ATLANTA -- The last time the Cleveland Indians played in the World Series, in 1954, they won 111 games, one of the great regular-season performances in history. And the New York Giants swept them in the World Series.
The 1995 Indians could face a similar fate. They won 100 games during the regular season, and yet they are down 2-0 in the World Series. Atlanta catcher Javy Lopez broke a sixth-inning tie with a two-run homer, propelling the Braves to a 4-3 victory in Game 2 last night.
"This a great feeling," Lopez said. "Everybody wants to be a hero. It's something you never forget."
Atlanta left-hander Tom Glavine was the winning pitcher, despite laboring through six innings. Mark Wohlers, the dominant closer the Braves lacked in 1991 and 1992, threw the last 1 1/3 innings for the save.
"It's huge," Braves rookie third baseman Chipper Jones said of the victory. "The win tonight ensures we're coming back to the Chop Shop to finish things out."
The Game 1 starters, Greg Maddux and Orel Hershiser, pitched almost without resistance. Glavine and Cleveland's Dennis Martinez, on the other hand, were not nearly as fine, regularly falling behind in the count and tempting fate with the occasional belt-high pitch over the middle of the plate.
Maddux completed Game 1 with 95 pitches; Glavine threw 99 in the first six innings, before being lifted for a pinch hitter. Martinez, inspiring with his control in the sixth and final game of the American League Championship Series, walked three and hit another batter in 5 2/3 innings. If Game 1 was pitching perfection, Game 2 was plain old pitching imperfection.
The Braves fell behind early because of a mistake by Glavine, in the second inning. Albert Belle led off by slapping an outside fastball to right, a single. Indians first baseman Eddie Murray, the following hitter, often looks for off-speed pitches early in the count, and Glavine did throw him a changeup.
But this was a high changeup, hanging over the center of the plate. Batters with 3,000 career hits and almost 500 homers rarely miss a chance to mash a pitch such as the one Glavine floated to Murray, and Murray whacked it over the left-field fence.
Cleveland led 2-0, and if Martinez had been pitching the way he did against Seattle last Tuesday, the Indians could've felt confident about their chances of tying the series at a game apiece.
But Martinez, who acknowledged Saturday that he felt some stiffness in his pitching shoulder, had established right away that he was not right. He walked two in the first inning, filling the bases before Ryan Klesko popped out. Escape.
He was not so lucky in the third, a horrific inning for the 40-year-old Martinez. Ahead in the count to Marquis Grissom, he hit the leadoff hitter in the elbow with a curveball. Mark Lemke singled, and then Martinez turned and fired a pickoff throw to second, hoping to nail Grissom. He only missed by 10 or 12 feet, the wide-right throw skipping into center field; Grissom advanced to third.
Jones flied to left, scoring Grissom. Fred McGriff hit a one-hop smash back to Martinez, a potential double-play ball. But Martinez couldn't glove the ball, couldn't knock it down and throw to second for the force. Instead, it bounced to second baseman Carlos Baerga, who barehanded the ball and flipped to Murray at first. McGriff was out, but Lemke advanced to second, and he scored when David Justice singled. Braves 2, Indians 2.
Justice opened the sixth with another single, a looper to left played cautiously by Belle. The ball landed and bounced high -- off Belle's glove and behind him. Justice, jogging around first, saw this and ambled into second base.
Klesko pulled a grounder to the right side, advancing the potential lead run to third, like any minor-league manager would've wanted him to do. Martinez was laboring, closing fast on his 100th pitch. He had thrown 25 pitches in the first inning, and worked hard all night, and now in the sixth, he got ahead of Lopez in the count one ball and two strikes. Martinez needed just enough ummph to finish off the Braves' catcher, a sharp breaking pitch or a well-placed fastball.
Instead, he threw a floater, a pitch so awful that even on replay it was hard to tell whether Martinez was trying to throw a breaking pitch or a changeup. And there were many replays of that pitch: Lopez hammered a low line drive over the center-field wall.
The ball fell, the crowd rose. The body of Indians center fielder Kenny Lofton, seeing disaster disappear over the wall, bent forward in frustration.
Three batters later, Martinez was finished.
"Dennis struggled the entire game," said Indians manager Mike Hargrove. "I didn't see him mixing his fastball very well, but he kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win."
The Braves also kept the Indians alive in the seventh. Lofton singled with two outs, and stole second. Omar Vizquel hit a sinking line drive to left, where Mike Devereaux had replaced Klesko, for defensive purposes. Devereaux got a late jump, lurched left, the ball curled right, Lofton scored and Vizquel trotted into second on the error. He was stranded, however, leaving the Indians a run behind.
Manny Ramirez singled with one out in the eighth. But with Jim Thome at the plate, catcher Lopez, on an apparent planned play, took a pitch and whipped a throw to first, where McGriff slapped a tag down for the out.
Four outs later, the Braves had a 2-0 lead in the Series.
Said Hargrove: "It could be as big a test as we have faced in a long time."
( Since 1954, to be exact.