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Justice joins team he beat with World Series homer

March 27, 1997

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) _ David Justice joined the Cleveland Indians Wednesday, a day after the Atlanta Braves traded him in a blockbuster deal that included All-Stars Marquis Grissom and Kenny Lofton.

Batting fifth and playing left field, Justice hit a two-run single on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded in his first at-bat. He took such a hard cut on his first swing that he fell down in the batter’s box, an eerie reminder of the shoulder injury that caused him to miss almost all of last season.

Justice was 1-for-3 with two walks, a strikeout and two runs. He came out of the game after flying to center in the seventh inning.

When he took the field for warmups, Justice shook hands first with Matt Williams, the cleanup hitter he’ll be protecting in the Indians’ reshaped lineup.

Wearing Eddie Murray’s old No. 33, Justice stepped into the cage and hit a line drive over the right field wall on his third swing of batting practice.

``If I can’t wear 23, I’ll take 33,″ said Justice, noting that Cleveland’s Julio Franco wears his old number. ``They had numbers like 47, 6 and 8, something like that. I can’t imagine a single-digit number.″

Justice, who only arrived at the Indians’ camp a few hours before the game, didn’t know who used to wear No. 8 for Cleveland _ his predecessor in left field, Albert Belle.

``Who was No. 8?″ Justice asked, confused by the reporters’ laughter.

``Albert,″ they said.

``Oh,″ Justice said. ``I knew there was a joke behind that I missed.″

Grissom, a four-time Gold Glove who replaces Lofton in center field, is expected to join the Indians Thursday for a day game against the Kansas City Royals. Lofton will play for the Braves against the Yankees Thursday night in Tampa.

Justice beat Cleveland and clinched Atlanta’s first World Series title with a dramatic Game 6 home run in 1995. The clinching homer capped a memorable series and came a day after Justice criticized Braves fans.

``You would have to do something great to get them out of their seats,″ Justice said of the Atlanta faithful. ``Shoot, up in Cleveland, they were down three runs in the ninth inning and they were still on their feet.″

The comments caused quite a stir in Atlanta, where Justice had played his whole career to a mixture of cheers and jeers from fans unaccustomed to having a winning baseball team until the ’90s.

``It was tough,″ Justice said before his first game with the Indians. ``I didn’t feel like anybody was behind me.″

Justice, with a city and the weight of the World Series on his back, responded with a solo homer off Jim Poole, rounding first base with his right arm raised triumphantly to a roaring crowd.

``I haven’t thought about that,″ Justice said. ``That’s pretty much in the past.″

Justice could only watch the Braves lose to the New York Yankees last season in their fourth World Series in six years. He dislocated his right shoulder May 15, had surgery and missed the rest of the season.

Good production from young outfielders Jermaine Dye and Andruw Jones, plus Justice’s $12.5 million salary for 1997 and ’98 made him an obvious candidate for a trade.

But few expected a trade of this magnitude. The only player involved who has not been an All-Star was pitcher Alan Embree, who went from Cleveland to Atlanta.

``I didn’t feel bitter,″ Justice said about getting traded by the team that drafted him in 1985. ``I understand the business of baseball.″

Indians general manager John Hart said he’s convinced Justice is in better shape than before his injury. Justice has had three other stints on the disabled list in his seven-year career for minor injuries.

``I’ve had pretty much of an injury-riddled career,″ Justice said. ``My goal is to play in all the games.″

Justice will bat fifth behind Williams in a Cleveland lineup that could be as potent as 1995, but with different faces. The trade gives the Indians power at every spot in the order but second (Tony Fernandez) and ninth (Omar Vizquel).

Justice’s best year came in 1993, when he had 40 homers and 120 RBIs.

``If I get the at-bats, I’ll put up the numbers,″ he said.

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