Friday, September 09, 2005

Leader of the pack

It's a toe-hold. Just one-half of a game, that's it. But it means so much more.
Thursday, four years to the month after they clinched their last playoff berth, the Indians pulled ahead to gain sole possession of the American League wild card lead for the first time this season. The Indians defeated the Tigers 4-2 while the Yankees lost to the Devil Rays 7-4.
The Yankees are one-half game back, and the Athletics remain 1 1/2 games back.
There's still three-plus weeks to play in the regular season, but this is the first time in four years we can say that if the season ended today, the Indians would be playoff-bound.
Cleveland would travel to Boston for a first-round matchup, while the Angels would head to Chicago. And the Yankees and their $205 million payroll would be on the outside looking in.
Let's just frame the standings and move the calendar ahead to Oct. 3, the day after the regular season ends.

Some Tribe landmarks as the season winds down...

Bob Wickman's save Thursday was his 37th, equalling a career high set in 1999 with the Brewers. Not bad for a guy who has lost much of the bite off his gravy train pitch, a sinker. Wickman now saves games with command, guile, sliders and intentional balks.

The Indians, now 79-61, are three victories away from clinching their first winning season since 2001, when they went 91-71 and won their most recent AL Central title. They are one win shy of last season's final win total.

Cliff Lee's 15th win, over Detroit Tuesday, gives him the highest win total by an Indians starter since C.C. Sabathia's 17 in his rookie year of 2001.

It was appropriate that Thursday's win handed the Indians the wild card lead. Thursday was the 10th anniversary of the Indians' 1995 Central Division title. On Sept. 8, 1995, the Indians defeated the Orioles 3-2 at Jacobs Field, clinching their first playoff berth in 41 years. At the time, they led second-place Kansas City by 23 1/2 games. They would fininsh the season a major-league record 30 games up. The 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates own the second-largest margin, winning the National League pennant by 27 games.

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