BOSTON -- The big sticks in the Cleveland lineup, those belonging to Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga and others, speak loudest. But the Indians never would have won 100 games during the regular season, or obliterated the Boston Red Sox in the division series that concluded last night, had it not been for their exceptional pitching.
Charles Nagy, like other Cleveland starters before him, stifled Boston in the Indians' 8-2 victory in Game 3 last night. In three games, the Red Sox accumulated 21 hits -- not a single one by alleged sluggers Mo Vaughn and Jose Canseco, who combined to go 0-for-27, with 10 strikeouts.
Having dismissed the Red Sox as if they were a club team from a technical college, the Indians now wait for the completion of the Seattle-New York series and Tuesday's American League Championship Series opener.
That will be plenty of time for the Indians to rest on their rather plentiful laurels. They outscored the Red Sox 17-6 in the three games. Typically, the Indians provided their starters with plenty of run support: Cleveland never trailed in the final two games.
Still, the Indians got some serious pitching.
Boston manager Kevin Kennedy said: "That's the key to their club, and probably the key to them winning the whole thing. . . . Usually good pitching is going to stop good hitting, and that's what happened."
Dennis Martinez, hiding the ball behind his leg kick and cheekful of chaw, shut down the Red Sox for six innings in Game 1, and the bullpen picked up the victory in 13 innings. Orel Hershiser allowed three hits in 7 1/3 innings in Game 2.
Last night Nagy didn't have Martinez's command, nor did he possess the stuff of Hershiser. But he, like the other Cleveland pitchers in the first two games, made big pitches when he needed to.
He walked two in the first inning and got out of the jam when Mike Greenwell bounced out. John Valentin doubled off the Green Monster in the third, sending Dwayne Hosey to third, with just one out. Nagy, with first base open, pitched carefully to dormant Sox slugger Vaughn, the count going to 3-and-2.
And that's when Nagy threw a brilliant pitch, a sinking, unhittable changeup, with the full knowledge that Vaughn would be trying to break out of his slump. Vaughn swung aggressively and missed aggressively. Canseco flied to left, and Nagy had escaped.
The Red Sox, down 3-0, scored a run in the bottom of the fourth. With two outs and two on, Cleveland first baseman Paul Sorrento, whose fielding abilities make him highly qualified for designated hitter, dived to his left to knock down a grounder by Hosey. From his back, he threw to Nagy covering first for the last out of the inning. A huge play, Kennedy called it. Sorrento ran back to the dugout stone-faced, as if diving stops that preserve runs are part of his daily routine.
"The outcome of the game really hinged on that play," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said.
Another nasty changeup struck out Greenwell to get out of the sixth.
All told, the Red Sox went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position last night, 2-for-27 during the series. Neither hit, singles by Luis Alicea and Mike Macfarlane, produced runs.
Nagy said: "I don't know if our pitching staff will ever get a lot of respect, because we'll always be overshadowed by our unbelievable lineup and hitting. But we do have a good staff."
Boston needed pitcher Tim Wakefield to be near-perfect, which he can be. But with a wind swirling through Fenway Park, his knuckleball darted and dove out of the strike zone. Sometimes, Wakefield said Wednesday, his knuckler moves too much, and that appeared to be his problem in Game 3.
Cleveland's first runs, on a two-run shot by third baseman Jim Thome, came after Wakefield walked Eddie Murray. The Indians scored again in the third when Wakefield walked Thome with the bases loaded. Cleveland finished off Wakefield and the Red Sox with five runs in the sixth, and it was a one-out walk to Manny Ramirez that spurred the rally.
Overkill, really. With their hitting, their bullpen and their starting pitching, it's just part of an Indians trend that began in April and figures to continue right into the final week of October.
Last night: Rockies 7, Braves 5
Series: Braves lead 2-1
Game 4: Tonight, 8:07, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium
Starters: Rockies' Bret Saberhagen (7-6, 4.18) vs. Braves' Greg Maddux (19-2, 1.70)
Reds vs. Dodgers
Last night:Reds 10, Dodgers 1
Series: Reds win 3-0