Will it come down to this in October?
"We know we're going to be there, and we think they're going to be there," Martinez said. "They added some good players. It's nice to see they're getting back to where they were in the '70s and early '80s. They have the team to be there."
It is not exactly wishful thinking, although Martinez still has an emotional attachment to the Orioles' organization. He admits having a "special" feeling about Baltimore, but his feelings are definitely mixed about an Indians-Orioles showdown for the American League pennant.
"If it happens, it would be great, but it's not a personal thing," he said. "There's still some feeling there, but I'm not looking forward to facing them, because they've got a good ballclub. They're the team to beat in the American League East."
The Indians are the team to beat, period. They are the defending American League champions, and they didn't sit around last winter admiring the trophy. General manager John Hart knew that the big-spending teams in Baltimore and New York would be gunning for them, so he made a pre-emptive strike and signed two more big-name players, adding pitching ace Jack McDowell and infielder Julio Franco to a club that won 100 games in a shortened 1995 season.
The Orioles spent the whole winter trying to catch up. New Orioles general manager Pat Gillick traded for two front-line starting pitchers and signed free agents Roberto Alomar, Randy Myers, B. J. Surhoff, Mike Devereaux and Roger McDowell. Top to bottom, they still don't measure up to the Indians on paper, but it was enough to get their attention.
"They [the Orioles] came real close," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said. "They've got a good ballclub. Robbie Alomar and Carlos Baerga are arguably the best second basemen in the game. Robbie adds a dimension to their club that they really didn't have, except for Brady Anderson."
Veteran right-hander Orel Hershiser got his first look at the new Orioles lineup in yesterday's 4-3 exhibition victory. He pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings but still seemed impressed with the personnel that Gillick has assembled.
"It looks like a great team," Hershiser said. "You look around that infield and it's one of the better infields you'll ever see. And offensively, they can be very good. Fortunately, they aren't in our division. We've got to deal with the White Sox first, but if we get there and they get there, it's going to be tough."
The Yankees also tried to keep pace, re-signing David Cone and trading for Tim Raines and Tino Martinez. Although it appeared that owners Peter Angelos and George Steinbrenner were dueling with dollars, it soon became clear that both teams were shooting for more than the AL East title. They were aiming at the Indians.
"I assumed that would be the goal of other teams," said Hargrove. "I know it was always our goal to get ahead of the teams that finished ahead of us."
Of course, the Indians are aiming a little higher, and they have every reason to believe they are poised to complete their meteoric climb from perennial also-ran to world champion. The only serious personnel loss the club suffered during the off-season was the departure of first baseman Paul Sorrento, and they replaced him with one of the best hitters in the game (Franco).
"On paper, I think we're better," Hargrove said, "but if it works on paper and doesn't work on the field, that doesn't do you any good."
The whole baseball world may be out to get them, but the Indians don't appear to be burdened by the tremendous pressure to live up to -- and move beyond -- their 1995 success.
"The expectations of this team are as high as our fans'," Hargrove said. "We expect to do well, but I don't think we're putting the pressure on ourselves that you would think that would bring."
Quite the contrary. The Indians seem very self-assured, but it is -- for the most part -- quiet confidence rather than conceit.
"I don't think we're the best team in baseball," Martinez said. "We just don't think that way. I just think we have a great ballclub. If people want to say that, we'll take it, but we still have to go out there and do it."
Pub Date: 3/26/96