O's short of arms, time Erickson labors

Indians have wild time with O's 'pen, go up 3-1

Alomar beats Benitez in 9th

Cleveland scores two on Rhodes' wild pitch in rally back from 5-2

GAME 4 Indians 8, Orioles7

October 13, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- It was only last week that Davey Johnson espoused his belief in fate, how she turns and how some years she picks out a darling and stands over it for seven months ending in October.

For most of this season the Orioles have been kissed by her. Last night, they experienced her backhand for the third time in four days.

Short on bullpen, staying power and now desperately short on time, the Orioles fell hard in an 8-7 loss to the Cleveland Indians in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. Trailing 3-1, they must either get up tonight or endure a winter of second-guessing and possibly worse.

"Somebody's messing with fate. That's what I figure right now," Johnson said.

For a second straight night, the plucky Indians technically won in their final at-bat, this time with catcher Sandy Alomar driving Armando Benitez's fastball for a single between left fielder B. J. Surhoff and center fielder Brady Anderson to score Manny Ramirez from second base.

More realistically, the Orioles blew a chance to even a maddening series four innings earlier because of a bad combination of bullpen and chaos at home plate. As a result, tonight Johnson hands the ball and his team's season to Scott Kamieniecki, whose last start came Sept. 24.

The Orioles still draw breath, but it is shallow. A team that couldn't win Saturday despite 15 strikeouts from its starting pitcher gave another lesson in waste.

Never mind that the Orioles received home runs from Anderson, Harold Baines and Rafael Palmeiro in the four-run third inning. It wasn't enough.

The Orioles saved themselves by tying the game in the ninth inning for a second straight day. Offensive enigma Palmeiro hit a one-out come-backer off Indians closer Jose Mesa to score Roberto Alomar. But it wasn't enough.

Scott Erickson was handed a 5-2 lead but couldn't handle it while pitching on three days' rest.

They are creating heroes by the inning on the home side. The Orioles are manufacturing reasons to still believe.

"There have been very few teams that have come back from a 3-1 deficit," said Anderson, "but the way this series is going, I wouldn't be surprised at anything that happens."

"I'm not feeling too good. It's a long way from being over," said Indians center fielder Marquis Grissom, who was involved in the Indians' key play for the third straight game -- all victories. "Last year [with the Atlanta Braves] we had the Yankees 2-0 and they won four straight. I learned my lesson then."

As for fate, Indians manager Mike Hargrove has little use for such talk. He takes such questions as a slight to his underdog club that has often won in spite of itself this postseason.

"I don't know about fate. But if it's there, we'll take it," he said.

L Johnson remained typically defiant in the face of adversity.

"There's a lot of strong backbone on this club. I know that losing 3-1 in games is tough," he said. "I believe in this ballclub. Momentum can change with a well-pitched game. Then we can get back home. I've seen stranger things happen. I've been two runs down with my last strike and seen things happen. Don't tell me about fate yet."

The game turned on the Indians' four-run fifth inning as Johnson went to left-hander Arthur Rhodes and stayed away from Terry Mathews. The break point came against right-handed hitter Grissom.

Johnson said he had "closed the book" on Saturday's wild ending to a 2-1 loss in which a botched squeeze play translated into a run when catcher Lenny Webster failed to hold onto a slider from Randy Myers. Johnson insisted he never even looked at the replay of the controversial play. It took only five innings to happen upon the same chapter, the same page, the same line again.

Johnson had gone through his bullpen in Saturday's 12-inning loss, almost resorting to Jimmy Key as a stopgap. Without an 11th pitcher, he was forced to nurse Erickson through the middle innings. It proved disastrous.

The Indians began their fifth-inning turnaround when Ramirez pounded a monstrous home run into the left-center-field bleachers for his third hit, pulling Cleveland within a run. Erickson was obviously laboring. He managed only five ground-ball outs. And when Jim Thome and David Justice followed Ramirez's blast with singles, Johnson got Rhodes and Mathews warming up.

Mathews was warm and Rhodes in the game when Grissom approached with two outs and the bases loaded. Rather than go with the more conventional matchup, Johnson stayed away from a pitcher seen as jinxed. When approached about his interpretation, Mathews balked.

"You can write no comment on that. Because if you do [write something] I won't be around anymore," Mathews said.

Rhodes entered the series as a health risk. He suffered a strained flexor tendon near his left elbow during Game 3 of the Division Series and left the game unable to throw a slider, his second pitch.

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