Webster keeps humor through bad bounces Orioles catcher learns to take mock support of Indians fans in stride


CLEVELAND -- As Lenny Webster walked to the plate with one out in the sixth inning of Game 4 on Sunday night, he received an ovation from the Jacobs Field crowd normally reserved for one of its heroes.

Once again, Webster fit that description.

His disputed passed ball (that was later changed to a stolen base) had allowed the winning run in Saturday in the 12th inning of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. And his throwing error Sunday night off a wild pitch by reliever Arthur BTC Rhodes with the bases loaded led to two more runs that broke a 5-5 tie, but not his spirit.

While the fans continued to cheer, Webster cracked a joke with Indians catcher Sandy Alomar. "I said, 'Man, maybe you guys should trade for me. They love me.' That's all you can do," he said, after the Orioles' 8-7 loss.

"It just so happens things didn't go our way."

That certainly was true of Webster, who became the central figure in another bizarre occurrence. Cleveland loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth, pitting Rhodes -- the one reliever manager Davey Johnson had wanted to rest -- against Marquis Grissom. And once again, an Indians batter was most productive getting out of the way.

Rhodes bounced a changeup in front of the plate and off 'D Webster's shoulder, the ball rolling up the third base line. Webster sprang out of his crouch, chased down the ball and flipped it toward Rhodes covering home, but it glanced off David Justice and rolled toward the backstop.

Confusion ensued. Rhodes became entangled with Justice for an instant, then ran to the ball as Sandy Alomar headed for the plate, along with third baseman Cal Ripken. Webster's first instinct was to cover home, until he saw Ripken. Then he thought to go after the ball, until seeing Rhodes free himself and get to it first.

Rhodes made a sidearmed throw to Ripken that was too late, and the Indians had a 7-5 lead that held up until the ninth.

"I was going back to the plate hoping Arthur would get the ball and flip it to me," said Webster. "Justice was holding him down. He couldn't move. Nobody could get the ball. Then I saw Cal coming and it was too late."

Said Johnson: "I've seen some strange things happen. That's the first time I've ever seen two runs score on a wild pitch. The ball didn't really get that far away. I came out to argue, figuring that someone had a hold of Rhodes. I thought maybe I'd get an interference call or something. I was probably reaching for straws at that point."

Webster was charged with an error on his throw that struck Justice, the cherry on top of his melted Sunday.

"That's a tough error, but somebody's got to get it," he said. "It's not my fault. I did the best I could. It's kind of bizarre. It's wild to think about it, but baseball is a funny game."

Grissom, who might have enjoyed the best view, rushed to the defense of Webster.

"You can't blame him," said Grissom, who is the godfather of Webster's son, Rashad. "It's not his fault the ball hit six feet in front of the plate."

Webster, meanwhile, has to deal with his newest fans, the ones at Jacobs Field.

"They're fans, but if they were really baseball-knowledgeable people, they would understand how the game works. It's not my fault," Webster said.

"It's baseball. Baseball's a funny game."

At least Webster could laugh. Better that than cry.

Pub Date: 10/14/97

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