Kenny Lofton, the catalytic leadoff hitter of the Cleveland Indians, disagreed with the suggestion that he has been the one thorn in the side of the Atlanta Braves.

"We ain't won a game yet," he said. "There are no thorns in their side."

True enough.

In the aftermath of a two-hitter by Greg Maddux in Game 1 of the World Series, the Indians were restricted to six hits by Tom Glavine and three successors as the Braves won Game 2, 4-3, Sunday night. All the Indians need to do to win this Series now is win four of five games against baseball's best pitching.

It might be possible if they were in their powerhouse form of the regular season, when they won 100 games and led the American League with a .291 team batting average and a 5.8 runs-per-game scoring average, but they have misplaced that form in October.

Despite victories over the Boston Red Sox in the divisional playoffs and the Seattle Mariners in the league championship series, the Indians are averaging only 4.09 runs through 11 postseason games, batting .224.

Following the two confrontations with Maddux, Glavine and Co., the Indians are batting .125 in the World Series with one extra base hit--a two-run homer by Eddie Murray off Glavine in the second inning.

True to form, Murray refused comment Sunday night.

So did Albert Belle, who asked publicist Bart Swain to guard his back as he sat at his locker, keeping reporters away.

It's a nightly scene in the Cleveland clubhouse as Belle digests his postgame meal and a series of postseason performances that must be hard to swallow.

The man who hit 50 home runs and drove in 126 is batting .250 with two home runs and four RBIs in the postseason. He was up with runners at first and third and two outs in the seventh and popped to the catcher.

"Had his pitch and just missed it," Indian hitting instructor Charlie Manuel said of the Alejandro Pena offering to Belle.

"I don't think he's pressing. To me, it's the pitching. They haven't put the ball in the good part of the plate so that we can show our power.

"They've cut off the doubles and home runs."

While Belle and Murray maintained their vows of silence, Lofton sat at his locker and condescended to talk, condescended being the operative word as he frequently threw reporters' questions back at them.

The Atlanta pitching? Lofton said he hasn't seen anything special.

"Sooner or later we've got to stop swinging at bad pitches," he said. "Our guys are swinging at balls, and they keep throwing them. I mean, they're not stupid over there."

The Indians are an aggressive, free-swinging team. Discipline isn't one of their strong suits. They are particularly vulnerable against pitchers with the control and speed changes of a Maddux and Glavine.

Who isn't, of course.

"You have to give the pitchers a little credit," second baseman Carlos Baerga said. "They're throwing a lot of off-speed pitches and we haven't adjusted, but I don't think we're frustrated. Everybody still has their head up."

The Series resumes in Cleveland Tuesday night.

Lofton said the Indians will be more relaxed, and would, in fact, be two up instead of two down if they had opened at home.

"It's no excuse, but the system is screwed up," he said. "We had the best record but haven't had the home-field advantage yet. We earned it, but didn't get it. It's the way it is. We have to live with it."

Said General Manager John Hart:

"We have to swing the bat better, that's apparent. We won 100 games doing a lot of things well, but we haven't hit to our capability in the postseason and we didn't play well the last two games.

"Last night we were dominated by Maddux and fortunate to score two runs, but we had chances tonight and didn't take advantage of them.

"We didn't help ourselves offensively or defensively. We gave them two runs."

An errant pick-off throw by pitcher Dennis Martinez helped produce one, and a misplay by Belle in left field contributed to another.

In addition, Manny Ramirez was picked off first in the eighth inning to thwart a budding rally, and the decisive blow, a two-run homer by Javier Lopez in the sixth, was delivered when Manager Mike Hargrove elected not to pitch around Lopez, although the weak hitting Rafael Belliard was up next, with the pitcher's spot to follow.

Martinez gave up eight hits and four runs in 5 2/3 innings and said he could never find the groove. "I cost us the game," he said, shouldering too much of the load.

However, there is some feeling that in their fourth postseason starts, Martinez, 40, and Orel Hershiser, 37, began to show the wear and tear. They will be needed again if the Series goes beyond four games, a big if the way the Indians have been hitting.

"We've feasted on mediocre pitching and beaten good pitching, but we've had problems when we've faced a pitcher for the first time," Hart said of the introduction to Maddux and Glavine.

The Indians headed home with that troubling thought. They are still to meet John Smoltz and probably Steve Avery. They are still to put a thorn in the Braves' side.

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