Indians lament near-miss

October 28, 1997|By John Lowe | John Lowe,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

MIAMI -- As the Florida Marlins and 67,000 fans danced and shouted, the Cleveland Indians trudged off the field and into baseball infamy.

The infamy of the near-miss.

Cleveland became the fourth team to come within three outs of winning the World Series -- and let it slip away.

"It's like grabbing mercury," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said. "You grab for it, and it squishes out of your hand."

Cleveland led 2-1 in the ninth inning of Sunday night's Game 7. Closer Jose Mesa allowed a leadoff single, a one-out single and a one-out sacrifice fly. Florida won it all in the 11th, 3-2, when Edgar Renteria's two-out, bases-loaded single appeared to deflect off pitcher Charles Nagy's upraised glove into center field to bring home an unearned run.

The music blared and the fireworks exploded and the Marlins began running all over the field with arms upraised. The Indians joined the 1912 Giants, 1985 Cardinals and 1986 Red Sox in the Hall of the Near-Miss.

Those teams also came within three outs of a World Series title they didn't win. Their legacies, like the Indians', contain extra pain because all four clubs stumbled over messed-up plays just as they were mounting the throne's top step.

At brand-new Fenway Park in 1912, the Giants scored in the top of the 10th inning of Game 7 (technically Game 8, because darkness forced Game 2 to end in a tie). But in the bottom of the 10th, center fielder Fred Snodgrass dropped a fly ball, the Giants didn't catch Tris Speaker's foul pop, and the Red Sox scored twice to win.

In Game 6 of the '85 World Series, St. Louis stood three outs from the title when umpire Don Denkinger's missed call at first base and a missed foul pop (shades of Speaker) launched

Kansas City's winning two-run rally. In Game 7, Kansas City won, 11-0.

The next year, as anyone in New England always will be able to tell you, the Red Sox led 5-3 in the 10th inning of Game 6 and needed one out for their first World Series title since 1918. The Mets denied them, with the tying run coming on Bob Stanley's wild pitch and the winner on first baseman Bill Buckner's error. The Mets won Game 7, 8-5.

Cleveland's agony came from its missed scoring chances -- especially with runners on first and third with one out in the ninth -- and then from the rally-igniting error in the 11th by second baseman Tony Fernandez.

Of all people, Tony Fernandez.

He hit the pennant-winning homer in Baltimore. He hit the two-run single that provided the 2-1 lead Cleveland took to the ninth Sunday night.

This was classic baseball, a player rising and falling in the same game. It was the reverse of how Florida's Bobby Bonilla floundered all over the field for 5 1/2 innings in Game 3, then made a brilliant run-saving dive and a daring ninth-inning dash from first to third that generated the winning run.

Fernandez let Craig Counsell's one-out grounder to his left sneak under his glove, allowing Bonilla to go from first to third.

Instead of taking the easy out at first -- which would have left Bonilla at second with two out -- Fernandez tried to quickly sweep up the ball so he could turn and throw to second for a force-out.

"It was a play I should have made," Fernandez said. "All I wanted to do was get the lead runner. I gambled. I tried something I LTC shouldn't have by charging. It was my decision, my fault."

Detroit Tigers fans know Fernandez has had a lower moment. As the Toronto Blue Jays' brilliant young shortstop in 1987, he suffered a broken right elbow in the first of those seven season-ending games against the Tigers when Bill Madlock upended him at second.

The next week, in the biggest of those seven games, the Tigers took first place for good when Alan Trammell rammed the winning hit through the legs of Fernandez's replacement, Manny Lee.

Renteria, this moment's electric young shortstop, ended Game 7 with a two-out drive a few feet over the head of Nagy. Catcher Sandy Alomar thought that Nagy, who hasn't made an error in two seasons, might have caught it.

"Then I saw the guys celebrating," Alomar said. "It wasn't hit very hard, but it was hit hard enough to get by Charlie."

The near-miss was complete.

About an hour and 15 minutes later, Indians general manager John Hart walked out of the clubhouse, pondering how his team missed baseball's ultimate prize by two outs.

"It rips your heart out," Hart said. "But there are no losers here. This is a clubhouse full of winners.

"Our organization is back in the World Series for the second time in three years. We're well-positioned for our future. We've had four great years. So there's a bigger picture you can take some solace in."

Hart was now heading down a runway to the team buses.

"It's a two-sided coin," he said. "One is bitter, bitter disappointment. The other is, we've positioned ourselves for where we're going."

And he kept walking, out into the unfulfilled night.

Extra, extra

World Series that were decided with the final game in extra innings:

1912: Boston Red Sox 3, New York Giants 2, 10 innings, Game 8.

1924: Washington 4, New York Giants 3, 12 innings, Game 7.

1933: New York Giants 4, Washington 3, 10 innings, Game 5

1939: New York Yankees 7, Cincinnati 4, 10 innings, Game 4.

1991: Minnesota 1, Atlanta 0, 10 innings, Game 7.

1992: Toronto 4, Atlanta 3, 11 innings, Game 6.

1997: Florida 3, Cleveland 2, 11 innings, Game 7.

Pub Date: 10/28/97

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