ATLANTA -- He was Bob Gibson in '67, Sandy Koufax in '65 and nearly Don Larsen in '56. Can one pitcher win a World Series? Of course not, but last night Greg Maddux laid further claim to greatness on the grand October stage.
Still picking Cleveland in five? Last night changed everything. The Indians survived Randy Johnson, but they couldn't solve Maddux. And now, the entire World Series appears tilted in Atlanta's favor.
A two-hitter by Maddux. A 95-pitch masterpiece on a night when he needed to make a statement. A 3-2 victory by Atlanta, handing Orel Hershiser his first loss in 11 postseason starts.
"That's as well a pitched game as I've ever seen," Indians manager Mike Hargrove said. "He was everything you would want a pitcher to be. He just totally dominated that game."
Maddux, unassuming as ever, called it "a pretty good game," said he got "lucky" against Albert Belle and added that his first World Series appearance "almost felt like a game we played back in June and July."
"I'm not complaining," he said after one of the most dominant Game 1 performances in Series history. "I'm very happy with the outcome. We'll try to keep it going."
It was the lowest-hit complete game in the Series since Pittsburgh's Nelson Briles beat the Orioles with a two-hitter in Game 5 in '71. And it won't get much easier for the Indians in Game 2 tonight against left-hander Tom Glavine.
Indeed, Maddux might have put Cleveland into a series-long slump, striking out four and walking none. The Indians hit just four balls out of the infield. They scored their two runs only because of two Atlanta errors and the aggressive base running of Kenny Lofton.
The question now is, can Maddux dominate this Series the way Gibson dominated in '67 -- or, for that matter, the way Hershiser did in '88? No one thought that '88 Oakland team could lose. And these Braves are far superior to those Dodgers.
Braves manager Bobby Cox could pitch Maddux again in Games 4 and 7. Or, he could start Steve Avery in Game 4, pitching Maddux on his normal rest in Game 5, and keeping him available for bullpen duty in Game 7.
Cox wouldn't say which way he is leaning, but he remarked on Maddux's low pitch count -- "way down" he called it -- and said he'll "play it by ear" in determining his rotation for the rest of the Series.
"That's Bobby's decision," Maddux said. "If he wants me to pitch Game 4, Game 5 or take an extra day off and pitch Game 6, I don't care."
Take an extra day off?
So much for the notion that Maddux can't win in October. Working on seven days' rest, he looked even better than the guy who became the first pitcher since Walter Johnson in 1918 and '19 to post an ERA below 1.80 in consecutive seasons.
"No, I don't think he can pitch much better," Cox said.
Maddux entered this postseason with a 1-2 record and 8.10 ERA in four career playoff starts, then was shaky against Colorado in the divisional series, allowing seven runs in 14 innings.
"He gave up three runs to Denver [Colorado] and it was headlines -- 'There's something wrong with Maddux,' " Cox said.
Pitching coach Leo Mazzone labeled such talk "ridiculous." John Smoltz added: "I don't think he'll ever have to hear that again."
How did Maddux prepare for the game's most feared offense? By getting a scouting report from his brother, Mike, a pitcher for Boston. And by watching Games 5 and 6 of the ALCS.
"I learned a lot watching [Chris] Bosio pitch," he said.
It was revealing that Maddux mentioned Bosio and not Johnson in discussing Seattle pitchers. Johnson is overpowering, but Maddux's remarkable ability to spot his fastball and change speeds makes him far more difficult for the free-swinging Indians to handle.
In that sense, his performance last night should not be considered shocking. The Indians are good, but they're not unstoppable. And just as people overlooked their pitching all season, few noticed that they practically stopped hitting in the first two rounds of the postseason.
The Indians batted .291 and averaged 5.8 runs per game in the regular season. But in the Boston series, they hit only .219. And in the Seattle series, they averaged only 3.8 runs per game.
That's not the offense that terrorized the AL all season. That's an offense that suddenly can be pitched to -- especially by a staff Cleveland has never seen, a staff as good as any in baseball.
Maddux is the heart of that staff, a pitcher headed for his fourth straight Cy Young Award. Steve Carlton, the only pitcher to earn four Cy Youngs, never won two in a row. The last time an NL pitcher other than Maddux won, the Indians lost 105 games.
Last night, he brought his act to October. Last night, he was Hershiser in '88, Gibson in '67 and nearly Larsen in '56. Last night, he changed the entire outlook of the World Series.