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BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN : BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : Momentum Isn't With the Indians

October 11, 1995|ROSS NEWHAN

SEATTLE — Momentum. Who has it? Who doesn't? Who cares?

An often overworked issue in sports, the question of momentum could be an overriding theme of the American League championship series.

Were the Seattle Mariners still riding the emotional high of their five-game victory over the New York Yankees in the division series as the league series began Tuesday night?

Did the Cleveland Indians go flat during the almost four-day hiatus following their three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox?

One thing is certain:

For a powerhouse that won 100 games, hit .291 and averaged 5.8 runs per game, Mr. October the Indians aren't.

Not yet, anyway.

They swept the Red Sox batting .219 and scoring 17 runs, eight in Game 3.

They lost to 22-year-old rookie Bob Wolcott and the Mariners, 3-2, in Game 1 while going 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position and stranding 12. Seven of those were in the first three innings when they had the bases loaded with no outs once and with one out once and yet scored only once.

Is Manager Mike Hargrove surprised that the Indians, who scored 17 runs in their last regular-season game and were 14-7 after clinching the AL's Central Division on Sept. 8, haven't retained their potent punch in the postseason?

"It doesn't surprise me at all," Hargrove said. "You can throw everything that happens in the regular season out the window now.

"This is the first time most of our guys have been in the playoffs, and they've shown the tendency in the four games to press a little, trying to make things happen.

"You saw it in the first inning when we got a little impatient and let the kid off the hook. We had the bases loaded with no outs. A run or two there and it's a different game. That set the tone."

Making only his seventh major league start, Wolcott walked the first three batters he faced.

He was now confronted by the fearsome Albert Belle, who swung and missed a first-pitch slider out of the strike zone and ultimately struck out. Eddie Murray next swung at a first-pitch slider out of the strike zone and popped to the third baseman, which he did three times on a night when he also struck out and grounded out.

The threat ended when second baseman Joey Cora made a scrambling, backhanded stop of Jim Thome's blistering ground ball and got the out at first.

"Our hitters have been aggressive all year," Hargrove said. "It's been a successful game plan, and I'm not going to change them now.

"I just wish they were a little smarter at times."

That was a biting reference to the over-aggressiveness of Belle and Murray in the first inning.

The Indians left runners at first and third in the second inning and scored once in the third, when Paul Sorrento grounded into a double play with the bases loaded.

"It was kind of shocking that we didn't have a four- or five-run lead after all of that," catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. said. "We swung at first pitches and we swung at bad pitches. "Hopefully, we'll learn from this."

The Indians had never seen Wolcott, and the conventional wisdom is that the pitcher has the advantage in that situation.

The Indians had film of the young right-hander flown in Tuesday. Hargrove's pregame review: Wolcott could be trouble if he kept his pitches down, but he wasn't Randy Johnson II.

With the Indians' help, he was more like Houdini II.

They collected 10 hits, including three by leadoff man Kenny Lofton, who had been 2 for 13, but some of their guns continue to misfire.

Manny Ramirez is 1 for 16, Alomar is 3 for 15, Belle (who homered in the seventh inning) is 4 for 15, Murray is 5 for 18, Paul Sorrento is 4 for 14, Thome is 4 for 17, Carlos Baerga is 5 for 18 and Omar Vizquel is 2 for 16 as the No. 2 hitter.

Momentum?

Seattle pitcher Tim Belcher said that Hargrove said it best.

"I read where he said that, yes, the Indians may be rested and have their pitching set up, and that one would think the Mariners would be tired and drained and in trouble with their pitching, but he also said the Mariners could have an advantage because they'd be coming in very sharp in game situations," Belcher said. "You can't discount that. I also don't think you can discount how well we play in this building.

"The key thing is that as a young team we keep getting thrust into do-or-die situations and haven't had time to sit back and pat ourselves on the back about what we've accomplished. I think that's been a positive."

Wolcott certainly was. He defined momentum on a night when Manager Lou Piniella said:

"The Indians may be rested, but sometimes you can sit too long."

Did rest create rust, or have the Indians been pressing a bit in the postseason? The clock is ticking.

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