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If only the Indians were half as good as White Sox owner Jerry
Reinsdorf thinks they are. With Chicago trailing Cleveland by
just 3 1/2 games at the July 31 trade deadline, Reinsdorf broke
up his team in a trade with the Giants, secure in the knowledge
that the Sox couldn't catch the Indians, who seemed to him a
reincarnation of the '27 Yankees. Since then, mighty Cleveland
has won just nine of its 18 games and at week's end led the
decimated White Sox by only five games. (The second-place
Brewers were only 4 1/2 back.) "We're inviting everyone to stay
in the pennant race in our division, and that's embarrassing,"
says Indians catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. "We're definitely a team
paddling through a storm, and that storm has lasted much longer
than anybody expected."

It would be easy to blame injuries for Cleveland's
inconsistency. Through Sunday the Indians had lost players to
the disabled list for 514 games, and manager Mike Hargrove had
been forced to use 13 starting pitchers. But the truth is that
sloppy fundamentals have hurt the club more. A power-hitting
team not built to scratch out runs, Cleveland has bungled its
situational hitting, failing regularly to advance runners from
second to third base with nobody out and from third to home with
less than two outs. To make matters worse, the Indians recently
had 11 runners thrown out on the base paths--not including steal
attempts--in 20 games.

At times the team has looked just plain clueless. In the eighth
inning of a blowout loss to Detroit last week, Indians
outfielder Manny Ramirez advanced from first to second base on
catcher's indifference, then began walking back to first and was
tagged out. Ramirez explained later that he thought the batter,
Jim Thome, had fouled off the pitch, even though Thome hadn't
even swung. "Sometimes it looks like everything we do is a
mistake," Thome says. "Fielding errors, stupid baserunning, no
timely hitting."

All those blunders led general manager John Hart to issue a
harsh review of his team in late July. "We give away two or
three outs on the bases every night, and on defense we give the
opposition extra outs," Hart said. "Mental mistakes start with
the players, but the manager has the ultimate accountability.
This is unacceptable."

It is hard to believe that the Indians are only two years
removed from their magical '95 season, when they had a 100-44
record and marched to the World Series. Back then Hart was
lauded as a visionary with a blueprint for modern baseball: He
signed his young talent to long-term contracts and built a
potential dynasty. Then, in a span of nine months beginning last
July, Cleveland lost three key players. Hart traded second
baseman Carlos Baerga, lost cleanup hitter Albert Belle to free
agency and dealt leadoff man Kenny Lofton for fear that Lofton
would follow in Belle's footsteps. So much for the best-laid

Hart has plugged the holes by adding third baseman Matt Williams
and outfielders David Justice and Marquis Grissom, and he
bolstered his injury-riddled pitching staff with the acquisition
of John Smiley and Jeff Juden at the trade deadline. But the '97
Indians have yet to jell. "We're the victims of baseball in the
'90s, so we've had to rebuild on the fly, and we're adjusting,"
Hart says. "I guess the feeling around the league is that we're
beatable, that we can't bludgeon teams like we once did, but
we're still a formidable bunch."

There is no sign of panic on the team, though a couple of weeks
ago Williams jokingly suggested that the Indians sacrifice a
live chicken in the clubhouse to exorcise the demons causing
their slump. "We know we have to start playing the last three
innings with more authority," says shortstop Omar Vizquel. "This
team used to have a killer instinct, and now it's like we have
to learn how to win close games again."

At week's end the Indians had won five of their last seven
games, and they were looking ahead to seven critical games
against Belle and the White Sox in September. Cleveland is
rallying around a theory voiced by reliever Paul Assenmacher,
who's a hockey fan. He thinks the Indians can follow the path of
the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings, who finally discovered that
the best time to peak is in the postseason. "In '95 and '96 we
won more games than anybody in the regular season, but we
couldn't get a championship ring," Hargrove says. "This year our
goal is to be the best team in October."


The Brewers, trailing the Indians by 4 1/2 games, acquired
veteran southpaw Mark Davis last week to strengthen their
bullpen for the stretch. That capped a remarkable comeback for
Davis, 36, who hadn't pitched in a big league game in more than
three seasons and had undergone surgery on his pitching arm
twice in the past two years. "Getting back to the big leagues
wasn't probable," Davis says, "so I'm going to savor it."

