Indians In Midst Of Another Hot Streak

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - Attention, shoppers. That rumored fire sale of the up-and-down Cleveland Indians has been put on hold. Postponed. Maybe even canceled

Baseball's most unpredictable team of 2002 is off on another one of its wild streaks.

The Indians' latest run, a four-game winning streak -- capped by a three-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox last weekend -- has brought Cleveland back to .500 and brought the Indians' season back from the brink of disaster.

"We can still make a run at this thing," said Indians reliever Paul Shuey. "If we can hit, this team can go somewhere. We still have an awful lot of talent around here."

Maybe so. Two weeks ago, though, it looked like the Indians' 2002 season was doomed.

But now they're heading into a three-game series against the first-place Minnesota Twins on Tuesday streaking -- again.

This season's erratic odyssey started with the Indians going 11-1 followed by a 9-25 stretch, which included being swept by the White Sox as well as AL Central bottom dwellers Kansas City and Detroit to fall six games below .500 on May 22.

During that forgettable span, nothing went right. The Indians couldn't hit, couldn't score and couldn't catch a break.

Injuries sidelined outfielder Milton Bradley and designated hitter Ellis Burks. Travis Fryman, Jim Thome and Russell Branyan went in horrible offensive slumps, and manager Charlie Manuel was answering daily questions about his job security.

Even Jacobs Field, which was sold out for 455 straight games not so long ago, was barely half-full some games. Plenty of good sections were available at the box office.

Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro preached patience and said he would wait until mid-June before reevaluating his club. And then a funny thing happened on the way to mediocrity for the defending division champ.

The weather has warmed up, the Indians have started to hit. And with eight wins in its last 10 games, Cleveland is back in contention -- for now.

"If we had kept playing the way we were, it could have gotten out of hand on us, and snowballed," said pitcher Chuck Finley, who beat the White Sox on Sunday and has thrown 13 straight scoreless innings. "You go through what we went through the last month and you wonder, 'What's going on?'

"But we've got guys in here who are scrappers and grinders. We got enough energy and talent that we know we can play. We went through the shock of not scoring any runs or getting any breaks. Now we're playing hard again and not making any mistakes."

The Indians aren't out of the woods, however, and about to enter the toughest stretch of their schedule.

Following the series in Minnesota, Cleveland will open interleague play at home Friday against the New York Mets and then face Philadelphia before going on an across-the-continent, 12-game road trip to Colorado, Montreal, Florida and Boston.

Then they'll meet the World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees and White Sox before the All-Star break.

By then, Shapiro will have decided whether to make some trades for a run at a title this season or replenish the club's talent by dealing ace Bartolo Colon, Finley, Jim Thome -- eligible for free agent in 2003 -- or others.

Finley has seen panicky teams give up on a season too early. The 16-year veteran offered some advice to Shapiro.

"I wouldn't give up on this team just yet," he said. "I would stick with it and ride up 'til the 11th hour and figure out something then."

Rumors have made their way into the Indians' clubhouse that the front office, which already trimmed $12 million from the payroll and is rebuilding around a young pitching staff, could be thinking about scrapping the season.

Bob Wickman, who signed a four-year deal before the season to remain Cleveland's closer, says it would be a mistake.

"I don't know the whole problem financially or what it is," Wickman said. "I don't see the reason for a fire sale and getting rid of guys. I hear about that. If they do that, that could probably be the worst thing an organization could do."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)