Missed chances doom o's, end wire-to-wire ride

WHAT A WASTE

Outhit by 10-3, Indians survive Mussina, clinch on Fernandez's homer 'We didn't get a break'

O's 0-for-12 with men in scoring position

GAME 6 Indians 1, Orioles 0

October 16, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Burned inside, Roberto Alomar spun away from the sound, dancing on feet that should have helped take his team farther into the postseason.

Jose Mesa danced a more joyful jig just 60 feet away, waiting for his Cleveland Indians teammates to swallow him before a silenced Camden Yards crowd of 49,075.

Mesa had done more than strike out Alomar looking to end an epic 11-inning, 1-0 game. He had put the final touches on a Game 6 win that pushed the Indians into their second World Series appearance in three years and sent the Orioles home numb from a second straight loss in the American League Championship Series.

In exchange for 98 regular-season wins, a wire-to-wire AL East pennant and a takedown of the league's most intimidating team in the Division Series, the Orioles were sent away to think about what they had lost.

The Indians completed their creative series victory when Tony Fernandez, a last-minute replacement at second base for Bip Roberts, homered to right field off Armando Benitez with two outs in the 11th.

It was the Indians' third hit of the game. It was the only one that mattered.

The Orioles wasted perhaps the most dominant postseason effort by a pitcher, failing to reward Mike Mussina for eight innings of one-hit ball.

They failed to convert numerous opportunities against harried Indians starter Charles Nagy, whose escape should put him on "America's Most Wanted." The Orioles ended 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

"I know in my heart that they're not the best team, but the best team doesn't always win," said Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone, who had christened this a "special" team but now was forced to check his emotion. "We had opportunities but didn't take advantage of them. That hurt us."

The Indians made the most of theirs and even conspired with fate.

Roberts was supposed to bat leadoff and start at second base until Fernandez, of all people, lined a batting practice pitch off Roberts' thumb. Indians manager Mike Hargrove hastily rearranged his lineup, inserting Fernandez as his No. 2 hitter.

"I knew when Bip got hurt there was some reason I was going to be in the game. Now I know why," Fernandez said.

Dominant all season but hittable in the past week, Benitez

became the series' tragic figure when, for the second time in four losses, he threw a decisive home-run pitch. The home run was the first this season while batting left-handed for the switch-hitting Fernandez and the first of his postseason career.

"It's disappointing when you don't get what you set out to get," said Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken, who finished the ALCS with a .348 batting average and flawless defensive play. "We made things happen but we didn't get the hit to win the ballgame. Cleveland did what it took to win. They executed well, they pitched well and the ball bounced their way a few times. I don't really feel bad but I'm still disappointed. We don't get to move on."

Manager Davey Johnson said, "I'll think about it for quite awhile. This is a tough loss. This whole series I don't think we caught many breaks."

Johnson left the clubhouse after meeting with Ripken, general manager Pat Gillick and several other club officials. He waved off reporters, slipped out a side entrance and offered only, "No comment. No comment," when asked about his status for next season.

Before that, Johnson conceded nothing to the Indians, who won all four games by one run after finishing the season with just 86 victories, the lowest total of any AL playoff team this year, and 12 fewer than the Orioles.

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

Mussina didn't receive a decision in two ALCS starts despite extending one of the great runs in postseason history.

In 29 innings, he had a 1.24 ERA, allowing 11 hits and four runs, striking out 41 and walking seven. Setting a postseason record for strikeouts and unrewarded excellence, Mussina struck out 10 yesterday, making him only the third pitcher in postseason history to enjoy two double-digit strikeout games in the same October.

Mussina struck out four in three innings, eight through five and finished with 10 on only 108 pitches in eight innings. The Indians never pushed a runner past second base against him. (They managed only two runners past second base against him in Saturday's Game 3.)

But, once again, the Orioles backed Mussina with inept situational hitting. A veteran team, the Orioles never showed themselves to be a disciplined one.

The Orioles began the first four innings by placing their leadoff hitters on base but never pushed a runner to third base with fewer than two outs.

Nagy required a mound visit by pitching coach Mark Wiley after facing only four hitters. He threw three balls to four of the Orioles' first seven batters but was helped by six of the next seven hitters swinging at the first pitch.

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