Indians ready to celebrate title at home

Andy Call

There’s a reason people in Cleveland still remember an otherwise nondescript utility infielder named Jeff Huson.

Huson was batting for Baltimore on Sept. 8, 1995, when his high popup settled into the glove of Indians third baseman Jim Thome. That out clinched Cleveland’s first division championship after 41 years of futility.

Some Oakland player could be remembered with similar fondness after this weekend’s series at Jacobs Field. The Indians can clinch their first Central Division title of the post-Thome era with any combination of victories over the A’s and Detroit losses to Kansas City that equals 3 — the “magic number.”

“It’d be great,” Indians closer Joe Borowski said. “You’d like to be at home because you can celebrate with family and friends.”

“When you think about something like that,” Manager Eric Wedge said, “you’d like to do it at home.”

The Indians enter the series leading the Tigers by 7 1/2 games with 10 to play. They have pulled away by going 20-5 since Aug. 25, including a three-game sweep of the Tigers this week.

“I don’t know how that is,” third baseman Casey Blake said. “I think we played so poorly there for a while, we were due. We got a spark from some players, (Asdrubal) Cabrera being one of them, and we kind of took off. We knew it was coming, but it was tough to be patient with that and not to be frustrated.”

Boston’s wobbly finish has allowed the Indians and Angels to tie for the best record in baseball entering Thursday’s games.

“In the middle of the season, that seemed far-fetched,” Borowski said. “It looked like the Red Sox were going to run away with everything.”

Finishing with the best record, and being allowed to pick the starting date of the Division Series, could definitely be to Cleveland’s advantage. Three games in five days, rather than three in four, would allow an extra start for either Cy Young Award candidate C.C. Sabathia or American League ERA leader Fausto Carmona. The Indians would also have home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

Fans in Boston and New York might be surprised to look up and see another team being mentioned in the same paragraph as the media-saturated Red Sox and Yankees. Perhaps the Indians have been playing well enough down the stretch, however, to not be considered a surprising belle at the ball.

“I think teams realize it,” Borowski said. “I don’t think anybody can say, ‘We played the Indians this year and had an easy time with them.’ But I think the ‘sneak’ factor is good, too.”

The Indians appear to have retained their focus this week, but it is only natural for players on the verge of the club’s first postseason berth since 2001 to be considering what October baseball might feel like.

“You think about it, and you think about what teams you’re going to face,” relief pitcher Rafael Betancourt said. “You start thinking about how it’s going to feel. I think every player is doing that.”

Only 11 of the 34 active players on Cleveland’s 2007 roster were around in 2005, when the team collapsed over the final week of the season and missed the playoffs. Those who were around, however, aren’t likely to begin contemplating the taste of champagne until the job is finished.

“I’ve been around long enough to learn to never assume anything, never take anything for granted, never get ahead of ourselves,” Wedge said. “Take care of business today. Tomorrow will take care of itself.”

Reach Canton Repository sports writer Andy Call at (330) 580-8346 or e-mail andy.call@cantonrep.com.