CLEVELAND -- As soon as he hit it, Cleveland Indians catcher Sandy Alomar thought the ball was gone. But as he broke into his home run trot, he glanced at New York Yankees right fielder Paul O'Neill, who appeared to be positioning himself for a possible catch.
"Yes, I thought it was gone," Alomar said. "And then I saw Paul going back and said, 'No way.' "
Alomar was right. He connected on the blast heard throughout Cleveland -- an eighth-inning home run off New York reliever Mariano Rivera that tied the score with two outs. That set up the ninth-inning heroics of shortstop Omar Vizquel, whose RBI single off the glove of reliever Ramiro Mendoza gave the Indians a 3-2 win, forcing tonight's Game 5 of their American League Division Series.
In winning, the Indians did the near impossible: scoring runs off a New York bullpen that had pitched 12 scoreless innings in the series. That was before Alomar's opposite-field home run. When Vizquel followed an inning later with his winning hit, it set up the Indians first deciding game in franchise history. The Indians also stopped New York's nine-game postseason road winning streak.
Cleveland's chances of advancing to the American League Championship Series are placed on the right arm of 21-year-old rookie Jaret Wright, who won Game 2 in New York on Thursday. Wright will face New York's top starter, Andy Pettitte.
"I want to be right here, to get a chance to pitch the decisive game," Wright said after last night's game. "That's what kids grow up dreaming about."
Kids also grow up dreaming of hitting the big home run, as Alomar did against the usually unhittable Rivera. The appearance of the lanky Yankees right-hander usually means lights out for opponents, as evidenced by his 43 saves and a 1.88 ERA during the regular season. Rivera normally blows hitters away with fastballs clocked in the high 90s.
Rivera got one of those fastballs slightly away from the plate, and Alomar drove it to shake up a Jacobs Field crowd of 45,231 that had been eerily silent during the pitchers' duel.
"Mariano throws very hard, and you have to swing hard to make good contact against him," Alomar said. "It was so exciting to run the bases. I know the home run got the fans back in the game and gave us the opportunity to get back into the game in the ninth."
In the ninth, Marquis Grissom set up the winning rally with a single to right off Mendoza, later moving to second on a sacrifice bunt by Bip Roberts. That brought up Vizquel, who had gone 2-for-3.
Mendoza tried to field Vizquel's grounder up the middle, but the ball caromed off his glove and rolled toward shortstop. But New York shortstop Derek Jeter had raced toward the middle in an attempt to back up Mendoza. The ball rolled where Jeter had been standing and into left field, enabling Grissom to score the winning run and setting off the wild celebration.
"This ranks right up there with Game 6 of the 1995 ALCS, when we beat Randy Johnson," said Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove. "It was a well-played game, a well-pitched game by both teams. If you didn't like this game, you don't like baseball."
The stellar pitching was supplied by Cleveland's Orel Hershiser and New York's Dwight Gooden, who last faced each other in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets in 1988.
Hershiser was looking for redemption after giving up six hits and three runs in a no-decision in Tuesday's Game 1 loss. He struggled early and gave up two runs and four hits in the first inning -- an inning that could have been worse had right fielder Brian Giles not thrown out Tino Martinez at the plate for the third out after a single by Charlie Hayes.
From there, Hershiser settled down, keeping the Yankees scoreless over the next six innings.
"It didn't look like Orel was able to locate his stuff, but after the first he established his sinker," Hargrove said. "And then our bullpen did a tremendous job."
Gooden -- starting for the injured David Cone -- pitched well enough to win the game, giving up a run and five hits in 5 2/3 innings. The run came when David Justice ended a 5-for-23 slide against Gooden with a 422-foot homer to right in the second. But the bullpen's failure denied him an opportunity at his first career postseason victory.
"He pitched a courageous game," New York manager Joe Torre said. "He did struggle with his control early. But once he got settled in, he got some huge outs for us. Unfortunately, we couldn't hold it for him."
Alomar saw to that, slamming the big home run that continued his biggest offensive year, when he batted a career-best .324.
"Forget about the All-Star Game," said Alomar, referring to his homer that won that game in July at Jacobs Field. "That was an exhibition game. This is the most important home run I've hit so far in my career. This gives us a chance to go further and, hopefully, to go all the way to the World Series."
Said Hargrove of his catcher: "He's so talented and in so many ways he has come up with big hits in big situations. I just hope he's not through."
Pub Date: 10/06/97