Notes: Leadership part of turnaround

Notes: Leadership part of turnaround

CLEVELAND -- It was midseason 2006, and Tribe manager Eric Wedge was having his daily diatribe with reporters about what, exactly, was going wrong with the downright disappointing Indians.

The topic of leadership came up. Yes, the Indians had a shaky bullpen, poor infield defense and an inconsistent lineup. But Wedge thought the intangible (and absent) element that is clubhouse leadership was just as vexing to the Tribe.

"The behind-the-scenes part of it is very underrated in the game," Wedge had said. "It is powerful stuff. What's happened is we've gotten to the point [as an organization] where the younger players are the ones who have to step up [and assume leadership responsibilities]. I don't think anybody's really taken hold of that."

Fast forward to the present, and Wedge's Indians are on the verge of clinching the American League Central Division crown.

They've seen two spots of their rotation falter, half their lineup altered and three original members of their bullpen flame out. They've lost off days and played home games on the road. Yet they've never wavered in their determination to get to this point and never complained.

"The players have done a good job monitoring themselves this year," Wedge said. "I've seen some leadership in the clubhouse."

Veteran additions such as Trot Nixon and Joe Borowski have helped matters. Borowski has led by example, while Nixon has kept the clubhouse loose, even in tough times.

But Wedge is just as pleased with the way core players such as C.C. Sabathia, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner have kept their teammates in check.

All of this has helped Wedge put this club on cruise control. Wins are way up from '06. Team meetings are way down.

"They've held each other more accountable," Wedge said. "This is a close group. They've been pretty honest with each other. They've done a good job making it their clubhouse."

Borowski, for one, has said he's never seen a clubhouse with so few egos. "RBI Baseball" tournaments on the Nintendo before games and postgame pies in the face have brought an added element of camaraderie.

Wedge was asked when he knew this was a special team, in terms of the way players mesh.

"In Spring Training, I could tell everyone was getting along," he said. "This team came together faster than the others I've had."

Lee learning: Cliff Lee's two scoreless innings of relief Saturday night were significant on two fronts.

For one, they made for Lee's first scoreless appearance in the big leagues since he pitched eight scoreless innings against the Tigers way back on Sept. 6, 2005.

Furthermore, they demonstrated that Lee just might be getting the hang of bullpen work.

Lee has been working to find his form throughout this trying '07 season, in which he found himself out of the rotation and carrying the dubious distinction of being the Tribe's best-paid Minor Leaguer by the end of July.

"I'm finally getting results," said Lee, who has given up three runs in four innings of relief work this month. "I'm trying to do whatever I can to get this team in the playoffs. I'm happy to be a part of that."

But will Lee be a part of the playoffs? The club is expected to carry only 10 pitchers in the postseason, so Lee is on the bubble, at best. Outings like Saturday's certainly don't hurt his standing.

Whether or not Lee joins the Tribe in the postseason, he plans to come into '08 with a newfound focus.

"I need to use this season as motivation to work to get better," he said. "It's been a frustrating year. I've got to redeem myself. I have no excuses, and I have extra incentive because of the year I've had."

Break out the bubbly: The Indians had no guarantee of capturing the crown Sunday, but the clubhouse staff can't afford to leave anything to chance.

About 10 cases of champagne -- each holding 12 bottles -- were delivered to the clubhouse from the Terrace Club.

"Some domestics and some from France," clubhouse attendant Frank Mancini said. "The hardest part is finding a way to chill them all."

Mancini added that if the Indians are unable to clinch at home, the bottles can be returned to the Terrace Club. Mancini is a noted wine connoisseur, but he did not pick out the bubbly.

"I probably would have picked out the most expensive stuff," he said with a smile.

Second thoughts? After initially breaking the news that Indians special assistant to the general manager Neal Huntington is about to land the GM job with the Pirates, the Beaver County Times reported Sunday that the Bucs are rethinking their decision after being angered word about their initial choice was leaked to the press.

The paper cited "multiple baseball sources" Sunday in reporting that Huntington may not get the job after all.

Best on base: A pair of Indians farmhands have a few extra bucks in their pocket as part of the Tribe's annual Minor League On-Base Program, which is sponsored by Continental Airlines. The program stresses pitch recognition and patience at the plate for all position players in the Indians' farm system.

Double-A Akron infielder Jordan Brown was recognized with a cash award for having the highest percentage of hard-hit balls in the Minor League system with a 43.2 mark. Brown batted .333 with 85 runs, 36 doubles, two triples, 11 homers and 76 RBIs in 127 games, winning the Eastern League batting title, MVP trophy and Rookie of the Year Award.

Class A Kinston and Lake County infielder Jared Goedert won two awards for having the highest walk percentage, at 16.4, and the highest on-base percentage with a .430 mark. He walked 58 times in 354 plate appearances between the two stops and batted .317 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs in 81 games. He missed some time with a shoulder injury.

Tribe tidbits: Sections of temporary seating line the hall in the bowels of Jacobs Field. The seats will be installed in selected aisles at the ballpark for postseason home games, accommodating in the neighborhood of 400 additional fans. ... Hafner was batting .294 with two homers and nine RBIs over his last nine games entering Sunday. ... Jhonny Peralta was batting .348 with two doubles, three homers and four RBIs over his last seven games.

On deck: The Indians have Monday off before embarking upon their final road trip of the regular season. It opens with Tuesday's 10:05 p.m. ET game against the Mariners at Safeco Field. Sabathia (18-7, 3.19 ERA) will oppose right-hander Felix Hernandez (13-7, 4.07).

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.