Resigned look, quiet reply tell extent of O's plight

October 13, 1997|By John Eisenberg

CLEVELAND -- You could pick out the guilty players without a scorecard in the Orioles' clubhouse last night.

They were the ones surrounded by reporters after the Orioles' 8-7 loss to the Indians in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

They were the ones answering the hard questions.

The ones squinting into the harsh glare of camera lights.

Armando Benitez, Lenny Webster and Alan Mills stood together in a corner of the clubhouse after a defeat that pushed the Orioles within one loss of a premature end to their season.

An end none of them envisioned when the ALCS began.

"This is very hard," said Benitez, who gave up the decisive hit for the second time in the series.

His eyes were rimmed with red and flushed with tears, his voice thick with emotion.

But unlike after the Game 2 loss, when he left the clubhouse without commenting after hanging a slider that Marquis Grissom turned into a three-run homer, he stood in front of his locker and spoke.

"I made a mistake again," he said. "Not as bad as the other night, but another mistake."

This time, he left a fastball over the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and Sandy Alomar whacked it into the left-center-field alley to score Manny Ramirez from second with the winning run.

Before Alomar batted, Benitez worked Matt Williams to a full count before issuing a walk.

"I thought I had strike three on Williams, but I didn't get the call," he said.

He shook his head and forced a thin smile, barely keeping his emotions together.

"I will just try to come back," he said, "one more time."

To his left sat Mills, who pitched two innings of perfect relief before starting the bottom of the ninth by walking Ramirez, who scored the winning run.

Mills was ahead in the count, 0-2, but couldn't finish Ramirez off.

"No excuses," he said. "I threw a pitch out of the strike zone for ball one, but after that, it was my job to make him put the ball in play to get an out, and I just didn't get the job done."

The look on his face was one of sheer disgust.

"You could say that," he said. "Walking the leadoff man in the bottom of the ninth "

His voice trailed off, leaving the obvious unsaid.

The loss was the third in the series for the bullpen.

All three of the Indians' victories have been by one run.

All three winning rallies came against the Orioles' bullpen and began with walks.

The Orioles were ahead in the eighth inning in Game 2 and tied in the ninth in Game 3 and Game 4, and lost all three games.

"We still have a great bullpen," reliever Jesse Orosco said. "We just have to come back. It's not over yet. They have to win four games, not three."

On the other side of Orosco, surrounded by the biggest crowd, stood Lenny Webster, the backup catcher who has discovered infamy at the worst possible time.

One night after his droppedball allowed the Indians to score the winning run in Game 3 with a suicide squeeze, his throwing error was responsible for letting in the second run on a wild pitch in the fifth inning, giving the Indians a 7-5 lead.

Two runs scored on a ball that bounced no more than 20 feet away.

The fans at Jacobs Field gave Webster a standing ovation when he came to bat in the next inning.

They chanted his name, "Len-ny, Len-ny," as if he had just won a game for the home team.

Webster turned to Alomar, the Indians' catcher, and cracked a joke.

"I said, 'Man, maybe you guys should trade for me. They love me,' " he said.

Alomar laughed, Webster later recalled.

He had a smile on his face as waves of reporters came to him to pronounce him the goat.

"If I thought about it long enough, I should get a blade and slit my wrists," he said.

He was kidding.

"The people here can cheer for me and blame me and say it's all my fault and whatever else they want to say," he said. "I have no problem with that. They paid their money and they're fans. I did the best I could and things didn't go my way and that's what happens sometimes."

It's not fair, really, in the sense that Webster is one of the good guys in the league and a standout defensive catcher who gave the Orioles a solid season as their backup catcher.

But his ALCS performance will live in infamy if the Indians go on to win.

His mistakes -- just call them the new Mistakes by the Lake -- will symbolize the Indians' upset.

He might set a new standard for personal playoff disasters.

In the glare of the spotlight late last night, he shrugged his broad shoulders.

"It's just a game," he said, "and I did my best. Sometimes, that's not good enough."

Indians' pen rolls

The Cleveland bullpen is 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA and one save, compared with figures for their Orioles counterparts of 0-3 with a 3.14 ERA and 13 walks in 14 1/3 innings.

Game 1

Team .. .. ..IP .. ..H .. ..ER .. ..BB .. ..SO .. ..Dec

Indians .. ...2 .. ..0 .. ...0 .. ...1 .. ...1

Orioles .. ...1 .. ..0 .. ...0 .. ...0 .. ...2 .. ...SV

Game 2

Indians .. ...3 1/3 .0 .. ...0 .. ...2 .. ...4 .. ...SV

Orioles .. ...5 .. ..1 .. ...3 .. ...4 .. ...6 .. .. .L

Game 3

Indians .. ...5 .. ..4 .. ...1 .. ...3 .. ...5 .. ....W

Orioles .. . .4 1/3 .. .3 .. ...1 .. ...5 .. ...6 .. .. .L

Game 4

Indians .. ...6 .. ..6 .. ...2 .. ...2 .. ...7 .. .. .W

Orioles .. ...4 .. ..2 .. ...1 .. ...4 .. ...1 .. .. .L

Totals

Indians .. ..16 1/3 .. 10 .. ...3 .. ...8 .. ..17

Orioles .. ..14 1/3 .. .6 .. ...5 .. ..13 .. ..15

Pub Date: 10/13/97

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