SEATTLE -- No one went away angry. The Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners split the first two games of the American League Championship Series at the Kingdome and both teams had reason to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
The Indians especially, since they were the ones who had to win last night to avoid going two down in a best-of-seven series they were heavily favored to win.
Veteran right-hander Orel Hershiser beguiled the big-swinging Seattle lineup for eight innings and outfielder Manny Ramirez hit two home runs to carry Cleveland to a 5-2 victory and knock the wind out of a not-quite-so-noisy sellout crowd of 58,144.
There was no last-gasp comeback. No Mariners magic. Not this time. And yet the Mariners also headed for Ohio with reason to be thankful. They had won a game on Tuesday night that they had no right to win, sneaking past the explosive Indians lineup with rookie starter Bob Wolcott on the mound to assure that big, scary Randy Johnson would be pitching for the series lead tomorrow night at Jacobs Field.
"We pitched a rookie in the first ballgame and we haven't pitched our No. 1 pitcher or [Andy] Benes, who has been our No. 2 pitcher," Seattle manager Lou Piniella said. "Looking at it from that aspect, a split isn't too bad. But when you win the first one, you get a little greedy and want to win the second one, and that didn't happen today."
If the Mariners win tomorrow night's game -- and with Johnson pitching, everyone but the Indians wants to concede it to them -- they are assured of bringing the series back to Seattle, but they could have put themselves at a tremendous advantage with a victory last night.
Instead, a playoff-savvy Hershiser won for the second time in October and improved his career record in the post season to 6-0.
Never had a Game 2 seemed so significant. This is, after all, a best-of-seven series, and the Indians are the kind of team that could reel off four victories in a row at any time, but the specter of Johnson taking the mound for Game 3 turned the second game at the Kingdome into a must-win situation.
"This game was huge for us," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said. "I can't stress just how important it was. . . . The prospect of being 0-2 and facing Randy Johnson is not going to cause your appetite to stay long, so this was a big one."
Hershiser didn't mind. He has been there before and he clearly relished the opportunity to be there again.
The veteran right-hander led the Los Angeles Dodgers to a World Series title in 1988 -- a season in which he won the Cy Young Award and set a major league record with 59 consecutive shutout innings, and a postseason in which he became the only pitcher ever to pitch a shutout in both the playoffs and World Series the same year.
Of course, it has been seven years and a major shoulder operation since then and Hershiser only recently has re-established himself as a .500-plus pitcher, but he looked very much like the guy who dazzled the New York Mets in the '88 playoffs and played a big role in the Dodgers' upset victory over the Oakland Athletics in the World Series.
"Pretty darn close," he said afterward.
He gave up just four hits through eight innings and -- unlike Dennis Martinez the night before -- was able to keep the Mariners off the scoreboard until the Indians could get something going.
"I don't think I rise to the occasion," Hershiser said. "I just try to stay the same. With the noise, the fans and being away from home, I was just trying to stay within myself. I try to take all my skills out there with me and not let those other things take any of them away from me."
Mariners starter Tim Belcher knew what he would be up against. He and Hershiser were teammates on that Dodgers team and both performed well in the postseason. Hershiser got all the ink ++ because of his spectacular late-season flourish, but Belcher went 3-0 in the playoffs and World Series that year.
This year, both came into October with 4-0 career records in postseason play, but Hershiser improved on that with a victory during the divisional series against Boston and Belcher took the loss in relief in Game 2 of the Mariners' divisional playoff against the New York Yankees.
Belcher didn't exactly embarrass himself last night. He carried a shutout into the fifth inning before the Indians finally broke through for two runs on a two-out, bases-loaded single by Carlos Baerga. No one expected a shutout -- the Indians had only been shut out three times in 148 games this year (including postseason) -- but Belcher couldn't have been happy with the way he set himself up for a fall in that situation.
He walked shortstop Omar Vizquel to load the bases with two outs to bring Baerga to the plate. Vizquel was hitless in six at-bats in the series, and he was in a position to do far less damage than the clutch-hitting Baerga, but Belcher walked him on five pitches to get to the heart of the explosive Cleveland batting order.
The Indians would knock him out an inning later, again striking for two runs after there were two out. Ramirez cranked his first ALCS home run and the Indians increased their lead to four on a single by Sorrento and an RBI triple by Sandy Alomar.
Of course, the Mariners proved during the divisional series that a four-run lead is far from safe in the Kingdome, but Hershiser was never in danger of letting it get away. He gave up a leadoff home run to Ken Griffey in the bottom of the sixth and then worked through the eighth before turning the game over to stopper Jose Mesa, who surrendered a bases-empty homer to Jay Buhner in " the ninth before nailing down the victory.
Griffey just keeps on cranking them out. He homered for the sixth time in seven postseason games to tie the major league record for home runs in a postseason, but he has not been the MVP in the Mariners' lineup.