CLEVELAND — CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Mayor Michael White was in an elevator before last night's game when a member of his entourage asked, "So, when would the parade be?"
"Next Friday?" someone suggested, thinking ahead to the end of the World Series.
"Whatever day comes after four games," someone else said.
Baltimore can relax now.
The last time White's people were this cocky, they lost the Browns.
"They're counting their chickens a little early," said Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone, who also was in the elevator.
White should have alerted his constituency: A three-games-to-one deficit is not insurmountable in postseason play.
Indeed, a warning from the mayor might have cushioned the blow of last night's 4-2 defeat in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.
The Orioles aren't in control of this series, not when one loss will still end their season, not when every late-inning pitch is an adventure.
But now the Indians must win at Camden Yards, must beat Mike Mussina or Scott Erickson, must cheat the baseball gods one more time.
"I just hope we can get to Game 7 -- then all hell's going to break loose," Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said.
As if it hasn't already.
Once upon a time, the baseball gods decreed that the best team should win. It doesn't always happen in a seven-game series. But the Indians have had enough of their prayers answered, don't you think?
"As crazy as this series has been, I don't think that anybody can feel confident about anything," Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove said.
Heck, the Indians might find it impossible to win without the Jacobs Field batter's box, the mysterious Bermuda Triangle where passed balls and wild pitches disappear.
The Indians had the crowd roaring and the winning run at the plate with two outs in the ninth last night, but second baseman Roberto Alomar made a terrific play and off-balance throw to retire Omar Vizquel.
Just like that, an entire city went silent.
"We had it all the way," manager Davey Johnson cracked.
And now it's Mussina's turn again.
"I remember saying [Sunday], I just want Moose to get one more chance to pitch," center fielder Brady Anderson said. "As great as he's been in the postseason, I just want to see him go out there one more time."
Just last year, the Atlanta Braves rallied from a three-games-to-one deficit in the NL Championship Series, outscoring the St. Louis Cardinals in the final three games 32-1.
If the Orioles win, they won't do it that easily -- they've got Mussina and Erickson pitching on three days' rest, whereas the Braves had John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine starting on their normal days.
Still, all things seemed possible after a game in which Scott Kamieniecki pitched five scoreless innings, Jimmy Key worked three hitless innings and Eric Davis hit a home run.
"I think it's changed -- I think the pressure's on them now," Malone said. "They're going back to Baltimore. They didn't want to go back to Baltimore. I think the momentum has now shifted in our favor."
Palmeiro wasn't so sure.
"The pressure's still on us -- we're down 3-2," he said.
Whatever, last night might have been the Indians' best chance, and their boisterous fans knew it -- they booed when the Orioles added two runs in the ninth, runs that proved decisive.
Ask the '96 Cardinals or the '86 Angels -- lose Game 5 of a League Championship Series at home, and you might not return until next season.
Remember the '79 Orioles?
They blew a 3-1 lead to the Pirates in the World Series with Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer and Scott McGregor lined up to pitch, and with the final two games in Baltimore.
A group of American League officials began celebrating at a Pittsburgh restaurant after Game 4, and even persuaded Dick Butler, the league's former supervisor of umpires, to toast Earl Weaver.
"Everyone [on the team] was running around yelling, 'One more! One more!' " said Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller, who then was in his first stint with the club. "I didn't like it.
"Four years later [in the '83 World Series against Philadelphia], we had basically the same club. We went up 3-1 and you could hear a pin drop in the clubhouse."
The Orioles won that one. The Indians might win this one.
But seriously, how scared should the Orioles be of a team batting .216 -- and .179 with runners in scoring position?
And how scared should they be of Charles Nagy starting Game 6 with an extra day's rest?
The sinker-ball pitcher is 0-3 with a 5.91 ERA in seven starts this season with five or more days' rest.
Then there's Orel Hershiser, the Indians' potential Game 7 starter.
He benefited from pitching in the twilight in Game 3 but wouldn't have that advantage in Game 7. And, like Randy Johnson, he's allergic to Camden Yards, where he's 2-2 lifetime with a 7.92 ERA.
Mussina, meanwhile, is the hottest pitcher on the planet. And if the Orioles get to Game 7, and Erickson again struggled, manager Davey Johnson could turn it into a bullpen game.
"As long as this club's alive, I like our chances," Miller said before last night's game. "We're too explosive. We've won 102 games to this point. That's not by accident. It's a very good team."
Someone should have reminded Cleveland.
"Got any pennant shirts for when they win?" an Indians fan asked a woman selling souvenirs before last night's game.
"They'll deliver 'em in the eighth inning, and we can't open until 'em after the game," the woman answered.
The boxes remained closed.
Maybe for one more day. Maybe for a long, long time.
Comebacks from 1-3 deficits in the postseason:
1903 Bos. (AL) 5, Pitt. (NL) 3*
1925 Pitt. (NL) 4, Wash. (AL) 3
1958 N.Y. (AL) 4, Milw. (NL) 3
1968 Det. (AL) 4, St. Louis (NL) 3
1979 Pitt. (NL) 4, Orioles (AL) 3
1985 K.C. (AL) 4, St. Louis (NL) 3
1985 Kansas City 4, Toronto 3
1986 Boston 4, California 3
1996 Atlanta 4, St. Louis 3
On the brink
How the Orioles have fared when facing elimination, a situation they will face again tomorrow afternoon in Game 6:
AL Championship Series
Year .. .. ..Opp. .. ...Gm. .. ..Res. .. .. .. ..Series
1973 .. .. ..Oak. .. .. .4 .. ...W, 5-4
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .5 .. ...L, 3-0 .. .. ..L, 3-2
1974 .. .. ..Oak. .. .. .4 .. ...L, 2-1 .. .. ..L, 3-1
1996 .. .. ..NYY .. .. ..5 .. ...L, 6-4 .. .. ..L, 4-1
1997 .. .. ..Clev. .. ...5 .. ...W, 4-2
Year .. .. ..Opp. .. ...Gm. .. ..Res. .. .. .. ..Series
1969 .. .. ..NYM .. .. ..5 .. ...L, 5-3 .. .. ...L, 4-1
1971 .. .. ..Pit. .. .. .6 .. ...W, 3-2*
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .7 .. ...L, 2-1 .. .. ...L, 4-3
1979 .. .. ..Pit. .. .. .7 .. . .L, 4-1 .. .. ...L, 4-3
Pub Date: 10/14/97