CLEVELAND -- Teammates asked teammates to autograph baseballs in the Cleveland clubhouse before Game 5 of the World Series yesterday. A subtle acknowledgment, Orel Hershiser said, of the Indians' predicament.
But between signatures, the Indians studied videotape of the Atlanta pitcher and talked about hitting adjustments they would implement.
Successful adjustments. Crowding the plate and attacking Maddux's pitches early in the count, Albert Belle homered and Jim Thome hit a tie-breaking single and added an eighth-inning homer in the Indians' 5-4 victory over Atlanta. Hershiser allowed two runs in eight innings to earn the win.
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 almost certainly won't start again in the Series, which resumes in Atlanta tomorrow. The Indians' Dennis Martinez faces the Braves' Tom Glavine in Game 6.
"That was a high mountain to climb," said Hershiser. "This guy [Maddux] is an unbelievable competitor and we knew we were in for an unbelievable game."
The legend of Greg Maddux, already significant, magnified overnight after the Indians' Game 4 loss. Cleveland was down three games to one and the Indians faced the "impossible" task of beating Maddux, one Cleveland TV station reported. He had made them look silly in Game 1, when Maddux pitched what Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove said was the best-thrown game he had ever seen.
National League hitters have attempted for years to make adjustments on Maddux, which can be like charting a hike through the Himalayas. The Indians read scouting reports, pored over pitching charts, reviewed videotape. The consensus, Thome revealed, was that the Indians had to be aggressive.
Many stood noticeably closer to the plate, swung at pitches early in the count. Fall behind against Maddux and you're left to guessing on which poison he would serve next.
Maddux helped, too. His control, exceptional in Game 1, was flawed. Omar Vizquel walked with one out in the first.
Carlos Baerga grounded out. But Albert Belle, hovering over the plate and looking for pitches on the outer half, 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.
"Unbelievable," Hershiser said. "I've seen Belle hit two homers to right field all year, and then in the World Series this guy starts to hit balls over the right-field wall. These guys are making adjustments."
Maddux said: "I made a pretty good pitch that Belle hit. I'm not used to seeing that ball [low and away] hit out of the ballpark."
Eddie Murray evolved from reticent professional to angry competitor two pitches later, in an incident that cleared the benches and bullpens. 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 yelled 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. Players filled the field, 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 Luis Polonia homered in the fourth. Atlanta loaded the bases with one out in the fifth inning and scored on an infield single by Marquis Grissom. But Polonia smashed into a 6-4-3 double play.
A few feet either way, Braves manager Bobby Cox said later, and Atlanta would've scored a couple of runs and the outcome of the game might've been different.
When Maddux is right, hard-hit balls are the exception. 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.
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. Thome assumed he would get a running fastball, but Maddux threw a changeup over 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. Maddux allowed four earned runs -- only the fourth time all year (twice in the postseason) he has allowed more than three earned runs. It's official: Greg Maddux is human.
"I don't think Greg hit his spots tonight nearly as consistently as he did the first time," said Hargrove.
Or maybe Cleveland took those spots away from him with their adjustments. The Indians have at least two more days to collect autographs; they 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.
Cleveland Indians vs. Atlanta Braves
Last night: Indians, 5-4
Series: Braves lead 3-2
Game 6: Tomorrow, 7:20, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, chs. 11, 4
Starters: Indians' Dennis Martinez (13-7, 3.10) vs. Braves' Tom .. Glavine (17-7, 3.00)
:. Note: Pitchers' records include postseason