CLEVELAND -- The historical parallels may be too much for the beleaguered baseball fans of northern Ohio to bear.
The 1954 Cleveland Indians won 111 games and were considered the best baseball team on earth, but they were blindsided in the World Series by the New York Giants, 4-0. The 1995 Indians, who won 100 games in a 144-game season and entered the postseason with one of the most imposing teams in recent memory, are now in position to suffer the same fate.
Could it really happen? Did Cleveland wait 41 years to be disappointed again?
That became a distinct possibility last night when the Atlanta Braves scored a 5-2 victory at Jacobs Field and pushed the Indians to the brink of an early exit from the 91st World Series. They now trail the Braves three games to one, a predicament only six teams have overcome in the 35 previous Fall Classics that have reached this point.
The last time it happened was 1985, when the Kansas City Royals came back from a 3-1 deficit to upend the St. Louis Cardinals. Before that 1979, when the Pittsburgh Pirates rallied to rob the Orioles of a world championship.
"I've faced more pleasing prospects," said Indians manager Mike Hargrove. "I know there are 26 other clubs sitting at home right now that would like to have the chance to still be playing. We're just going to have to come out tomorrow. I don't know what to do. We'll show up tomorrow and play hard.
The only way they can stay alive is to figure out perennial Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux tonight, and everybody knows how the supposedly explosive Cleveland offense fared against him in Game 1.
Maddux pitched a two-hitter. He didn't give up an earned run. He will be looking to enhance his once-questionable reputation as an effective postseason pitcher when he matches up again against Indians right-hander Orel Hershiser. The struggling Indians' lineup can only hope to be better prepared the second time around.
"I don't know [if that will help]," Hargrove said. "The National League hitters haven't figured him out all the time he's been over there. We'll be better prepared, but I don't know if that translates into more production."
The World Series may be lost in the translation. Hershiser has had tremendous success in the postseason, but he pitched well enough to win in Game 1 and didn't get any offensive support. The Indians have struggled at the plate throughout the postseason and now must hope to break out against a guy who is a combined 22-2 in regular-season and postseason play this year.
"We just have to go out and play ball," said infielder Alvaro Espinoza. "You can't worry about whether it's Greg Maddux or Nolan Ryan. We just have to go out there and hit the ball. If we don't, we can't win."
No one ever imagined that they could go down so quietly. They managed just eight hits in the first two games in Atlanta. There was the more characteristic seven-run performance in the 11-inning victory on Tuesday night, but Steve Avery and the Braves' bullpen held the Indians to just six hits last night.
"You never know what's going to happen," said veteran pitcher Dennis Martinez, who would pitch Game 6 in Atlanta if the Indians can get past Maddux tonight. "We have to just come back out and remember how we got where we are, but we also have to remember that somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. There can only be one world champion. We have to appreciate the fact that the two best teams are playing in the World Series and we're one of them.
"We just have to look at it this way. We got here by playing hard. We have to show up tomorrow. We have Orel pitching. We have to play hard and try to get to Atlanta. If we do that, it will be exciting."