Davis's comeback journey is harder to follow than one of his
vaunted curveballs. After saving 44 games to win the Cy Young
Award with the Padres in '89, Davis signed a four-year, $13
million contract with the Royals as a free agent, suffered
through an injury-filled '90 season and never regained his top
form. He was banished by Kansas City and played briefly for the
Braves and the Phillies before returning to the Padres, who
released him in '94 with an 8.82 ERA. He was out of baseball in
'95 and '96, during which time he had surgery on his left elbow
and shoulder.

So when Davis entered the offices of the expansion Arizona
Diamondbacks in December, he wasn't expecting to get another
shot at playing in the big leagues; he was looking for a job in
the team's p.r. department. After interviewing there, he was
sent to the baseball operations office, where he made an offhand
remark about perhaps applying for a job as a pitcher. He was
invited to spring training and eventually assigned to the
Diamondbacks' Class A team in the California League, where he
had a 2.66 ERA in 16 games. Since Arizona doesn't have a team at
a higher level of the minors, Davis was then loaned to the
Brewers' Triple A team in Tucson, where he struck out 19 in 22
2/3 innings. When the Brewers failed in several other attempts
to trade for a lefty reliever, they got Davis from Arizona for a
player to be named later.

The acquisition of the wizened Davis is hardly a departure in
philosophy for a scavenging Milwaukee team that has wrung 25
saves out of 40-year-old reliever Doug Jones. "Jones has proven
that you can have success with an older guy coming off an
injury, and that's why we took this chance [on Davis],"
Milwaukee manager Phil Garner says.

Hours after arriving in Milwaukee last Friday, Davis made his
big league return against the Angels. He struggled, allowing one
run in two thirds of an inning. He redeemed himself on Sunday by
throwing a perfect 1-2-3 inning in the Brewers' 5-2 win over
Oakland. Asked if it seemed like forever since his Cy Young
season, Davis replied, "Yes, it does. Basically, that was a
different career."


In an auspicious major league debut on Aug. 8, 1996, Phillies
pitcher Matt Beech defeated four-time Cy Young winner Greg
Maddux, 4-1. Beech then made 22 starts without getting another
win, until finally breaking the skid on Aug. 12 with a 5-0
victory over the Rockies at Coors Field. During his streak Beech
had an 0-11 record with a 6.50 ERA. "At this rate," Beech said
after his long-awaited victory, "in 18 years I'll be a 20-game


The Yankees may have improved their postseason prospects last
week when they designated Mark Whiten for assignment, meaning
they have seven days to option him to the minors, trade him or
release him. Getting rid of Whiten is not a plus just because
the slumping outfielder had no homers and one RBI in his last 20
games. The Yanks also rid themselves of Whiten's lousy karma.
Since his major league career began in '90, Whiten has played
for eight teams--Toronto, Cleveland, St. Louis, Boston,
Philadelphia, Atlanta, Seattle and the Yankees--all of which
have reached the playoffs during the decade. Remarkably, none of
them did so while Whiten was on the roster.

COLOR PHOTO: JEFF GLIDDEN/AP Brian Giles's overrunning of second was one of many Indians' goofs. [Brian Giles in game]

COLOR PHOTO: DAN CURRIER/AP [Mark Davis in game]


The return of Mark Davis (left) after more than three years away
from the majors may be noteworthy, but it's not a record. To
avoid absences caused by wartime service, we went back as far as
the end of the Korean War, in 1953, to find the players who had
the longest gaps in their major league careers. These six all
spent at least seven years away from the big leagues before
making it back.

Precomeback Comeback
Player Position Team, Year Team, Year

DANNY BOONE P Astros, 1982 Orioles, 1990
JIM BOUTON P Astros, 1970 Braves, 1978
TOM BURGESS 1B Cardinals, 1954 Angels, 1962
WARREN CROMARTIE OF Expos, 1983 Royals, 1991
MILT RAMIREZ SS Cardinals, 1971 A's, 1979
VICENTE ROMO P Padres, 1974 Dodgers, 1982

Source: Elias Sports Bureau