Orioles' year ends quietly 11th-inning homer by Fernandez lifts Indians to pennant

Game 6 Indians 1 Orioles 0

October 16, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It was so quiet at Camden Yards, you could almost hear a pennant drop.

The Cleveland Indians celebrated near the mound and the sullen sellout crowd of 49,075 filed out, as quiet as the Orioles batting order that had failed over and over to bring home the one run that would have kept the American League Championship Series alive and -- just maybe -- bought a little more time for the club to reach the World Series.

For that matter, it was as quiet as the Indians' offense that managed one hit over eight innings against Mike Mussina, but finally rode an 11th-inning home run by light-hitting Tony Fernandez to a 1-0 victory and the American League pennant.

It was Armando Benitez who surrendered the pivotal hit for the third time in the best-of-seven series, but he was not the reason that the Orioles came up short of their ultimate goal, losing the series, four games to two.

The Indians will face the Florida Marlins in Game 1 of the World Series on Saturday because the Orioles never looked like the resourceful club that manager Davey Johnson and general manager Pat Gillick were intent on building last winter. They didn't move runners up. They didn't hit with men in scoring position. They didn't play like the championship team they were supposed to be when they completed a rare wire-to-wire run to win the American League East title.

"We were the best team in the American League, just like we were the best team in '69 when the Mets beat us," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson. "But they played us tough. It was a real close series, and we wish them the best."

It seems like a long time ago that the Orioles were expressing disappointment because they would get no rematch with the New York Yankees, who celebrated at Camden Yards last year after winning the ALCS in five games. The Indians came in with the worst record of the four American League playoff clubs, but found four different ways to bring the Orioles a bitter end.

Count 'em. While Mussina was pitching the game of his life -- again -- the Orioles were being held scoreless by shaky Indians right-hander Charles Nagy. They didn't score while Mussina was on the mound in Game 3 either, and have not scored while he has been in the game for 17 consecutive innings, dating back to the Division Series.

Mussina struck out 10 yesterday after striking out a record 15 batters in his first start of the ALCS. The Indians managed just a double and two walks. His two ALCS starts constitute one of the best combined postseason pitching performances in major-league history, but he will go home to Montoursville, Pa., without a victory in either game.

Count 'em. The Orioles had 15 runners in the game, but they were a combined 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position. The Indians had six runners, and the last one got to trot all the way around the bases. Fernandez isn't exactly known as a home-run hitter, but he did hit 11 during the regular season and Benitez throws so hard that he can turn a singles hitter into a power guy.

It was a horrible week for Benitez, who gave up the three-run home run to Marquis Grissom in Game 2 that got the Indians even and the game-winning single by Sandy Alomar in Game 4 that put them ahead in the series, three games to one.

Only two previous teams had fallen behind that far in the ALCS and come back to win. The Orioles gave themselves a chance to be the third when No. 4 starter Scott Kamieniecki combined with veteran Jimmy Key to pitch eight shutout innings Monday night at Jacobs Field. They were still in a sudden-death situation, but had to feel good about their chances because they had their top two starters lined up for the final two games at home.

Mussina was sensational, even without the terrible twilight that made him even more overpowering in Game 3. The game started under a heavy cloud cover that didn't clear until the shadows were no longer a factor at the plate, but he set a championship series record with 25 strikeouts and a major-league record with 41 in the postseason.

Owner Peter G. Angelos had spent liberally to put together a team capable of reaching the World Series, but, for the second year in a row, the club fell victim to several strange twists of fate and will have all winter to figure out just where it all went awry.

"You're always disappointed when you don't prevail," Angelos said as he left the ballpark. "We're disappointed. Everyone is disappointed. There are 50,000 people here who are disappointed."

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Pub Date: 10/16/97

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