in 2001 likely will go through the Bronx.

Taking over the Bronx won't be an easy task by any means because the defending World Champion Yankees show few leaks in their armor, especially against their other arch-rivals, the Indians.

The Tribe haven’t gotten the better of the Yanks since the 1997 post-season as the Bronx Bombers dusted off Cleveland in both the 1996 and 1998 playoffs. But with the Indians showing new grit and gusto unlike years’ past, is this finally "the year" a winning World Series parade occurs down 9th Street in the city off of Lake Erie?

"I do," said the optimistic Omar Visquel, the Tribe’s veteran Gold Glove shortstop. "I thought last year we really had a chance to get them (the Yankees). It's important for us to show we can beat them."

Cleveland, which took a hiatus from the post-season in 2000, is gambling that the addition of wacko John Rocker, a potent offense led by a rejuvenated Juan Gonzalez, and gritty veterans like Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome will be enough to topple the Yankees should the two teams meet in October.

That's quite a gamble, considering the Indians haven't won game one of a playoff series since its first post-season affair in more than 40 years back in 1995.

Losing game one of a short playoff series has traditionally immediately put the Tribe behind the eight ball, forcing the team to play a risky brand of catch-up that it often hasn't been able to overcome. In 1998, Cleveland dropped the first two games to New York in the American League Championship Series and never recovered.

And the end of the line may be nearing for the Tribe, which hasn’t won the World Series since 1948.

General Manager John Hart – who helped build the Indians and lead them to the World Series in 1995 and 1997 – is bolting at years’ end, and many of Cleveland’s core stars either are aging or have been riddled with injuries in recent seasons, namely the pitching staff of Charles Nagy, Dave Burba and Jaret Wright.

If the Tribe is to have any shot of returning to the Fall Classic, they'll need some semblance of contribution from its starting pitchers, namely Chuck Finley and Bartolo Colon.

Hitting the ball, however, happens to be the Indians specialty. With Lofton, Visquel, Roberto Alomar, Gonzalez and Thome in the Indians lineup, it's no wonder opposing pitchers dread facing the Tribe. Did we mention seasoned veterans Travis Fryman and Ellis Burks?

Said Visquel: "Who doesn't like this lineup? It's hard to beat a team like this. It's one of the greatest top nine I've seen. I know I have two great players in front of me and (two great players) behind me."

Success offensively is one thing, but strong pitching is quite another, and the Yankees seems to have both, especially the latter. In addition to playoff veteran Andy Pettitte, New York also employs proven and tested starting pitchers Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and Sterling Hitchcock.

Commented Thome on Clemens, a future Hall-of-Famer hungry for his third World Series ring: "Roger's Roger. We know every time out he's gonna battle and probably go seven, eight innings.

“We understand they have a great ball club,” Thome added of the nemesis Yanks. “For us, we have to be mentally ready to play every game against them."

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Apr 01 2002, 02:07:49
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