CLEVELAND -- Mike Hargrove had briefly considered giving Sandy Alomar the night off, given the fact that the veteran catcher was struggling at the plate and had caught every inning of his team's first eight playoff games. The thought passed quickly.
"In about five seconds," the Cleveland Indians manager said.
Good thing, considering what Alomar did in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series and to the Orioles in last night's 8-7 victory at Jacobs Field. While he did it mostly with his bat -- getting three hits, including the game winner -- he also did it with his savvy.
His two-run home run in the second inning off Orioles starter Scott Erickson got the Indians on the board and Alomar out of an 0-for-11 slump. And his single off losing pitcher Armando Benitez drove in Manny Ramirez with the winning run in the ninth.
But it was Alomar's aggressive base running that turned the game in Cleveland's favor.
"I was checking the lead runner [David Justice]," Alomar said of the game's most pivotal play that began with a wild pitch by Arthur Rhodes with the bases loaded and the score tied, 5-5. "I saw David get tangled up with [Rhodes]. I figured he couldn't get right up."
Alomar figured right. Starting at second base, Alomar kept coming and beat Rhodes' off-line throw to Cal Ripken covering at home.
It was another indication of what Alomar means to this team, something that was demonstrated during his career regular season and continued with his dramatic eighth-inning home run against the New York Yankees that tied Game 5 of the Division Series, a game Cleveland won, 3-2.
"He was the MVP of that game, and he was the MVP tonight," said Ramirez. "He showed how important he is to this team."
Until last night, Alomar's contribution to Cleveland's success in this series was how he had handled the parade of relief pitchers Hargrove had brought in. Last night, it was the way he helped Brian Anderson quiet the Orioles after they had exploded for five runs and three home runs off starter Jaret Wright.
Anderson, who was added to the Indians' postseason roster prior to the start of this series, gave up one hit in 3 1/3 innings, striking out four. But after the Orioles chipped away off veteran relievers Paul Assenmacher and Jose Mesa to tie the score, Alomar contributed again with his bat.
"I came to the ballpark tonight and worked on shortening my swing, and staying patient," said Alomar. "I came out with a lot of confidence."
Except for a fourth inning strikeout, Alomar had hit the ball solidly. Finally, after a home run and a single, Alomar had a chance to be the hero again. It came in the bottom of the ninth, with Ramirez and Matt Williams on base after a pair of walks.
"I wanted to get ahead on the count," said Alomar. "When it got to 2-1, I was looking for a fastball. I pulled it."
Alomar's hit landed between B. J. Surhoff and Brady Anderson in left center.
Another hit to distance himself from that 0-for-11 streak to start the series, another victory to distance the Indians from the Orioles and put themselves on the brink of their second trip to the World Series in three years.
But Alomar doesn't want to hear anything more about the Indians winning because of destiny.
"We come to the ballpark, we expect to play every game like it's Game 7," said Alomar. "We're not taking anything for granted."
Pub Date: 10/13/97