A Series worth the wait Maddux-Hershiser provides Classic start to overdue spectacle

October 21, 1995|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It has been two years since Joe Carter's dramatic home run ended the last World Series, which is one of the reasons it was so important for baseball's best two teams to meet in the 91st Fall Classic.

The Cleveland Indians won 100 games in a shortened season and were widely recognized as the superteam of 1995. The Atlanta Braves were the winningest team in the National League, and they made short work of imposing teams from Colorado and Cincinnati in the first two tiers of the sport's new playoff format.

Maybe it would have been fun to have the Rockies or Seattle Mariners, but only this matchup was certain to be worth the wait. It has been labeled the "Politically Incorrect" World Series -- and Native American groups plan demonstrations to protest the improper use of Indian imagery by both clubs. But in purely competitive terms, it couldn't be more right.

Perennial Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux will take the mound for the Braves tonight in Game 1 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, facing one of the toughest postseason pitchers in the history of the game, Orel Hershiser.

The Baseball Network couldn't ask for more. The best teams. The best pitchers. The best story lines.

The Indians will be making their first appearance in the World Series since 1954. The Braves are in for the third time in five years, but they will be trying to avoid becoming known as the Buffalo Bills of baseball. Here's how the teams match up:

First base

Braves first baseman Fred McGriff is one of the most imposing power hitters in the NL, and the bad news for Indians fans is he never really took a big swing during the NLCS. He batted .438 with three singles and four doubles, but doesn't figure to go hungry forever -- even against a tough Cleveland pitching staff. The Indians will start designated hitter Eddie Murray at first base in Atlanta, even though he has played just 18 games at first base this year, and go with either Paul Sorrento or Herbert Perry when they play under AL rules. Either way, Murray is going to be in the lineup and he still is an imposing force at 39. It might be even if the Indians had any left-handed starters, but the left-handed McGriff has a chance to be a very prominent player in this series. Advantage: Braves.

Second base

Indians second baseman Carlos Baerga is one of those rare players who can do almost anything. He hits for average and power, produces runs and even steals a few bases. He's batting .359 during the postseason. If he has a weakness, it's on $H defense, but he is not a liability. Braves second baseman Mark Lemke has a lot of postseason experience, but it didn't show in a couple of key situations during the NLCS and he is batting .189 in the postseason. Advantage: Indians.

Shortstop

Cleveland has soon-to-be third-time Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel, who doesn't hit much but is considered the American League's answer to Ozzie Smith. The Braves lost Jeff Blauser for much of the NLCS with a deep thigh bruise and he could be taken off Atlanta's World Series roster. Manager Bobby Cox was going to assess Blauser's workout last night and make a decision today. Blauser is 0-for-10 in this postseason and is coming off a bad offensive year (.211). Defensive specialist Rafael Belliard could see significant playing time. Advantage: Indians.

Third base

Tough call. The Braves got a scare last night when Rookie of the Year candidate Chipper Jones was hit on the upper lip by a ball that bounced off the outfield wall. But aside from a puffy lip, he is fine, which is a relief to Atlanta. Jones had 23 home runs and 86 RBIs during the regular season and played like a 10-year veteran in the divisional series and the NLCS, hitting .412. But Cleveland's Jim Thome doesn't exactly fade into the background, with a .314 regular-season average and three postseason home runs. Jones is the better defensive player. Advantage: Braves.

Left field

Cleveland's Albert Belle is the most dangerous hitter in the game, and he had 50 home runs and 52 doubles in a short season to prove it. Made some ugly plays in left field during the ALCS against Seattle, but was playing on a sprained ankle. The Braves' situation is muddled. Ryan Klesko should play against the all-right-handed Indians rotation -- 20 of his 23 home runs during the regular season came against right-handers -- but NLCS MVP Mike Devereaux may get some time because of his superior defensive skills. Advantage: Indians.

Center field

Indians center fielder Kenny Lofton easily could have been ALCS MVP after hitting .458 in the series and coming up big in several key situations. He'll give Braves pitchers a lot to think about. Braves center fielder Marquis Grissom is dangerous, too, with 16 hits and a .400 average in eight postseason games, but he isn't as unsettling as Lofton and he isn't quite as flashy with the glove. Advantage: Indians.

Right field

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