Getting so close turns dream into nightmare for Indians

October 27, 1997|By John Eisenberg

MIAMI -- As near-misses go, it wasn't quite as frustrating as the Red Sox's famous disaster of 1986, when they were one strike away from beating the Mets and winning their first World Series in 68 years -- and lost.

But what the Indians experienced last night at Pro Player Stadium was close.

After 49 years without a Series title, the Indians were three outs away against the Marlins.

One run up and three outs away in the bottom of the ninth, with their closer, Jose Mesa, on the mound.

Cleveland's long-suffering fans were poised to party.

So were the Indians and manager Mike Hargrove.


There it went.

The Marlins tied the game with a run off Mesa in the ninth, then scored another on Edgar Renteria's single in the bottom of the 11th to beat the Indians and win Game 7 of the World Series.

A 5-year-old franchise had ruined Cleveland's dreams.

They had it, and it slipped away.

As the Marlins mobbed each other on the infield dirt and camera crews and security officials raced onto the field, the Indians walked slowly off the field, as if they couldn't believe they had lost a game in which they had led from the top of the third until the bottom of the ninth.

First baseman Jim Thome stopped on the infield grass, in front of the mound, and kneeled, his head hung in despair.

He didn't want to leave the field, it seemed, and he didn't want to admit defeat.

But he would have to -- and so would his teammates and the legion of broken-hearted Indians fans.

For six games, this was a World Series marked by uninspiring games, poor TV ratings and bad pitching.

The Indians and Marlins did their best to make up for lost ground last night.

There's nothing like a Game 7 to cure an ailing World Series.

It didn't matter, suddenly, that the Marlins were a wild-card team, or that the Indians had won just 86 games during the season, or that the foul poles were giant pencils, or that the series had been widely criticized for being the Fall UnClassic.

All that mattered was that this was Game 7, perhaps the best of all moments in sports, an entire season boiled down to one night, every move magnified and every muscle twitch pressurized.

After a week of forgettable games, there finally was a sense of real baseball history unfolding.

Yes, even in a stadium drenched in teal.

A Series that had failed to capture the nation's imagination ended powerfully on a warm night.

Mesa has been one of the game's best closers for the past three years, but Moises Alou led off the ninth with a soft single to center, and, after Bobby Bonilla struck out, Charles Johnson singled to right to put runners on first and third with one out.

With the crowd standing and roaring, Marlins second baseman Craig Counsell -- who started the year as a minor-leaguer in the Rockies' organization -- lined a pitch deep to right field. The Indians' Manny Ramirez caught the ball, but Alou tagged up and scored the tying run.

Jim Eisenreich grounded out to second to end the rally, but the stadium shook with noise as Game 7 headed into extra innings.

The Marlins had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the 10th when Edgar Renteria singled to left and Omar Vizquel froze after stopping Gary Sheffield's ground ball; he looked to second, saw he couldn't throw out Renteria, then didn't throw to first, either, allowing Sheffield to reach base.

The play had the makings of one of those infamous World Series mistakes, but Mesa struck out John Cangelosi for the second out and then Charles Nagy came out of the bullpen to get Alou to fly out to end the inning.

No matter.

They came back to put across the winning run in the 11th.

Bonilla led off with a single, and after Gregg Zaun struck out trying to get down a sacrifice bunt, the game's key play occured: Counsell bounced a grounder toward second, but Tony Fernandez misplayed the hop and the ball bounced past him into right field. Bonilla raced to third and Counsell stopped at first.

After Hargrove walked Eisenreich to load the bases and set up a force, the Marlins' Devon White bounced a ball to Fernandez, who threw to home for the force and the second out.

But Renteria came up and lined an 0-1 pitch up the middle for the hit that delivered the winning run, and the stadium exploded.

After decades of bad jokes and bad baseball -- decades as the standard for baseball inferiority -- Cleveland was so close to the top again.

Not only had the fans endured all that losing -- entire decades without hope of winning -- but they also suffered the injustice of losing the Browns two years ago.

They were set for their great moment of joy last night, just three outs away.

And it didn't happen.

Pub Date: 10/27/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.