Baines goes deep as Indians move one game from sweep

Ex-Oriole's 3-run HR helps spark 11-1 win, put Red Sox in 2-0 hole

October 08, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,SUN COLUMNIST

CLEVELAND -- Harold Baines smiled. And Jim Thome loved it.

"He never shows much emotion," Thome said yesterday after Cleveland's 11-1 victory over Boston in Game 2 of the American League Division Series.

"When he hit the home run, I saw the smile when he crossed home plate. That was great. That was awesome."

Baines' three-run homer was the highlight of the Indians' six-run third inning. Thome hit a grand slam in their five-run fourth, and the Indians headed to Boston, leading two games to none.

This series appears all but over, especially since Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez was still experiencing "persistent pain" in his back yesterday, according to team physician William Morgan.

And Baines and Roberto Alomar -- two members of the 1998 Orioles under fired manager Ray Miller -- are playing their usual inspired postseason baseball.

Baines' home run was his fifth in four career playoff appearances, and his two-hit performance raised his lifetime postseason average to .330 (30-for-91).

Alomar, meanwhile, went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a sacrifice fly and two RBIs. He is 5-for-8 in the series, increasing his career postseason average to .333 (66-for-198).

October heroics are nothing new for Alomar, who hit a game-tying single and a series-winning home run off Jose Mesa for the Orioles in the 1996 Division Series, and a pivotal home run off Oakland's Dennis Eckersley for Toronto in the '92 ALCS.

Alomar twice won the World Series with Toronto, but Baines has appeared in the Fall Classic only once in his 20 seasons, getting swept by Cincinnati as a member of the Oakland Athletics in 1990.

Now, thanks to the Aug. 27 trade that sent him from Baltimore to Cleveland for two minor-league pitchers, he has the chance to return.

"That's my goal," Baines said. "That's every player's goal. Not too many guys can get there at all. I've been fortunate to go once. It's been too long in between."

Baines' home run came off Bret Saberhagen, a pitcher he first faced in 1984. He had hit only one homer in 85 regular-season at-bats after joining the Indians, but the drought didn't faze him. Nothing ever does.

His first game with Cleveland, he arrived at 6: 30 for a 7: 05 start, and stroked a game-winning, two-run single. Yesterday was more of the same.

"Harold is fairly unflappable," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said. "You never really can tell how Harold is going by the way he acts. He's always positive and upbeat, and it's good for our young people to see. It settles everybody down around him in our lineup."

Alomar agreed, saying Baines takes pressure off Thome and Manny Ramirez, much as Eddie Murray did for Cleveland in 1995.

With the Indians, Baines is just another engine on a 1,000-run locomotive, starting against right-handed pitching, and keeping Richie Sexson -- a 31-homer, 116-RBI man -- on the bench.

It's an enviable opportunity, but Baines said the Orioles' firings of Miller and general manager Frank Wren yesterday would not affect his desire to return for a third stint with Baltimore.

"The nucleus [of talent] is still there," said Baines, a potential free agent. "I'm still testing the market, just to see what's out there. I'm not eliminating Baltimore. Baltimore is at the top of the list. But I'm taking all phone calls."

Even in the twilight of his career, Baines could be in demand by other teams in need of a designated hitter. He is the second player in major-history to drive in 100 runs at the age of 40 or over to start the season. His .533 slugging percentage was the highest in history for a player that age.

True to form, Baines declined to discuss the future, be it for the rest of this series or the rest of his career. But quiet as he is, his teammates can sense that he's delighted to be playing in October. As Baines himself put it, "I could be home watching this on TV."

"Harold's not a young guy," Alomar said, smiling. "I think he sees this as a great opportunity. He's excited like a little kid."

A little kid at the age of 40.

Playoffs today

NL Division Series

Atlanta (Glavine 13-11) at Houston (Hampton 22-4), 4: 09 p.m., ESPN

Arizona (Daal 16-9) at N.Y. Mets (Reed 11-5), 8: 10 p.m., chs. 11, 4

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