Despite two heartbreaking losses in the last two days, life on the lakefront has been mostly blissful these days for the resurgent Cleveland Indians.
It would have been downright euphoric if the Indians had been able to extend a 10-game winning -- that's right, a 10-game winning streak -- instead of losing to the Chicago White Sox, 4-3, on Friday, then dropping today's game, 4-0, in 11 innings.
With the team riding a wave of success into first place in the American League East, 48,146 fans were in Cleveland Stadium for Friday's game, the largest crowd to see a baseball game here since opening day of 1985. Today's game drew a respectable 20,009.
"You come out for infield [practice] and get a standing ovation," Indians right fielder Joe Carter said before Friday's game. "If you can't get pumped up by that, you don't like getting your paycheck."
The city, which has suffered under the weight of image problems and losing baseball, has grabbed hold of the Indians, who are 17-10 after today's loss. They are now in third, but only 1 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Yankees. After 27 games last year, the Indians were 10-17, in last place and 6 1/2 games out.
Cleveland, a team that has won only three pennants in its 85-year history, the last in 1954, does not often attract much out-of-town media. But the press box was full this weekend, and the local television stations were even interviewing the visiting writers.
You had an idea things were getting a bit out of hand when those icons of the game-show world -- Pat Sajak and Vanna White of "Wheel of Fortune" -- threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Bad pitching was the reason Cleveland finished with the second-worst record in the majors last season (60-102) and was 39 1/2 games behind Toronto in the AL East. The team was fourth in hitting (.265 team average) but last in pitching (4.91 ERA) in the major leagues.
"Pitching," said Manager Pat Corrales, when asked the difference between the two seasons. "We have seven different guys. But we've kept the same infield for two years and the same outfield for two years.
"When we had 102 losses last year . . . if you look at how many runs we scored 729, 4.5 per game , we had no relievers league-low 28 saves . Now we have relievers, and the hitters know it."
The pitchers are not all new, but some of their performances are. No one on the staff has an ERA of more than 4.00, except reliever Scott Bailes, but he also has the most wins (4-3). Stopper Ernie Camacho has returned from elbow surgery to anchor the bullpen, with six saves and a 1-0 record.
Journeyman Ken Schrom is 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA. Don Schulze, who was a tag-along on the 1984 trade that sent Rick Sutcliffe to Chicago for Mel Hall and Carter, is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA. Tom Candiotti, who will be 29 on Aug. 31 and was signed to a Class AAA contract after the Milwaukee organization released him, is 2-2 with a 2.20 ERA.
And then there is that 47-year-old native of Blaine, Ohio, a graying fellow named Phil Niekro, who was cast adrift by the New York Yankees after winning 16 games in '85. Niekro would have been 3-2 if Bailes and Camacho (who could have had his seventh save) had been able to hold the 3-1 lead Niekro gave them after pitching 7 1/3 innings Friday night.
The additions to the staff have made the Indians better this year and may make then better in the future. "It allowed us to put some of our kids back in Maine," Joe Klein, Cleveland's vice president for baseball operations, said of the Indians' AAA farm team. "This year we're strong at A and AA, so hopefully next year it will be AA and AAA and then in '88, AAA and the majors."
There are only three players on the 24-man roster who came up through the farm system. Hall uses the word "misfits" to describe all the players who, for a variety of reasons, have not fit into the plans of their previous team or teams.
Niekro wasn't thrilled with the term, but he understood the intent.
"There are a lot of guys here that other teams have given up on," Niekro said. "I don't think I'm a misfit, but I understand where that came from. Maybe other teams and people thought that way about us. But there are no misfits."
The family of F.J. (Steve) O'Neill, who died in 1983, still owns the team but is looking to sell, according to Peter Bavasi, the team president. He added that the family has stipulated that any potential buyer must keep the team here and continue to spend the money needed to make the club a winner. Both Bavasi and Klein applauded the family's efforts to improve the club.
"In the meantime, they've continued to keep the club here and rebuild and restore it," Bavasi said. "They've spent mightily to do that and now it is producing results. We've been able to increase player development, more scouts, another minor league club, more coaches on those clubs, more executive staff on the major and minor league level. As for the major league roster, they've allowed us to sign players like Phil Niekro and Andre Thornton, who was a free agent two years ago."
Thornton, known to fans and teammates as Thunder, has been in Cleveland since 1977 and this is the most thrilling period of his stay.
"No doubt in my mind," said designated hitter Thornton, at 36 one of the calmer Indians despite his nickname. "The ball club has made changes andagain?
"It used to be so dead it was silent. Now, it's a love affair," Carter said Friday. "If we lose a couple, I hope the fans still come out, and I think they will because we've shown what we can do."