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Indians point to socks, not biceps

October 11, 1997 GMT

CLEVELAND (AP) _ Cleveland Indians fans will always remember 1995, the first time in a generation their long-suffering team made it to the playoffs.

They will remember Albert Belle’s biceps pose after his 11th-inning homer against Boston in the Indians’ first playoff game since 1954. Many passed bleary-eyed shifts at work the next day, for Tony Pena won the game with a 13th-inning homer at about 3 a.m.

Dennis Martinez in Game 6 of the ALCS was special, too. El Presidente beat Randy Johnson in the deafening Kingdome to clinch Cleveland’s first pennant since the Eisenhower administration.

There are only 10 players left from that bold passage to October. Most people expected the Indians _ weaklings of the AL playoffs with only 86 victories _ to make a quick exit.

``At least that’s what I’ve been hearing from y’all for a couple or three days now,″ manager Mike Hargrove said, tongue firmly ensconced in cheek.

And yet the Indians and Orioles are playing Game 3 of the AL championship series today at Jacobs Field, the series tied at 1.

It is hardly a coincidence that the ones who did the most pointing and gesturing were the first to go from the 1995 team. The Indians now point to their red socks, hoisted high to the knee for good luck.

The fashion statement that is being linked to the Indians’ postseason success began on Aug. 27, when David Justice got an idea. Thome, who always wears his socks high like the old-timers, was celebrating his 27th birthday. Justice suggested to Omar Vizquel that everyone mimic Thome that night.

``Socks up,″ Vizquel proclaimed, and a good luck charm was born.

Cleveland played better after that _ coincidentally, of course. They are 22-17 since ``Thome High Socks Night,″ which is actually listed in the Indians postseason media guide.

When Sandy Alomar tied Game 4 against New York with a homer, and Omar Vizquel won it with a ninth-inning single, both had their socks hiked up. So did Marquis Grissom when he rescued the Indians from going down 2-0 in the ALCS with a three-run homer off Armando Benitez in Game 2 against the Orioles.

Now, stores throughout northeast Ohio are selling red tube socks like bread and milk before a winter storm. Indians fanatics can be seen sporting them on most any Cleveland street corner, like overgrown Santa’s elves.

``It was done as a gesture more than anything, and people just picked up on it,″ Hargrove said.

They are talking about more than fashion in Cleveland as the Indians and Orioles prepared to play Game 3 tonight. They are talking about Grissom’s homer with the great sports moments this city has seen. Orel Hershiser, who starts against Mike Mussina in Game 3, likened it to Kirk Gibson’s momentum-swinging homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

``Oakland had just swept Boston, and we weren’t supposed to be on the same field with them,″ Hershiser said. ``Gibson’s homer was big. It was a shocker. If last night’s game was a shocker to the nation ... then Grissom’s homer could be equated to Gibson’s.″

A few months ago, the Indians weren’t assured of even making the postseason. Hargrove, who endured so many losing seasons in front of thousands of empty seats at Cleveland Stadium, appeared in danger of losing his job.

He urged the city to have faith in this team. He liked it all along; better, he admits, than the belligerent bunch led by Belle and Kenny Lofton.

``Let me put it this way,″ Hargrove said. ``This team is fun, because people like this team. It’s fun to be with a team that people like.″

One swing by Grissom may have tilted some momentum in the Indians’ favor. Against the pitching-rich Orioles, it guaranteed nothing except that there won’t be a sweep.

Are there any October miracles left?

``Miracles?″ Matt Williams asked. ``It’s just good baseball. Marquis did a good job of hitting. But I’ll tell you: That was a very important hit.″