It was a survival situation.
Mesa entered Game 3 in the ninth inning, with the score tied and the weight of the first Cleveland World Series in 41 years planted firmly on his reconstructed right elbow. If he blinked, the Indians would be in an almost impossible situation -- down three games with no historical precedent to show them the way back.
Surely, he never had been in such a predicament before, but he was well prepared for the pressure. He had saved 46 games in 48 opportunities in his first year as a full-time closer. He had taken a career opportunity that some didn't think he deserved and converted it like each of the major league-record 38 straight saves that defined his season.
And last night, he took Game 3 in hand and held onto it for three innings while his teammates struggled to keep their world championship dream alive. Three innings. Three hard innings. Three tense innings. The whole World Series in his hand.
Braves closer Mark Wohlers could say the same. He bailed the Braves out of a tough situation in the eighth and worked 2 2/3 innings, but manager Bobby Cox wasn't going to sacrifice him for a game that he didn't have to win. Mike Hargrove didn't have that luxury, so Mesa was still the pitcher of record when another former Oriole, Eddie Murray, delivered a game-winning single to center in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Indians a 7-6 victory.
"He had no other choice," said catcher Sandy Alomar. "It was a must-win situation and Mesa pitched his butt off and gave us a chance to win the game. What more can you ask from a pitcher who only pitches one inning at a time? He got stretched out tonight. He was great."
It was only the third time all year that Mesa had pitched more than one inning, but the timing was right. He had been idle for nearly a week, thanks to the days off after the American League Championship Series and the fact he was not needed in the first two games against the Braves.
"I was ready," he said. "I hadn't pitched in the Series. I had a lot of rest. I was ready to go one or two more, but they said they didn't want me to go any more."
That would have been too much. This is, after all, a power pitcher who underwent radical reconstructive elbow surgery while he was in the Orioles' organization. He has come all the way back. His fastball is in the high 90s. He is the horse of the Indians' bullpen and proved that last night, but enough was enough.
He had thrown 48 pitches, or about half a start for a guy who never really made it as a starting pitcher.
Mesa had the leadoff batter on base in all three innings, but he hunkered down and worked out of trouble each time. Atlanta's Wohlers did the same, but right-hander Alejandro Pena was not so fortunate. He gave up a leadoff double to Carlos Baerga in the 11th and walked Albert Belle intentionally before Murray stroked a first-pitch fastball into center field to bring the Indians their first World Series victory since 1948.
"I knew I had to pitch tough," Mesa said. "They got the bat on the ball, but I pumped it up and was able to get the next guy. I had a feeling that we were going to get it done in that [the 11th] inning."
The Braves still lead, two games to one, which makes Game 4 tonight another critical situation. Mesa figures to be pitched out, but he said he will be ready to go if there is a chance for him to help the Indians even the series.
"I'll be ready," he said. "This is the World Series. You never know what's going to happen."