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Indians, Yanks keep season in past

Indians, Yanks keep season in past

CLEVELAND -- Heading into their American League Division Series with the New York Yankees, the Cleveland Indians are trying not to make a big deal of the fact that they went 0-6 against New York this season and were outscored to the tune of 49-17 in the process.

With Game 1 of the series slated for 6:30 p.m. ET on Thursday at Jacobs Field, the national media has descended, and many of the questions are about the imbalance between the teams when they played head-to-head during the regular season.

"We stunk both times we played," said Indians third baseman Casey Blake, who went 5-for-25 in the six games. "We were not very good at all. That was when we were probably in the worst part of our slump as a team. You can't worry about that. You have to have confidence that we're a different club now and a better team than the one we threw out against them during the regular season."

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To a man, the sentiment before Tuesday's workout at the Jake was that the page has been turned. What happens during the regular season stays in the regular season -- and there's some precedence to back up that assumption.

In 1988, the Mets won 10 of 11 games with the Dodgers during the regular season, outscoring them, 49-18. But when the teams met in the National League Championship Series, the underdog Dodgers defeated the Mets in seven games, including a 6-0 flogging at Dodger Stadium to win the pennant.

And of course, all the questions in the days before that series were about the Mets' dominance. It's a good pre-series storyline, but once the games begin, they often take a different track. What happened before just doesn't seem to matter.

"It's common sense -- it's baseball," Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said on Tuesday as his team worked out at Yankee Stadium, where the series will shift for Game 3 on Sunday. "Games are not played on paper. If that was the case, we wouldn't be here -- everyone said our season was over with in May. We had a lot of games left, and you play the games for a reason.

"I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that you go out and play the games and see what happens."

The argument can be made that the two teams are in different places now than they were upon last meeting from April 17-19 in New York and Aug. 10-12 at Cleveland. The Yankees didn't face 19-game winner C.C. Sabathia and haven't since 2004. But the Indians didn't face Yankees 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang this year, either.

Sabathia and Wang are slated to start Game 1 on Thursday evening, so that should cancel out any edge the Indians might have had.

In April, the Yankees were battling through injuries and on their way to a 21-29 start. They played 73-39 baseball after May 29 to run away with the AL's Wild Card berth. In August, after the Indians took their second three-game pummeling from the Yankees, they were a half-game behind the Tigers in the AL Central and at a turning point in the season.

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"After that, we really played well," said Travis Hafner, the designated hitter who missed the August series against the Yankees because of a strained left hamstring. "I think everyone in here wants to win a World Series. Obviously, the Yankees are a tough team, but you've got to be able to beat everybody."

From Aug. 13 on, Cleveland finished 31-13, posting the best record in baseball during that span, to bury the defending AL champion Tigers by eight games. The Yankees, if you're counting, finished 28-17 to close what was once a 14 1/2-game gap behind the eventual AL East champion Red Sox to two games.

The Indians, in contrast to the Yankees, are hardly a playoff-tested team, from the manager on down through the roster. Eric Wedge is there for the first time in his five-year Cleveland managerial tenure, as compared to Joe Torre, who has taken the Yankees to the postseason in all 12 of his years wearing pinstripes, winning six AL pennants and the World Series four times.

But Wedge had this message for his players: Forget the regular season.

"We start over here," he said. "And our players know that. One thing our players have done a good job of is monitoring each other, educating each other and taking care of each other. I'll try to give them a little direction every now and again, but ultimately, it's their ballclub. They understand where they're at."

But then there's the obvious. This year, the Yankees might just be the better team. Exhibit A is what New York did to the Minnesota Twins in 2003: 7-0 during the regular season, outscoring them 49-13. In the ALDS, the Yanks rolled over the Twins in four games, rocking them, 16-6.

Those are the kinds of things that can get into the collective head of a particular team.

Take Indians closer Joe Borowski, for instance. On April 19 at Yankee Stadium, he was brought on in the ninth inning to protect a 6-2 lead. The Yanks scored six times, all with two outs, Alex Rodriguez ending the game with a three-run homer.

Asked on Tuesday how long it took him to forget that loss, Borowski said, "About 10 minutes."

But nearly six months later, the memory remains.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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