Managers' moves get magnified


CLEVELAND -- Baseball is best judged in shades of gray, but for World Series managers, the game suddenly turns black and white.

Fair? Forget fair.

This is October.

Cleveland's Mike Hargrove faced criticism for strategies that backfired in Games 1 and 2, and he's going to hear it again about what happened last night in Game 3.

But guess what?

Now, it's Bobby Cox's turn, too.

Indeed, Cox has set himself up for one of the all-time second-guesses by pitching Steve Avery tonight instead of Greg Maddux.

Here come the Indians, and now they've got a chance to tie the Series against a pitcher who was 7-13 this season, not 19-2.

The Tribe finally revived last night at the Snowflake by the Lake, with Eddie Murray's RBI single giving them a 7-6 victory in 11 innings at chilly, wind-swept Jacobs Field.

Maddux could suck the life right back out of them, but he's not starting Game 4, is he?

You've got to admire Cox's guts -- he'll be questioned the rest of his career if the Braves blew a two-games-to-none lead starting Maddux only once.

But he must have a reason if he's willing to risk losing his third World Series in five years without riding his ace.

Actually, Cox has two.

Maddux is more effective pitching on his normal four days rest. And, as left-handers go, Avery is just slightly better than, say, Arthur Rhodes.

In fact, considering the way Kenny Lofton is dominating the base paths, it's probably better to throw a left-hander, especially since Maddux doesn't hold runners well.

But that wasn't Cox's primary motivation.

This is just the Braves' way.

And this is why their Big Four -- Maddux, Avery, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine -- have combined to miss only four starts in four years, with only one due to arm trouble.

Combined trips to the disabled list?


Still, Maddux is the best pitcher in the game. He threw a two-hitter in Game 1. And his sheer presence would give Atlanta a huge psychological advantage.

Cox could justify using him on three days rest -- Maddux threw only 95 pitches in Game 1. Indeed, his decision would be a no-brainer -- if Avery wasn't on his staff.

Avery is 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA in his last four starts, including six shutout innings against Cincinnati in the final game of the NLCS.

This way, Maddux will pitch Game 5 on four days rest and Glavine will pitch Game 6 on five. If the Braves lose this thing, it won't be because their pitchers are tired.

Still not convinced?

Maddux worked on three days' rest for the first time since 1993 in the divisional series. He allowed 10 hits in seven innings, and Colorado became the first team this season to hit two home runs off him in one game.

Hargrove is going the same route as Cox, using Ken Hill tonight rather than Orel Hershiser. That move is less debatable -- Hershiser is 37, and he tired in Game 1. But Hargrove isn't escaping this series unscathed.

The Indians last night blew leads of 4-1 after five innings and 5-3 after seven. Why did Hargrove let Charles Nagy start the eighth? And why did he permit him to face the left-handed hitting Luis Polonia after Marquis Grissom hit a leadoff double?

In Game 2, Hargrove went too long with Dennis Martinez, and paid for it when Javier Lopez hit a two-run homer in the sixth. Last night, Nagy gave up a homer in the sixth, and another in the seventh, but Hargrove stuck with him because he had thrown only 81 pitches entering the eighth.

Nagy had handled Grissom and Polonia well, allowing them only one single in six at-bats. Catcher Sandy Alomar said that the Indians didn't want to bring in Paul Assenmacher to face Polonia, figuring the Braves would counter with Mike Devereaux.

So, Assenmacher entered the game only after Polonia drove home with Grissom with a single, cutting the Indians' lead to one run. The Braves scored the tying run on an error by Carlos Baerga, and took the lead on a single by pinch-hitter Devereaux.

Fortunately for Hargrove, the Indians won.

Otherwise, he'd be changing his name to Heartache.

In Game 1, he played the infield back with the bases loaded and none out in the seventh inning of a 1-1 game against Maddux. It was an unusual strategy, conceding a run when you might not score again. And it backfired, when the Braves scored twice.

In Game 2, he pitched to Lopez with a runner on third and one out in the sixth inning, rather than walk him with the light-hitting Rafael Belliard and the pitcher up next. That, too, backfired, when Lopez broke the tie with his two-run homer.

Second-guessing is not only part of the game, it's part of what makes the game great. But even Phil Regan had his reason for sticking with Doug Jones that fateful night against Toronto -- he didn't trust his other relievers.

It's a tough job.

Even tougher this time of year.

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