SEATTLE -- Always it comes down to pitching in the postseason. The Seattle Mariners field a home run king in Ken Griffey, batting champion in Edgar Martinez, a couple of other guys capable of driving in 100 runs. But the Cleveland Indians dominated each of them with their pitching in the American League Championship Series, and they are going to the World Series for the first time in 41 years.
Dennis Martinez threw seven shutout innings and with the aid of a couple of relievers, the Indians shut out the Mariners, 4-0, and beat left-hander Randy Johnson, in Game 6 last night. The Indians and Atlanta Braves will begin the World Series on Saturday night.
"I think that the people of Cleveland have suffered long," said Indians manager Mike Hargrove, who played on some of Cleveland's terrible teams. "This is something you can never count on."
Orel Hershiser was named the series' Most Valuable Player, but he could've accepted the award for the entire Cleveland staff, which held an extraordinary Seattle lineup to 12 runs in six games.
"Cleveland pitched so well in this series," said Seattle manager Lou Piniella.
Dennis Martinez has a bad right knee and left shoulder, and there were times last night when he stepped off the mound or called his infielder in, just to get a breather. Forty-year-old pitchers need a break now and then.
But he would get back on the rubber, and he would battle on. Martinez held the Mariners to three hits through the first five innings, getting into serious trouble only once. Luis Sojo, who never saw a fastball he didn't like, drove a running fastball into the left-center-field alley for a double leading off the third inning.
However, Mariners catcher Dan Wilson, hitless in 14 at-bats in the series, pulled the first pitch thrown to him to shortstop -- failing to advance Sojo to third base, a mistake Seattle would commit again later in the game. Vince Coleman and Joey Cora grounded out, ending the inning.
Seattle third baseman Mike Blowers opened the fifth inning with a single to center. But Sojo hit a grounder to short on two high hops. Worried that Sojo might beat the relay to first, the Indians' Omar Vizquel barehanded the ball, flipped to second baseman Carlos Baerga, who turned and fired to first for a rather unconventional 6-4-3 double play.
But the sixth inning is when Martinez defined what it is to be a veteran pitcher in command in the postseason, successfully protecting a 1-0 lead.
Coleman beat out an infield single leading off the sixth, and after a prolonged battle with Martinez, he stole second. Nobody out, Cora at the plate and Ken Griffey and Edgar Martinez due up.
Cora helped, popping up a bunt that Martinez caught; like Wilson in the third inning, Cora had failed to advance the runner, a brutal mistake when scoring opportunities are so few.
Indians catcher Tony Pena jogged to the mound to discuss the options with Griffey. They could pitch around him, of course, intentionally walking him and pitching to the slump-ridden Edgar Martinez with runners on first and second.
But the New York Yankees had done that and repeatedly gotten burned. Pena jogged back and set up behind the plate -- in a crouch. Martinez was going to pitch to Griffey, who was very capable of taking one pitch and turning a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead.
The Indians, for five games, continually pitched Griffey outside, but with his first pitch, Martinez hummed a fastball over the inside corner. Griffey watched. Strike one. He went back outside, and Griffey lifted the ball off the end of his bat, to center, a harmless fly. Coleman tagged and moved to third.
Pena again went to the mound again. He and Martinez reviewed their options. Pitch to Edgar Martinez, who had hit the ball hard in his last four at-bats, or put him on and go after Tino Martinez.
No one will ever say for sure, but Martinez might've decided to use the situation to settle a score from the first inning, when Johnson threw over the head of Kenny Lofton. Martinez, whose control had been almost perfect, drilled Edgar Martinez in the elbow.
Then Martinez went about the business of pitching to Tino Martinez, hitting .143 in the series. Coleman danced off third, trying to shake Martinez, hoping to cause a balk or a wild pitch. But Martinez responded by stepping off the mound coolly and staring at Coleman. Seen that before, and it's not going to work.
Dennis Martinez poured strikes over the outside half of the plate, and on a 2-2 pitch, ran a sinking fastball off the plate. Tino Martinez flailed weakly, and Pena pumped his right fist in celebration. Masterful.
In the Indians' nine postseason games, the starting pitchers have allowed nine earned runs. They've held opposing 3-4-5 hitters -- that includes Griffey, Mo Vaughn, Jose Canseco -- to a .143 average, with two RBIs. The opposing No. 1 hitters have accumulated three hits. Clearly, Cleveland rolled through the first two rounds on the strength of its pitching.
Lofton can take some credit, too. Johnson had tried to intimidate him in the first inning, and he came to the plate in the fifth, the game scoreless and Alvaro Espinoza at second (he had reached on a throwing error by Cora).
Lofton ignored the implicit threat of a beaning, as few left-handers do against Johnson, and lined a single to left, scoring Espinoza. Incredibly, it was the first time a left-handed hitter drove in a run against Johnson since Aug. 1.
Johnson's slider had no bite by the fifth inning, a telltale sign of weariness. The Indians began anticipating fastballs, and Pena hit a line drive into the right-center-field gap leading off the eighth.
Ruben Amaro pinch-ran for Pena, and in a sacrifice situation, Lofton bunted perfectly to the left side; Johnson's throw to first was too late, a single. Lofton stole second.
Johnson threw a fastball that glanced off the glove of catcher Wilson, away and to the right. Amaro was going to score easily, and knowing this, Wilson chased after the ball half-heartedly.
Amaro did score -- and Lofton, running all out, was right behind him. By the time Wilson recovered and threw to Johnson at home, Lofton came across the plate with the Indians' third run.
Baerga homered two batters later, and Mariners manager Lou Piniella reluctantly came out to get Johnson, who carried Seattle all year. The Kingdome crowd stood and roared, and Johnson lifted a weary arm in appreciation. For only the fourth time in his 34 starts this year, the Mariners would lose.
"He's an unbelievable trooper out there," said Hershiser, who joined in the applause. "He went as hard as he could for as long as he could. Tonight we finally got to him."