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Expectations don't bother Baerga Indians 2B focused after impact season


When you put up the kind of numbers that Cleveland secon baseman Carlos Baerga did last season, you may have to play two styles of games the next season.

There is, of course, the game that is played on the field, and then there is the game of expectations.

The latter is the hardest one to play because the stakes are ever increasing and it's a nearly impossible game to win. So far, however, Baerga is holding his own.

Baerga said: "I have to put it [last season] aside. I know people will expect the same kind of numbers. That's kind of hard when nobody did it before. I have to go out and do the best I can."

If Baerga does as well as he did last year, when he became only the second player in baseball history at his position to hit .300 with 200 hits, 20 home runs and 100 RBI, he'll have done pretty well.

Baerga, whose feat matched that of Rogers Hornsby, who did it five times, plunked himself right into the ranks of baseball stardom. His season included a .312 average, 20 homers, 105 RBI and 205 hits -- second in the majors to Minnesota's Kirby Puckett.

The RBI total was the best by an American League second baseman since Boston's Bobby Doerr drove in 120 in 1950, and the 205 hits were the best by an Indian since Hall of Famer Earl Averill had 232 in 1936.

It was a breakthrough year, to be sure, for the 24-year-old native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, but ultimately much less meaningful if Baerga can't follow it with another good year.

"The veteran players get better every year because every year, they concentrate a little bit more. You have to make the adjustments," said Baerga.

Baerga started the season slowly, in part because he single-handedly tried to compensate for the rash of injuries that beset the Cleveland pitching and catching staff.

Baerga said: "I was thinking two weeks ago that I was trying to do too much, trying to put everything on my back. We have nine players here. We have a good hitting team and I have to do what I can do, do the best I can and just have fun. It's easy to think that we'll never have the team together because of all the injuries, but we have to keep playing."

In the last week, Baerga has started to hit and to have fun. Going into last night's game, Baerga had a six-game hit streak going, with 10 RBI in that span.

Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove said: "Carlos knows he's good and works hard at maintaining those skills and even enhancing them. Carlos has been through a slump for 2 1/2 -3 weeks, but he's starting to come out of it. The last two or three days, he's swinging the bat well and he's starting to get his hits and put the ball in play."

If there's one gap left in Baerga's play -- perhaps the one thing that separates him from Toronto's Roberto Alomar, the second baseman of obvious comparison -- it is his defense.

Baerga has committed a team-high seven errors this season and his 19 miscues last year were second to shortstop Mark Lewis' 25 errors.

Baerga said: "I know I can hit, but I would like to win a Gold Glove. That's not going to be easy now that we have [Kansas City's] Jose Lind and Robby [Alomar] in the same league. That's all I want. It will be kind of hard, but you never know."

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