Cleveland readies for Yankee juggernaut

NEW YORK (AP) — The Indians swear they won’t be afraid. They’ve been to New York, seen the sights, even won a few games on baseball’s holiest and most hostile grounds.
Cleveland visited the Bronx this time last year, and the Indians had such a pleasant experience they’re coming back for a few days. Like last October, they’re not expected to beat the Yankees.
And that’s just fine with the Indians.
“Maybe we can do it again,” shortstop Omar Vizquel said. “I know they’ve been waiting for another shot at us, and now it’s time to go at it.”
Showing the same resiliency that helped them surprise New York and Baltimore en route to winning the AL championship in 1997, the Indians earned a chance to defend their title by winning three straight games — two with late-inning comebacks at Fenway Park — to eliminate the Red Sox.
How the Indians defeated a team that beat them eight times in 11 games during the regular season is still a bit mysterious. Cleveland batted just .206 to Boston’s .252, was outscored 20-18 in four games and had a team ERA of 5.00.
But as the Indians proved last year, the postseason devalues statistics while elevating intangibles like momentum, emotion and good fortune.
“I don’t think you get to the postseason by being lucky,” Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove said. “You have to be a good ballclub and if you catch a few breaks along the way, you can piece some wins together and maybe beat some people along the way that the experts say you’re not supposed to beat.
“We feel very good about ourselves and that we can match up with anyone.”
Cleveland’s reward for beating Boston is a best-of-7 series against the vaunted Yankees, who won 114 games during the season before blowing through Texas with startling efficiency in the first round.
But don’t expect the Indians to be shaking in their cleats for Game 1 Tuesday night. Cleveland is loaded with experience, and for all the postgame partying in Boston, a been-there, done-that feeling seemed to emanate throughout the Indians’ clubhouse.
“They have a great ballclub from top to bottom,” David Justice, Cleveland’s Game 4 hero said of the Yankees. “But we’re confident we can play on the same field with them. The games will dictate who comes up with the big hits and who’s going to be the star on any given night.”
Last year, the Indians’ brightest postseason star in beating the Yankees in the division series was Jaret Wright. Unfazed by pitching at Yankee Stadium as a rookie, he beat the Yankees in Game 2 then came back in his next start to win the decisive Game 5.
Wright, 2-1 with a 3.66 ERA vs. New York this year, was disgusted with his performance in Game 1 last week against the Red Sox. The 22-year-old right-hander allowed six runs in 4 1-3 innings in an 11-3 loss, and afterward wrestled with thoughts of waiting all winter before he could redeem himself.
“If you had told me four days ago that I’d be standing in our locker room with champagne flying all over the place, I would have found that very hard to believe,” he said. “For me, I’m grateful for the second chance.”
As underdogs they’ve beaten the odds once already this postseason. Now the Indians intend to prove they’re good enough to stay with baseball’s best.
“We knew that the way the Yankees were playing all year that we would have to go through them if we wanted to get back to the World Series,” reliever Mike Jackson said. “And now they’ve got to go through us.”

Strawberry has surgery
Hearing the good news secondhand wasn’t good enough, so half a dozen New York Yankees visited Darryl Strawberry on Sunday, a day after a cancerous tumor was removed from the outfielder’s colon.
Pitcher David Cone intended to bring one of the Yankees’ caps, which now have Strawberry’s number 39 stitched in white on the back.
“We just want to show him how much we care Ñ and we got the job done like he wanted us to do,” Cone said before joining teammates Chili Davis, Joe Girardi, Derek Jeter and Tim Raines on the trip to Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, about a mile from Yankee Stadium.
Strawberry was on the Yankees’ minds as they prepared for Tuesday’s start of the AL championship series against Cleveland. Dr. Stuart Hershon, the Yankees’ team physician, held a clubhouse meeting and gave an update on Strawberry’s condition.
Hershon told them doctors believe the cancer had not spread, but they won’t know for sure until tests come back in about 10 days. Doctors removed a 16-inch portion of Strawberry’s large intestine to get rid of a tumor almost 2 inches long.
“I think we felt a lot better because everything came out well,” Tino Martinez said. “There’s a lot of relief around here. Our thoughts are still with him, but there’s a lot better feeling around here.
Strawberry remained in stable condition Sunday. He is expected to remain in the hospital for about a week.