CLEVELAND -- The Indians lost Games 1 and 2 of the World Series and manager Mike Hargrove kept talking about how resilient his team really is. Sounded strange at the time, considering how Cleveland rolled through the regular season and AL playoffs almost without challenge.
Hargrove's words made complete sense last night, however, when the Indians beat the Braves, 7-6, in Game 3 -- after blowing a three-run lead and falling behind, tying the game in the eighth inning and winning in the 11th, on Eddie Murray's RBI single. Pinch runner Alvaro Espinoza crossed the plate with the deciding run at 12:42 a.m.
This is resilience. Had they lost, the Indians would've trailed the Braves 3-0, and no team has ever won the World Series after losing the first three games.
"We had the game," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "We should have held the lead [in the eighth inning]."
The Indians used closer Jose Mesa for three innings. "We really had no choice in the matter," said Hargrove. "We had to win tonight." Braves closer Mark Wohlers also worked much longer than usual, 2 2/3 scoreless innings.
But in the 11th, with Alejandro Pena on the mound for Atlanta, Carlos Baerga led off with a double to right-center field. Espinoza ran for Baerga, and the Braves intentionally walked Albert Belle. Next up: Murray, who was 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.
But Murray whacked Pena's first pitch to center, Espinoza easily beat the throw home, and Murray was enveloped by happy teammates.
"It was a huge win for us," Hargrove said in the understatement of the day.
The Indians led 4-1 after scoring twice in the third, but they could've had more in that inning. They had the bases loaded with one out, but Manny Ramirez's hard smash to second turned into a double play.
A three-run deficit in a small ballpark with the wind blowing out? Meant nothing to the Braves. Fred McGriff bashed a bases-empty homer off Cleveland starter Charles Nagy in the sixth, and Atlanta designated hitter Ryan Klesko hit an awesome shot in the seventh, the left-handed hitter crushing a ball 402 field to left-center field. Cleveland's lead was down to a single run.
Kenny Lofton, already with three hits, manufactured an Indians run in the seventh, walking and moving to second on a grounder, stealing third and scoring on an infield single by Carlos Baerga. Cleveland 5, Atlanta 3.
But Marquis Grissom doubled to lead off the eighth, and with a left-hander and a right-hander throwing in the bullpen, the Jacobs Field crowd hooted for a reliever. Nagy fell behind in the count 2-0 to Luis Polonia, and the hooting intensified, particularly after Hargrove visited the mound and chose to stick with Nagy.
Polonia then singled home Grissom. Polonia stole second after Paul Assenmacher relieved Nagy. Chipper Jones walked, and both runners advanced after Lofton caught a drive by McGriff in front of the center-field wall. David Justice hit a grounder to the glove side of Baerga to score the tying run, and reached himself when Baerga couldn't come up with the ball.
Julian Taverez relieved, and pinch hitter Mike Devereaux rammed a single to left. Advantage, Atlanta, 6-5.
The Indians stayed alive, getting a walk and a single with one out. Wohlers relieved and Indians catcher Sandy Alomar slapped one of Wohlers' fastballs down the first base line, a double that scored Ramirez with the tying run. Lofton was walked intentionally to fill the bases, and Wohlers escaped further damage by striking out Omar Vizquel and retiring Baerga.
From the Braves' perspective, the atmosphere went from heaven to hell. The weather for Games 1 and 2 was pleasant, the fans grunted the Tomahawk Chop theme in unison, the Braves enjoyed all the comforts of home.
The temperature for Game 3, conversely, was miserable. Forty-nine degrees at game time, winds driving off Lake Erie at about 20 mph, the wind-chill factor a depressing 29 degrees. The Indians' faithful, more than 43,584 in attendance, acted just as you might expect they would act after a 41-year World Series drought: They screamed at just about any move made by a Cleveland player.
Baerga stepped out of the batter's box in the third inning because he felt Braves starter John Smoltz was taking too long between pitches, and the crowd roared, some standing as they did so. Could be the first time that ever happened.
If the Jacobs Field patrons provided the emotional lift, Lofton was responsible for the tangible jump-start. After the Braves scored a two-out run in the top of the first inning -- McGriff pulling a single to right to send Jones scampering home -- Lofton opened the bottom of the first with a single.
Lofton has been almost arrogant in his aggressiveness on the bases, but he didn't get a chance to steal second after his first-inning single. Vizquel hammered an inside pitch from Smoltz into the right-field corner. Lofton scored easily, and Vizquel, with a headfirst slide, beat the throw to third. He would trot home when Baerga pulled a grounder to the right side.
The wind and cold flushed Smoltz's face by the time he returned to the dugout at the end of the first inning, but some embarrassment might've contributed, as well. Smoltz is not accustomed to postseason failure, having a 1.95 ERA in four previous World Series starts.
His woes continued in the third, which Lofton began with a double. Looking to move Lofton to third, Vizquel bunted toward third on the first pitch. It rolled in a straight line toward the base. Fair. Big trouble for Smoltz.
Baerga lined a single to left, driving home Lofton with the Indians' third run and advancing Vizquel to second. Albert Belle muscled a slow grounder up the middle and Vizquel scored. Bodies began moving around in the Braves' bullpen.
Murray struck out, the first of his three strikeouts with runners on base. But Smoltz walked third baseman Jim Thome after going ahead in the count no balls and two strikes, and Cox had seen enough, calling for right-hander Brad Clontz.
Bases loaded, one out, a three-run lead. This was when the Indians could've buried Atlanta. A single from Ramirez would mean two runs, a fly ball one run. Ramirez did hit the ball hard -- but right at second baseman Mark Lemke, who stepped on second and threw to first for a double play.
The Indians came out of the inning holding all the momentum. But what they would really need, in the end, was a couple more runs.
Cleveland Indians vs. Atlanta Braves
Last night: Indians, 7-6, 11 innings
Series: Braves lead 2-1
Game 4: Tonight, 8:20, Jacobs Field, Cleveland, chs. 2, 7
Starters: Braves' Steve Avery (8-13, 4.55) vs. Indians' Ken Hill
Note: Pitchers' records include postseason