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06/05/08 9:20 PM ET

Francisco may be answer in No. 2 hole

Outfielder predicts 'his' Lakers to win NBA Finals in five games

ARLINGTON -- Ben Francisco has been eagerly awaiting the start of the NBA Finals for nearly a week now.

It's given the avid Lakers fan plenty of time to form a prediction for how his team will fare against the Celtics.

"We'll sneak a win out [in Game 1]," Francisco predicted Thursday, just hours before tipoff, "then they'll take Game 2, and we'll win three in a row."

Mark it down.

Manager Eric Wedge, meanwhile, likes the thought of marking Francisco's name down in the No. 2 spot of the lineup more frequently. Just as Francisco was awaiting the Finals, Wedge has been waiting all season for the Tribe's true No. 2 hitter to reveal himself. Francisco just might be the answer.

"I like him in there right now," Wedge said. "I like his athleticism, I like his quickness, I like his speed. He gives us from the right side what [leadoff hitter] Grady [Sizemore] gives us from the left side."

But with Travis Hafner on the disabled list, the Indians also have an opening for a No. 3 hitter, so Francisco has split his time between the two spots. Since his May 6 promotion to the bigs, Francisco has made eight starts at No. 2 and eight at No. 3, in addition to two starts at cleanup, six at No. 5, two at No. 7 and one at No. 8.

"I've hit everywhere in my career in the Minors," Francisco said. "I like hitting second. Grady's always on base, so if I get on, we've got Vic [Martinez] and everybody behind us to drive us in."

Francisco followed that game plan quite well while batting second on Wednesday night against the Rangers, when he went 5-for-6 with three runs scored. He became the first Indians rookie to notch five hits in a ballgame since Tommy Hinzo did so on Sept. 5, 1987. In fact, according to Elias, Francisco is now just one of four Indians rookies since 1948 to have five or more hits in a game. Jack Heidemann had six hits on June 28, 1970, and Jim Fridley had six on April 29, 1952.

But to put what Francisco has brought to the Tribe in more current terms, look at his overall numbers. In just 29 games, he's batted .343 with three homers and 17 RBIs. The average is the best among AL rookies, while the homer total is tied for sixth and the RBI total is tied for seventh.

Not bad for a guy who's only been up a month.

"Benny's most definitely given us a lift," Wedge said.

Said Francisco, who has hit in 12 of his last 14 games: "I feel good. It starts with my approach and routine. I'm just trying to take everything day by day."

But when it comes to his beloved Lakers, he's willing to gaze into the future and offer a prediction.

"Lakers in five," he said with a smile.

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