Martinez, Murray have seen it before


ATLANTA -- Before Game 5, Dennis Martinez and Eddie Murray worked the Tribe's dressing room --bearing witness to what can happen in the World Series.

"We were telling the young guys that being down 3-to-1 in the World Series doesn't mean it's over," Martinez said before last night's game. "We know. We were there in 1979."

Murray and Martinez were on the wrong end of history in 1979. Their Baltimore Orioles found themselves in the same spot as the 1995 Atlanta Braves. They had a 3-1 lead in the Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates --but they blew it. "We kept telling the guys, 'It can happen, just hang in there and put some pressure on the Braves,'" Martinez said.

Those 1979 Orioles won 102 games. They had a superb pitching staff of Jim Palmer, Scott McGregor, Mike Flanagan and Martinez. The heart of the lineup was Kenny Singleton, Doug DeCinces and Murray. They were a lot like the 1995 Braves, a solid hitting team carried by tremendous pitching and a savvy manager.

That is why I called Earl Weaver on Friday morning.

"Hey, Earl, do you have a few minutes to talk about the 1979 Series?" I asked.

"No," he said.

"No?" I asked.

"Call me back in five minutes and I'll give you five minutes," he said.

Five minutes later, I placed another call to Weaver's home in South Florida.

"So you want to talk about the 1970 World Series," Weaver said.

"No, 1979," I said.

"I like 1970 a lot better," said Weaver, referring to his 1970 Orioles, who beat the Reds in five games.

"No, Earl, 1979," I said.

"I got all day to talk about the 1970 Orioles," he said. "But for 1979, you get five minutes."

Remember that Weaver was more than a great manager, he was an innovator. All those numbers that today's managers consider gospel how a certain batter hits against a certain pitcher Weaver invented that. He was the first to keep track of individual matchups, and he had it all down on dogeared index cards that he kept in his little baseball treasure chest in the dugout.

By 1979, Weaver had been managing the Orioles for 12 years. This was his fourth World Series. In those 12 years, his team had won six division titles and never finished lower than third. They were pitching-heavy and experienced, seemingly the last team you'd expect to cough up a 3-1 lead in the World Series.

The 1979 Orioles played Game 5 in Pittsburgh. They had Cy Young winner Mike Flanagan ready to wrap up the title. Sound familiar? The Pirates ambushed them, 7-1.

Pittsburgh was a team much like the 1995 Tribe big bats belonging to Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Bill Robinson and a hot leadoff man in fleet center fielder Omar Moreno. They were a shaky fielding, free-swinging, cocky team that also was the clear underdog.

Yet, those Pirates won Game 5 at Three Rivers then beat the Orioles in the final two games in Baltimore to steal the title.

"I'll tell you about those last three games," Weaver said. "The Pirates' pitching was a mess. Their best guys weren't rested. We had Flanagan, McGregor and Palmer all lined up and rested. We had the last two games at home. We were in good position."

Weaver knew exactly what was happening to his team.

"With every game we lost, the hitters got tighter," he said. "They all wanted to break out and win the game themselves. They'd get ahead 2-0 or 3-1 in the count, and they'd swing at a pitch that was outside the strike zone instead of being patient. I saw Albert Belle doing the same thing early in the Series. The Braves wanted to walk him, but Belle wanted to hit the ball out of the park so he swung at some bad pitches.

"In the World Series, your big hitters have to be willing to take a walk and hope that the little guys can beat the other team."

Martinez thought the Orioles relaxed after being up 3-1. After they lost in Pittsburgh, "We went home and figured that we could win one out of two games," he said. "We didn't put them away when we had a chance."

Weaver didn't sense any overconfidence in his team.

"It was very simple, we stopped hitting," he said. "When you play a 162-game schedule and you have three games when you don't hit big deal. No one notices. But when it happens in the World Series, those three games can kill you."

Weaver talked about Murray ending the 1979 Series in a 2-for-21 slump. He talked about a couple of hard-hit balls by his team in those last three games. He tried to explain the unexplainable.

"I can still see this one ball," he said. "It was in Game 7. Pittsburgh was leading 1-0. We had the bases loaded, and Eddie hit a rocket but right at Dave Parker in right field. I mean, he hit it so hard, it nearly knocked him down. Just a few feet in either direction, and it's another ballgame."

And then no one would be dragging up the ghost of the 1979 Series with Weaver 16 years later.

Now retired and spending a lot of time on the golf course and at the dog track, Weaver says he doesn't watch that much baseball on TV.

"But I've caught all the World Series games," he said. "I'm pulling for Dennis and Eddie, and I've enjoyed the Series because the games have been close."

Does he think the Indians can play the part of the 1979 Pirates?

"Let me ask you this," he growled. "Did the Indians ever win three games in a row this season? Did Atlanta lose three in a row? That's all we're talking about a three-game streak. Now, all Cleveland needs is two more games. The key is Dennis. I think he needs a big game (Saturday night). I mean, he has to really shut them down like he did in (Game 6) in Seattle. That is what has to happen if the Indians are going to win in Atlanta."

Weaver insisted that losing the 1979 Series didn't gnaw away at him. But it's easy to imagine Atlanta's Bobby Cox having a similar conversation in the year 2010 if his Braves fail to put away the Indians.

"I'm not upset about what happened back in 1979," Weaver said. "We had a very good ballclub. I did win a World Series in 1970."

Then Weaver paused.

4( "Your five minutes are up," he said.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad