Indians have a friend in fate Squeezing out a win, Cleveland stays familiar with the charmed life

October 12, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Omar Vizquel could afford to smile. The Cleveland Indians had just scored a huge playoff victory and he was at bat when the winning run crossed the plate, but he was well aware that he had just caught the biggest break of his life.

He had just tripped over the fine line between success and failure and landed in clover.

"I was ready to kill myself," he said, "and then I turned around and saw Marquis running across the plate."

Marquis Grissom had nowhere else to go. He had broken from third base on a suicide squeeze play, which means that if the batter misses the bunt, the runner generally is tagged out at the plate and everyone gets second-guessed all the way into the winter.

This time, however, Orioles catcher Lenny Webster missed the ball and the Indians came away with a hard-fought, 2-1 victory and a decided advantage in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.

Never mind that Webster claimed it was a foul ball. Never mind that the Orioles felt they had come up on the wrong end of a controversial umpiring decision in ALCS competition for the second year in a row.

That will be debated into the winter, too, but the Indians are up, two games to one, and Vizquel doesn't seem to mind going down in baseball history as the first guy ever to win a postseason game by blowing a squeeze play.

"I don't mind as long as we won the game," Vizquel said. "It's a lot better than being remembered as the guy who missed the bunt and got the guy tagged out at the plate."

The Indians have to wonder if this is their year. They came from behind in the Division Series against the New York Yankees on a late-inning home run by Sandy Alomar. They came back from the brink of a two-game deficit against the Orioles on a three-run home run by Grissom in Game 2 on Thursday night at Camden Yards.

Now this.

"I've never seen a game won on a missed squeeze play," said Indians starter Orel Hershiser. "I've seen some games lost that way, but never won."

Hershiser had seen his ninth career postseason victory disappear in the Ohio twilight. Grissom misplaced a ninth-inning Brady Anderson fly ball in the gray sky, allowing the tying run to score and sending the game into extra innings. It could have been a very disappointing evening, but the Indians seem to be on very friendly terms with fate.

The Orioles argued long and hard that Vizquel's bunt had been fouled off and that Grissom should have been sent back to third. Vizquel was just as adamant that he missed the 2-1 slider from Orioles closer Randy Myers.

"I just missed the ball," Vizquel said. "I just didn't make contact and we won the game."

Grissom should have had the best look at the ball. He was running straight to the plate and was about 40 feet away when the ball glanced off Webster's glove, but he claimed that he never saw it.

"I was so anxious to try and score," he said, "and I know Omar is such a good bunter that I was sure he would get it down."

So sure, and yet he wasn't surprised when Vizquel missed the ball completely?

"Things happen," Grissom said. "You're not surprised. The guy they've got pitching has some pretty good stuff."

Like Vizquel, Grissom was willing to take a run any way he could get it at that point. He was still smarting from the ninth-inning play that cost the club -- and Hershiser -- the chance to win the game in regulation.

"I felt like the worst person in the world," Grissom said. "I felt bad for the team, bad for Orel, because he had pitched so well, and bad about myself. Anybody would feel like that. But I tried to bounce back because you might have a chance to redeem yourself."

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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