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WHAT A WASTE Missed chances doom o's, end wire-to-wire ride; Outhit by 10-3, Indians survive Mussina, clinch on Fernandez's homer 'We didn't get a break'; O's 0-for-12 with men in scoring position; GAME 6 Indians 1, Orioles 0

Burned inside, Roberto Alomar spun away from the sound, dancing on feet that should have helped take his team farther into the postseason.

Jose Mesa danced a more joyful jig just 60 feet away, waiting for his Cleveland Indians teammates to swallow him before a silenced Camden Yards crowd of 49,075.

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Mesa had done more than strike out Alomar looking to end an epic 11-inning, 1-0 game. He had put the final touches on a Game 6 win that pushed the Indians into their second World Series appearance in three years and sent the Orioles home numb from a second straight loss in the American League Championship Series.

In exchange for 98 regular-season wins, a wire-to-wire AL East pennant and a takedown of the league's most intimidating team in the Division Series, the Orioles were sent away to think about what they had lost.

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The Indians completed their creative series victory when Tony Fernandez, a last-minute replacement at second base for Bip Roberts, homered to right field off Armando Benitez with two outs in the 11th.

It was the Indians' third hit of the game. It was the only one that mattered.

The Orioles wasted perhaps the most dominant postseason effort by a pitcher, failing to reward Mike Mussina for eight innings of one-hit ball.

They failed to convert numerous opportunities against harried Indians starter Charles Nagy, whose escape should put him on "America's Most Wanted." The Orioles ended 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

"I know in my heart that they're not the best team, but the best team doesn't always win," said Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone, who had christened this a "special" team but now was forced to check his emotion. "We had opportunities but didn't take advantage of them. That hurt us."

The Indians made the most of theirs and even conspired with fate.

Roberts was supposed to bat leadoff and start at second base until Fernandez, of all people, lined a batting practice pitch off Roberts' thumb. Indians manager Mike Hargrove hastily rearranged his lineup, inserting Fernandez as his No. 2 hitter.

"I knew when Bip got hurt there was some reason I was going to be in the game. Now I know why," Fernandez said.

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Dominant all season but hittable in the past week, Benitez

became the series' tragic figure when, for the second time in four losses, he threw a decisive home-run pitch. The home run was the first this season while batting left-handed for the switch-hitting Fernandez and the first of his postseason career.

"It's disappointing when you don't get what you set out to get," said Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken, who finished the ALCS with a .348 batting average and flawless defensive play. "We made things happen but we didn't get the hit to win the ballgame. Cleveland did what it took to win. They executed well, they pitched well and the ball bounced their way a few times. I don't really feel bad but I'm still disappointed. We don't get to move on."

Manager Davey Johnson said, "I'll think about it for quite awhile. This is a tough loss. This whole series I don't think we caught many breaks."

Johnson left the clubhouse after meeting with Ripken, general manager Pat Gillick and several other club officials. He waved off reporters, slipped out a side entrance and offered only, "No comment. No comment," when asked about his status for next season.

Before that, Johnson conceded nothing to the Indians, who won all four games by one run after finishing the season with just 86 victories, the lowest total of any AL playoff team this year, and 12 fewer than the Orioles.

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"We were the best team in the American League, just like we were the best team in '69 when the Mets beat us," Johnson said. "But they played us tough. It was a real close series, and we wish them the best."

Mussina didn't receive a decision in two ALCS starts despite extending one of the great runs in postseason history.

In 29 innings, he had a 1.24 ERA, allowing 11 hits and four runs, striking out 41 and walking seven. Setting a postseason record for strikeouts and unrewarded excellence, Mussina struck out 10 yesterday, making him only the third pitcher in postseason history to enjoy two double-digit strikeout games in the same October.

Mussina struck out four in three innings, eight through five and finished with 10 on only 108 pitches in eight innings. The Indians never pushed a runner past second base against him. (They managed only two runners past second base against him in Saturday's Game 3.)

But, once again, the Orioles backed Mussina with inept situational hitting. A veteran team, the Orioles never showed themselves to be a disciplined one.

The Orioles began the first four innings by placing their leadoff hitters on base but never pushed a runner to third base with fewer than two outs.

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Nagy required a mound visit by pitching coach Mark Wiley after facing only four hitters. He threw three balls to four of the Orioles' first seven batters but was helped by six of the next seven hitters swinging at the first pitch.

Three times in the first five innings, Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro (38 home runs, 110 RBIs) ended a rally.

After finishing the Division Series against the Seattle Mariners as one of only two position players to play and not gain an RBI, Palmeiro staggered through the ALCS, demoted to No. 5 in Johnson's order against right-handed pitching, and frustrated by pivotal situations. Yesterday's early-inning brownout topped them all.

The Orioles stranded seven runners in the first five innings. They had stranded 11 before the Indians managed their fourth base runner.

