CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Mike Hargrove said he could think of more pleasing thoughts than facing Atlanta ace and future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux while being just one game away from elimination.
Here's one, for instance. How about Cleveland beating up on Maddux and staying alive in the World Series, which is what Cleveland did in Game 5 last night. Orel Hershiser allowed two runs over eight innings, Albert Belle hit a two-run homer and Jim Thome hit a tie-breaking single in the sixth and a monster homer in the eighth as the Indians beat Maddux and the Braves, 5-4.
Atlanta, down three runs in the ninth, got two back on Ryan Klesko's homer off Cleveland closer Jose Mesa. But the Indians hung on and can proceed with the knowledge that Maddux likely won't start again in the Series, which resumes in Atlanta tomorrow.
"I don't know if beating Maddux makes us believe we're that much better," said Hargrove. "I think we've always believed we're a good team."
The legend of Greg Maddux, already significant, magnified overnight after the Indians' Game 4 loss. The Tribe was down three games to one, and the Indians faced the "impossible" task of beating Maddux, one Cleveland TV station said.
Very difficult. But not impossible, as the Indians quickly proved in the first. Omar Vizquel walked with one out and Belle slammed a first-pitch fastball into the Atlanta bullpen (Belle hit a ball to almost the exact same spot in Game 4). Bingo. Two runs, just like that, and the impending sense of doom that hung over the Jacobs Field crowd dissolved.
A bench-clearing incident between Maddux and Eddie Murray two pitches later galvanized the emotions of the Cleveland fans and players. Following a first-pitch strike to Murray, Maddux -- who has perhaps the best control of any pitcher in this decade -- fired a fastball under the chin of Murray, who staggered backward, turned and pointed and talked at Maddux. Even amateur lip readers could see Murray telling Maddux the pitch had been at his head, and that he was very, very unhappy about that. In so many words.
Maddux, a stubborn competitor, strutted off the mound toward Murray, and catcher Charlie O'Brien and home plate umpire Frank Pulli rushed to get in between hitter and pitcher. Both benches and bullpens emptied, but the closest thing to a fight occurred when O'Brien and Murray, former teammates with the New York Mets, exchanged nudges.
But the tone had been set. Greg Maddux was not going to neatly fold up the Indians and pack them away for the winter.
"I think the deal with Eddie got us all fired up," Thome said.
Hershiser dominated the Braves the first three innings, but in the fourth, he began to fade a bit. Luis Polonia, who bragged about his power after a tie-breaking double in Game 4, pulled a home run to right.
The Indians faced -- and courted -- disaster in the fifth inning. Klesko banged a line-drive single to right. Braves second baseman Mark Lemke hit a one-hopper back to Hershiser, a potential double-play ball.
But Hershiser's throw to Vizquel dragged the shortstop off the bag, and Klesko, sliding hard into second, was safe. A sacrifice bunt by O'Brien advanced both runners.
A chess match ensued between managers Hargrove and Bobby Cox of Atlanta. Cox made an aggressive move, pulling weak-hitting shortstop Rafael Belliard and replacing him with pinch hitter Dwight Smith; a small gamble, for Cox has two other shortstops, including utility man Mike Mordecai, on his roster.
Hargrove countered with an unconventional move, ordering an intentional walk of Smith to load the bases. What made the base on balls out of place was that the next hitter, Marquis Grissom, has hit well in the postseason and is extremely fast, minimizing the possibility of a double play.
Grissom hit a slow roller toward third base, and Hershiser tried to barehand the ball and flip home to get a force on Klesko. Tried, and failed: the ball slipped out of his grasp, Klesko scored the tying run, the bases were still loaded, and there was still one out.
But the Indians were either lucky or good with the next hitter, Polonia; the speedy outfielder hit a hard smash that turned into a 6-4-3 double play. As Cox said later, a few feet either way, the Braves would've scored a couple of runs and the outcome of the game might've been different.
Maddux had appeared to regain his form in the middle innings, but in the fifth, Paul Sorrento smashed a line drive for an out, catcher Sandy Alomar slammed a double off the very top of the wall in left-center field, and Kenny Lofton hit a ball hard to right. Something was amiss with Maddux. When he's right, hard-hit balls are the exception.
One out into the sixth, Carlos Baerga doubled down the left-field line, and after a quick conference with Cox, Maddux passed Belle intentionally. Murray hit a deep liner to center, allowing Baerga to tag up. Two outs and two on.
Maddux got ahead of Thome no balls and two strikes and threw a ball. Before his next pitch, Maddux looked uncomfortable. He hesitated, called O'Brien out to talk.
Maddux finally came back with a fastball that got too much of the plate, and Thome singled up the middle. Baerga, running in the choppy style of a penguin, crossed home plate with the lead run. Sorrento singled and Belle scored.
In the eighth, Brad Clontz relieved Maddux, and gave up a 436-foot homer by Thome, an insurance run that would prove the difference.
Maddux retired after allowing four earned runs -- only the third time all year Maddux has allowed more than three.
Cox said: "He didn't quite make all the pitches he wanted to tonight."
"I don't think Greg hit his spots tonight nearly as consistently as he did the first time," said Hargrove.
Or perhaps it was the Indians who made the adjustment. Thome said after the game that they looked to swing on Maddux's first or second pitch, and some moved up in the batter's box noticeably, perhaps to guard against the right-hander's
Whether it was a bad night for Maddux, a good night for the Indians, it's official: Greg Maddux is human.
The Indians are alive, and if they can pull off two wins in Atlanta and win the World Series, 25 ballplayers and a manager will be immortalized in Cleveland forever.