SEATTLE -- The moment when Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove felt sure that the Indians were going to the World Series hit him in the ninth inning last night, when Edgar Martinez swung and missed at a pitch in the dirt for the second out.
Hargrove jumped in happiness, and a wave of emotion overwhelmed him. He had played for some of the many horrible Cleveland teams since 1954, the last time the Indians participated in the World Series. He played before tens of thousands of empty seats at Municipal Stadium, in the dark years of the franchise. He cried at the funerals of pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews, killed in a boating accident 2 1/2 years ago.
So when he realized the Indians were going to win Game 6 of the AL Championship Series last night -- Dennis Martinez pitched seven shutout innings to beat Seattle ace Randy Johnson, 4-0 -- Hargrove felt "disbelief. But then I pinched myself, and it was true."
Fact: The Indians, the punch line in a long tradition of baseball jokes, will open the World Series in Atlanta on Saturday, thanks in large part to their pitching.
Always it comes down to pitching in the postseason. The Mariners field a home run king in Ken Griffey, batting champion Edgar Martinez, a few other guys capable of driving in 100 runs. But the Indians' pitching dominated Seattle.
Orel Hershiser, who won games 1 and 5, 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 Mariners manager Lou Piniella. "Our pitching did well enough to win this series. But remember that before the series I said we had to score enough runs."
One run would've been more than Dennis Martinez permitted them last night. He 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. "He's a surgeon out there," Piniella said. "He moved his pitches in and out, changed speeds and really worked out there. He pitched well inside, too."
And pitched well in those rare moments of trouble. Seattle shortstop Luis Sojo doubled 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. A couple of grounders and Martinez was out of the inning.
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. Vince Coleman beat out a leadoff single, and after a prolonged duel with Martinez, he stole second. Nobody out, Joey Cora at the plate and Griffey and Edgar Martinez due to bat.
Cora helped, popping up a bunt that Martinez caught; like Wilson in the third inning, Cora had failed to advance the runner.
Indians catcher Tony Pena jogged to the mound to discuss the options with Griffey. They could pitch around him, of course, and pitch to the slump-ridden Edgar Martinez with two men on.
The New York Yankees had done that and repeatedly gotten burned. Pena jogged back and set up behind the plate -- in a crouch. The Indians had pitched Griffey away the entire series, ,, but he threw a fastball inside for a strike, and finished off Griffey with a pitch away that Junior lifted to center, a flyout. Coleman tagged and moved to third.
Pena again went to the mound. Pitch to Edgar Martinez, who had hit the ball hard in his last four at-bats, or pitch around him and go after Tino Martinez. They decided to make Tino beat them.
No one will ever say for sure, but Martinez might've used 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.
The Indians' right-hander then went after Tino Martinez, hitting .143 in the series. Coleman danced off third, trying to shake Martinez. But Martinez responded by stepping off the mound coolly and staring at Coleman. Seen that before, and it's not going to work.
Edgar Martinez stole second. No bother. Dennis Martinez poured strikes over the outside half of the plate, and on a 2-2 pitch, ran a sinking changeup off the plate. Tino Martinez flailed weakly, and Pena pumped his right fist in celebration.
In the Indians' nine postseason games, Cleveland's starters have allowed nine earned runs. They've held opposing 3-4-5 hitters -- that includes Griffey and the Boston Red Sox's Mo Vaughn and " 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 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 had runners at second and third and none out in the eighth when Lofton put his signature on the series.
Johnson threw a fastball that glanced off the glove of catcher Wilson, away and to the right. Pinch runner Ruben Amaro was going to score easily, and knowing this, Wilson chased after the ball half-heartedly.
Amaro did score -- and Lofton, running all out from second, was right behind him, beating Wilson's throw to a surprised Johnson covering for the Indians' third run. The coup de grace.
Carlos Baerga homered two batters later, and Piniella reluctantly came out to get Johnson, who carried Seattle all year. The Kingdome crowd stood and roared, Hershiser joining them in front of the Cleveland dugout, and Johnson lifted a weary arm in appreciation. For only the fourth time in his 34 starts this year, the Mariners would lose.
And the Indians were going to the World Series. As Mike Hargrove said this aloud after the game, he had tears in his eyes.
AL Championship: Indians vs. Mariners
Last night: Indians, 4-0
( Series: Indians win, 4-2
' Braves vs. Indians
Day ........... Site ........ Time
Saturday ...... at Atl. ..... 7:20
Sunday ........ at Atl. ..... 7:20
Tuesday ....... at Clev. .... 8:20
10/25 ......... at Clev. .... 8:20
10/26* ........ at Clev. .... 8:20
10/28* ........ at Atl. ..... 7:20
10/29* ........ at Atl. ..... 7:20
* -- If necessary