If Mussina was brilliant, Nagy was blessed. He needed attention in the first inning and allowed six of the first 11 hitters he faced to reach base. Nagy opened the game with a 29-pitch first inning including two walks and a double. But the Orioles found nothing.

After Anderson walked, Johnson ordered a hit-and-run with Alomar. When Alomar grounded up the middle, he hit directly into the shifting infield, leaving shortstop Omar Vizquel to catch the ball in stride, touch second base and throw to first for the double play.

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Geronimo Berroa reignited the inning with a hard-hit double to left, followed by a walk to Harold Baines. Palmeiro, guilty of leaving six runners in his last three at-bats in Game 4, struck out after leading 2-0 in the count.

Ripken led off the second inning with a single but could not score on Mike Bordick's two-out double. Brady Anderson grounded weakly to first. End of opportunity.

The third inning returned Palmeiro with two outs and Alomar at third. Palmeiro popped to third base on Nagy's second pitch.

The Orioles showed their excesses again in the fourth as Nagy continued to wobble. Ripken doubled to lead off. The response was a pop-out by Surhoff, a sharp groundout by Hoiles and a fly ball to center field by Bordick on Nagy's next six pitches.

As if to torment him, the fifth inning reached Palmeiro when Berroa and Baines singled with two outs. Few hitters carry a more pronounced swagger when on a tear but none walks more heavily when slumping than Palmeiro, who grounded harmlessly to first base.

Palmeiro's topper left him 3-for-20 with runners on base and 1-for-10 with men in scoring position for the series.

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"It didn't work out, man. It didn't work out. What can I say?" Palmeiro said.

Palmeiro was blameless in the Orioles' most grievous waste, a seventh inning in which Bordick and Anderson led off with singles only to have a questionable tactical move and the Orioles' second double play wipe out the threat.

With runners on first and second and none out, Johnson ordered a sacrifice bunt by Alomar. He squared on the first pitch but took a ball. Indians third baseman Matt Williams ordered a "wheel play" in which the shortstop covers third while the third baseman charges. Second base is left unguarded. Rather than give Alomar a swing, Johnson kept the play on. When Alomar bunted toward third base, Williams turned and easily threw to Vizquel covering for the force on Bordick.

The rest seemed almost inevitable. Up next, Berroa grounded the first pitch to Williams, who routinely began a 5-4-3 double play. Nagy left the mound with a nine-hit shutout intact.

Palmeiro finally contributed in the eighth inning when Nagy hit him in the foot with one out. Johnson reacted boldly by sending Jeffrey Hammonds to pinch run, drawing disbelief from Palmeiro. After pointing to himself several times, Palmeiro finally surrendered the bag to Hammonds before trudging slowly into the dugout and sniping at the manager.

Hammonds stole second and Hargrove finally pulled Nagy after 7 1/3 innings and 119 pitches, bringing on left-hander Paul Assenmacher after a walk to Ripken put runners at first and second to set the stage for another missed chance.

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Hammonds reached third on Surhoff's one-pitch fielder's choice. The inning ended when Hoiles grounded to Williams, who barely forced Surhoff at second base.

"How close was that call? Couldn't we have gotten one call?" Palmeiro said. "That was the whole series. We didn't get a break the whole series. I don't care how good you are, you have to have breaks to win."

Wasted opportunities

The Orioles lost, 1-0, yesterday on Tony Fernandez's 11th-inning homer, but the seeds of defeat were planted throughout the game with the team's horrible production with runners in scoring position:

Inn. .. ..Situation .. .. .. .Outs .Result

1st .. ...Man on 2nd .. .. .. ..2 ..Palmeiro struck out swinging

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2nd .. ...Men on 2nd and 3rd ...2 ..Anderson grounded to first

3rd .. ...Man on 2nd .. .. .. ..1 ..Baines grounded to second

.. .. .. .Man on 3rd .. .. .. ..2 ..Palmeiro popped to third

4th .. ...Man on 2nd .. .. .. ..0 ..Surhoff popped to shortstop

.. .. .. .Man on 2nd .. .. .. ..1 ..Hoiles grounded to third

.. .. .. .Man on 2nd .. .. .. ..2 ..Bordick flied to center

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5th .. ...Men on 1st and 2nd ...2 ..Palmeiro grounded to pitcher

7th .. ...Men on 1st and 2nd ...0 ..Alomar bunted into fielder's

. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .choice

.. .. .. .Men on 1st and 2nd ...1 ..Berroa grounded into double play

8th .. ...Man on 2nd .. .. .. ..1 ..Ripken walked

.. .. .. .Men on 1st and 2nd ...1 ..Surhoff grounded into fielder's

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.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. choice

.. .. .. .Men on 1st and 3rd ...2 ..Hoiles grounded into fielder's

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. choice

Pub Date: 10/16/97


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