More than series 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 with 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 Division Series tonight at Jacobs Field, Hargrove indeed 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 that lost Pedro Martinez and, for one game, Nomar Garciaparra.

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, tonight's game 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 intense rivalries to come to October fruition, but no one can predict what might happen tonight with Boston's Bret Saberhagen and Cleveland's Charles Nagy pitching on three days rest.

With Martinez unavailable, 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 knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield.

Nagy, making his 15th postseason appearance, is an even more seasoned playoff performer -- he started the Indians' ALCS clincher over the Orioles in 1997. 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.

Who holds the edge?

Probably the Indians.

Yes, they've allowed more than 30 runs the last two days. Yes, Manny Ramirez entered last night 0-for-12 and Sandy Alomar 1-for-11. But the Indians are playing at home. And Nagy probably stands a better chance of pitching deep into the game than Saberhagen, a point that could prove critical with both bullpens depleted.

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

The manager probably had no 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 his bullpen 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.

Rincon walked Offerman to load the bases. John Valentin followed with a two-run double and Brian Daubach a three-run homer in the Red Sox's six-run seventh, their biggest post-season inning since Game 1 of the 1975 World Series.

Hargrove explained that Wright has been a starter all season, and was throwing well enough to justify pitching a third inning. And he said that Rincon has been as effective against right-handers as he has against left-handers throughout his career.

The Indians still had their ace going last night, 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.

As it turned out, the Red Sox barely needed Garciaparra. But the shortstop's unexpected return provided an emotional lift. His first warmup toss sailed into the dugout. But he made a terrific backhand stop and a strong throw in the sixth. Manager Jimy 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 produced the most runs in the Red Sox postseason history.

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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