More than series is on line for Hargrove


BOSTON -- He has won five straight division titles and two American League pennants, and after tonight he might be a candidate to be the Orioles' next manager.

Mike Hargrove, come on down!

Work for Peter Angelos! Reunite withe Albert Belle!

On second thought, maybe Grover would pass.

But if the Cleveland Indians fail to defeat the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the AL Division Series tonight at Jacobs Field, Hargrove could be looking for work soon.

Rest assured, someone is going to pay if the Indians blow a two-games-to-none lead to a Red Sox team featuring only two stars, both of whom are struggling with injuries.

All the Sox did last night was set postseason records for hits (24) and runs (23) in a stunning 23-7 triumph that had the Fenway Faithful celebrating gleefully in the ninth inning.

The crowd chanted "We want Pe-dro" for Pedro Martinez, then serenaded Cleveland's Manny Ramirez with cries of "Man-ny's hitless!" The MVP candidate is 0-for-15 with seven strikeouts in the series.

"It was embarrassing. It was humiliating," Indians catcher Sandy Alomar said. "But the good part is, none of those runs mean anything tomorrow."

The other good part for Cleveland is that Martinez is still suffering from a strained back muscle, and likely won't pitch.

"He's better, but we can't hurt the kid," Boston manager Jimy Williams said. "We'll see how he is. I just don't think it's wise to start him. I don't know if he can pitch at all."

Martinez's thoughts?

"It's not out of the question," he said. "It'll be a last-minute decision. I'm thinking positive. My heart says I'll be in there. Whatever I can do to help, pinch run, whatever, I want to do whatever it takes."

No one envisioned the Red Sox forcing a Game 5 against such odds. And no one should dare offer a prediction tonight with Boston's Bret Saberhagen and Cleveland's Charles Nagy pitching on three days' rest.

The Red Sox haven't won the World Series since 1918. The Indians haven't won it since 1948. And given the respective conditions of the two pitching staffs, Game 5 might extend into the 21st century.

Could be just as well.

Y2K might not lead to the apocalypse, but the planet would not survive a Red Sox-Yankees American League Championship Series followed by a Mets-Yankees World Series.

The stars are aligning for those rivalries to come to October fruition. But first, the Red Sox must eliminate only the seventh team in major-league history to score 1,000 runs in a season.

Saberhagen is the right choice for Boston -- he threw only 65 pitches in his 2 2/3-inning stint in Game 2. Tonight will be his ninth postseason start. He should be more comfortable in front of 45,000 hostile fans than excitable knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who pitched last night in relief.

Nagy is an even more seasoned playoff performer -- he started the Indians' ALCS clincher over the Orioles in 1997, and will be making his 15th career postseason appearance. His only career start on three days' rest was in Game 4 of the '96 Division Series against the Orioles. He allowed two runs, striking out 12 in six innings.

So, who holds the edge?

Probably the Indians.

Yes, they've been outscored 32-10 the past two games. But they're playing at home. And Nagy probably stands a better chance of pitching deep into the game than Saberhagen, a point that could prove critical because both teams used five relievers last night.

Yet, all the pressure is on Cleveland, and on Hargrove.

The manager had little choice but to start Bartolo Colon on three days' rest last night, even though the 24-year-old right-hander had never pitched under such circumstances.

But his far greater transgression was his handling of the Indians' bullpen in Game 3, failing to use his three best relievers in a game that was tied 3-3 in the seventh inning.

In a perverse sense, maybe Hargrove had the right idea bypassing Paul Shuey, Steve Karsay and Steve Reed -- he needed all three after Colon recorded only three outs last night, and Karsay and Reed combined to allow 11 runs.

Still, Hargrove might have lost the series in Game 3, allowing a shaky Jaret Wright to start the seventh, then compounding his mistake by staying with left-hander Ricardo Rincon against the right-handed hitting Jose Offerman later in the inning.

It all would have been forgotten if the Indians had won last night. They had their ace starting, albeit on three days' rest. But Colon allowed seven runs and departed after failing to retire the first five hitters of the second inning.

The Red Sox built a 15-2 lead with John Valentin going 4-for-4 with two homers and a double in the first four innings. Valentin had been 0-for-10 in the series before his bases-empty homer and two-run double in Game 3.

As it turned out, the Red Sox barely needed Nomar Garciaparra, but the shortstop's unexpected return provided an emotional lift. His first warm-up toss sailed into the dugout. But he made a terrific backhand stop and a strong throw in the sixth. Williams removed him in the bottom half with the Red Sox leading 18-6.

"Originally when I came to the park, I didn't have him in the lineup," Williams said. "Yesterday, he couldn't hit in the tunnel. I didn't want to put a lot of added pressure on this kid; keep asking, 'Can you play?' I don't want to hurt this kid.

"The trainer taped his wrist, and he went out in the [batting] tunnel. After he got done hitting, he came back and said he could play. So I changed the lineup."

The revised edition was a record breaker.

Game 5 is tonight.

Say what you want about the Curse of the Bambino, but all the pressure is on Cleveland, and on Hargrove.

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