O's end is less than sum of all the parts

October 16, 1997|By John Eisenberg

The best team didn't win the American League Championship Series.

It was the team that, well, um, what was it that enabled the Indians to beat the Orioles in six games?

Now there's a tricky question.

It certainly wasn't pitching, hitting or defense; the Orioles outscored the Indians, hit 55 points higher and committed the same number of errors.

As inept as the Orioles' bats were, the Indians batted all of .193 and struck out 62 times to set a League Championship Series record.

They were pathetic, in other words, and they still knocked out a team that won 12 more games during the season.

How?

There isn't an explanation you can touch, count or quantify in any way.

The Indians won because it was meant to be.

Sorry for the simplistic explanation, but that's what happened.

Fate intervened.

Destiny derailed the Orioles' trip to the World Series.

Peter Angelos can scream all he wants about who didn't do this or that, but it wasn't anyone's ineptitude that cost the Orioles a trip to the World Series.

Seamhead fans, talk-show callers and second-guessers can gripe until next Opening Day about the Orioles' poor situational hitting and the Indians' surprising superiority out of the bullpen, but those factors didn't beat the Orioles.

4 The hand of fate swept them out of the playoffs.

Don't laugh. You can look it up.

The Indians won Game 3 on a blown suicide squeeze by one of their best bunters.

They won Game 4 on a wild pitch that bounced no more than 20 feet from home plate, yet allowed two Indians to score.

They won Game 6 yesterday at Camden Yards, 1-0, on an 11th-inning home run by a player who had never gone deep in 37 prior postseason games.

A player who wasn't even going to be in the lineup until a pre-game injury to someone else.

That's not a normal course of events, people.

Last year, the Yankees knocked the Orioles out of the playoffs.

This year, it was predestination.

The Indians were the worst of the AL's division winners, the No. 4 seed in the four-team playoffs, but they're on a magical roll.

They were four outs away from elimination in their Division Series, then came back to beat the Yankees.

Now, they have taken out an Orioles team that was deeper and stronger by almost all accounts.

The best team didn't win.

As if that matters.

"It's hard to believe, but it happened," said Orioles first base coach John Stearns. "We lose four of five after winning Game 1. I would have lost my house on that. Especially after taking a 4-2 lead into the eighth inning of Game 2. There's no way I think we're going to lose. But that's baseball. There's just no predicting what will happen."

This ALCS was an epic demonstration of that.

The Orioles allowed three hits yesterday, put 16 runners on base, struck out 14 Indians and lost.

They were given a historic pitching performance in games 3 and 6 by Mike Mussina, who struck out 25 batters and allowed one run -- and didn't get a decision.

In the end yesterday, reporters voted Marquis Grissom as the series MVP -- the same Grissom who struck out four times in four at-bats yesterday.

"The whole series was weird, just really bizarre," Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles said. "No one [team] really took charge during the games. The games turned on a lot of strange plays."

Added B. J. Surhoff, "They didn't outplay us and we didn't outplay them. They just won."

It was a classic series that ended with a classic game, a 232-minute epic of twists, turns and tensions, the closest thing to an Alfred Hitchcock movie that you will ever see at Camden Yards.

No score into the 11th inning, the crowd already limp, and then the Indians' Tony Fernandez, of all people, poked a ball over the right-field wall.

He wasn't even supposed to play.

Bip Roberts is the Indians' regular second baseman, but Roberts injured his thumb during batting practice yesterday -- on a ball hit by Fernandez.

Believe it.

Roberts was taking fielding practice at second when Fernandez hit a ball at him from the batting cage.

Seeing another ball coming toward him, Roberts reached out to stop Fernandez's ball and suffered a sprained thumb.

"Some people underestimate my power," Fernandez said with a smile.

Unable to grip a bat, Roberts was removed from the lineup and replaced by Fernandez.

Fate?

Absolutely.

"The Indians are hot," Brady Anderson said. "Things have gone their way through the whole postseason. They came back on the Yankees. They made a lot of their breaks against us. I think they took the series from us. We didn't give it away."

Said the Indians' David Justice, "I have been in some weird series, and I don't think this one was any weirder than any of the others, but the team that wins almost always has unexpected things happen."

The Indians had one unexpected thing happen to them, and then another, and then another, and then another.

In the end, they were the winners and a team that went wire-to-wire in the AL East was gone from the playoffs.

"We just got steamrolled [by the Yankees] last year," Surhoff said. "This is tougher to take."

Because there was more at stake.

Because the Orioles were the better team.

But the better team doesn't always win.

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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