Mike Flanagan and Jim Palmer have painfully clear recollections of the 1979 World Series. The way the Orioles won three of the first four games against the Pittsburgh Pirates, lost the fifth at Three Rivers Stadium and then dropped the last two at Memorial Stadium.
Some of those memories were revived Monday night when they watched their former team keep its season and World Series hopes alive by beating the Cleveland Indians, 4-2, at Jacobs Field to cut its deficit in the American League Championship Series to three games to two.
"It's pretty much a similar scenario," Flanagan said yesterday, "except that Cleveland has to play the last two games here."
The Indians will try to avoid becoming the 10th team in major-league history to blow a 3-1 advantage in a postseason series when they visit Camden Yards this afternoon in Game 6. If the pressure is not on the Indians yet, it will be if they have to play Game 7 tomorrow night.
"The bottom line is that Cleveland knows what it has to do," Palmer said. "You don't feel pressure, but you feel a lot of apprehension. You want to go out there and perform at your best. And you start to think, 'What could we have done different to win in five?' That's where it might come into play."
The disappointment of not clinching before a raucous crowd at home was palpable in the Cleveland clubhouse after Monday night's game. The Indians believed they wasted some early opportunities against Orioles starter Scott Kamieniecki and got their offense going too late against the bullpen.
And the concern was evident, too. Of having to finish off the Orioles on the road. Of having to face Mike Mussina in a similar setting -- a late-afternoon start -- to the one that resulted in his 15-strikeout performance in Game 3 on Saturday. Of perhaps running out of the magic that had helped them win three straight after Scott Erickson's dazzling Game 1 performance.
"We're going to try and have to get to him early," Indians center fielder Marquis Grissom said of Mussina. "But you have to put all that other stuff out of your mind. You put the momentum away. You put the home-field advantage away. You just go out and play."
Grissom was a member of the Atlanta Braves team last year that came back from a 3-1 deficit to crush the St. Louis Cardinals in the last three games of the National League Championship Series. That Braves team also was victimized when its 2-0 lead over the New York Yankees in the World Series become a 4-2 defeat.
"I expected this to go seven games," Grissom said. "Hopefully, we go back and win Game 6. If we don't, we'll just go out and play Game 7. That's baseball."
Said Indians manager Mike Hargrove: "In a series as crazy as this one has been, I don't think anybody can feel comfortable. Obviously, we'd rather be in our position than theirs, but we have our work cut out for us."
The advantage the Indians might have is that both their scheduled starters, Charles Nagy in Game 6 today and Orel Hershiser in a possible Game 7, will be going on more rest than their counterparts. Nagy will pitch on five days' rest, Hershiser four, to only three for Mussina and Erickson. But if they lose tonight
"It's almost like going into a prevent defense in football," Flanagan said. "You shift from an offensive mode to an attitude of, 'Let's not lose.' And the team that's coming back is sort of like a wounded animal. You have it trapped, but it's still very dangerous."
Flanagan remembers the feeling in the Orioles' clubhouse going into Game 5 of the 1979 World Series.
"We went in figuring that the fourth win would take care of itself," Flanagan recalled. "We learned from that. We stopped scoring runs. I also wondered whether one more day of rest would have made a difference. It was a close game in the seventh and the roof fell in.
"Once we got to the seventh game, we didn't feel the same level of confidence."
Palmer, who pitched in Game 6 when the Orioles' bats stayed quiet in a seven-hit, 4-0 shutout by Pittsburgh's John Candelaria and Kent Tekulve, said: "I don't think we were overconfident. We just stopped scoring runs. I think we scored two runs the last two [actually three] games.
"Once you get to 3-1, the other team still has to win three in a row. But if they win the fifth game, then they only have to win two straight. And if you get to a Game 7, the pressure is probably more on the team that had the lead, in this case Cleveland."
That pressure can sometimes be overwhelming. The Cardinals last year looked as nervous as Little Leaguers and played that way too, losing, 15-0, in Game 7 in Atlanta. The Boston Red Sox steamrolled the California Angels in the last game of the 1986 AL Championship Series, 8-1.
The Kansas City Royals beat the Cardinals, 11-0, in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. The Royals were the only team to erase 3-1 deficits twice in the same year, having done it in the AL Championship Series to a Toronto Blue Jays team that had Orioles general manager Pat Gillick as its general manager and Jimmy Key as one of its pitchers.
Not that the Orioles' two former stars, now announcers on Orioles telecasts, expect the Indians to be blown away if this series goes to Game 7.
"I'd be surprised if the Orioles won a slugfest," Palmer said.
Flanagan said: "They're going to have to do it the way they've done it all year -- by getting good, consistent pitching."
But sometimes that's not enough.
It wasn't enough in 1979. Nor was it good enough eight years before, when the Orioles, after winning the first two games of the World Series against the Pirates at home and then losing the next three in Pittsburgh, forced Game 7 by winning in 10 innings, 3-2, in Game 6 back on 33rd Street.
So what happened in Game 7? The Pirates' Steve Blass out-dueled Mike Cuellar, 2-1.
"We pitched a great game, and we got outpitched," Palmer said.
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
Pub Date: 10/15/97