Indians unfazed by life on brink They've lifted backs off wall vs. Yanks, O's

October 25, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- The Cleveland Indians have been here before. They were two innings away from being eliminated from the Division Series. They were four outs away from falling two games behind the Orioles in the American League Championship Series. They always found a way.

Now, with the wild-card Florida Marlins one victory away from an unlikely world title, the Indians face one more mountain or could it be that they have run out of happy endings?

The odds are stacked heavily against them. They have to win two straight games on the road and they have to get by Marlins ace Kevin Brown just to force a decisive Game 7.

"You can't worry about winning two," center fielder Marquis Grissom said. "We need to go out and win Saturday. That's the most important game. We've got to go and flat out play. They came [to Cleveland] and beat us twice. I don't see any reason we can't go down there and win two."

There are a couple of reasons, actually. The Marlins have all the momentum and they have a decided pitching advantage, but that's what they said about the Yankees and Orioles, too. Manager Jim Leyland actually smiled a couple of times after Thursday night's Game 5 victory at Jacobs Field, but he wasn't quite ready to be fitted for his championship ring.

The Indians still have one of the best offensive lineups in the

game -- and they certainly weren't intimidated by Brown in Game 2. They showed their resilience again on Thursday, when they rebounded with three runs in the ninth inning and had Marlins closer Robb Nen against the ropes when Sandy Alomar flied out deep to right field to end the game.

No one doubts that the Indians possess the intangible qualities that make a comeback plausible. They made a game-tying, bases-empty home run by Alomar in Game 4 of the Division Series go a very long way. They got off the mat in the ALCS -- thanks to a big Game 2 home run by Grissom -- and rode a wave of good fortune into the World Series.

Now, they must prove that last week's 6-1 victory over Brown was not some trick of the light, and -- if the overall performance of the Marlins' pitching staff is any indication -- they might just succeed.

The Florida starting rotation has avoided a total meltdown only because of two gutsy performances by Cuban defector Livan Hernandez. Brown struggled in Game 2, Al Leiter didn't scare anyone in Game 3 and Tony Saunders took a beating in Game 4. The combined ERA of the rotation -- including Hernandez -- is 8.20. Indians starters have not pitched much better (6.91), but they have their most resourceful pitcher -- Chad Ogea -- going tonight.

So far, it has been a hitters series. The clubs have combined to score 71 runs in the first five games, an average of slightly more than seven runs apiece in each game.

"You expect there to be some runs scored when two teams like this get together," Leyland said. "When they have Marquis Grissom batting ninth, that's a little scary."

This is when cliches come out in force. The Indians have their backs to the wall and there's no tomorrow and, well, you get the idea. What else is there to say at this point?

"We've been here before," Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel said. "You can only take it one game at a time. We have to play our best baseball the next game. It's crazy. So many things have happened in this World Series that you can hardly believe it's the World Series."

The whole postseason has been that way for the Indians, but Alomar wouldn't have it any other way. He has been the catalyst of their offensive attack all season, and has been a one-man momentum swing in October, but he'll need some help to get over this hump.

"There's no room for error," Alomar said. "If we go down and win two games we'll be the world champions or if we lose one game we'll come home and they'll be the champions. I'm having a lot of fun. This is great. I would rather be doing this than be at home playing golf. I'm in a situation where if I fail, I fail, and if I succeed it's a lot of fun."

World Series

Cleveland Indians

vs. Florida Marlins

Marlins lead series 3-2

Site: Pro Player Stadium, Miami

When: 8 tonight

TV/Radio: Chs. 11, 4/WBAL (1090 AM)

Cleveland Indians

vs. Florida Marlins

(Best of seven; chs. 11, 4)

Marlins lead series 3-2

Game Result

Game 1 Florida, 7-4

Game 2 Cleveland, 6-1

Game 3 Florida, 14-11

Game 4 Cleveland, 10-3

Game 5 Florida, 8-7

Day Site Time

Tonight at Florida 8

Tomorrow at Florida 7: 35*

*if necessary

Pub Date: 10/25/97

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