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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : Hershiser's the Big Chief for Indians : American League: Former Dodger adds to playoff luster, giving up four hits in eight innings in a 5-2 victory that evens the series.

October 12, 1995|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEATTLE — The concave chest and slumped shoulders. The eyes squinting to see the catcher's signs. The quick leg whip and relaxed delivery. The vast repertoire of pitches darting inside, outside, up and down.

The sight of Orel Hershiser on the mound toying with a playoff opponent is becoming as much a part of October baseball lore as Reggie Jackson homering into the Yankee Stadium bleachers, Kirk Gibson hobbling around the Dodger Stadium bases, Carlton Fisk willing a home run fair in Fenway Park.

The Cleveland Indian right-hander added even more luster to his well-polished postseason resume Wednesday, giving up four hits in eight innings to lead the Indians to a 5-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners in Game 2 of the American League championship series.

Hershiser muzzled the Kingdome crowd of 58,144, as Cleveland evened the best-of-seven series, 1-1, an achievement Indian Manager Mike Hargrove considered crucial because Seattle ace Randy Johnson is scheduled to start Game 3 Friday in Cleveland.

"The prospect of being down, 0-2, and facing Randy Johnson is not one that would cause your appetite to stay with you very long," Hargrove said. "This was a very big win."

Cleveland right fielder Manny Ramirez, one for 16 in the playoffs going into Wednesday, snapped out of his slump with four hits, including two solo home runs, and the Indians finally broke the Mariners' Magic Kingdome spell--Seattle had won five consecutive postseason games in the din of the dome.

Hershiser, who almost single-handedly pitched the Dodgers to the 1988 World Series championship, threw only 107 pitches, and 74 were strikes. He made one mistake, which Ken Griffey Jr. deposited into the right-center-field bleachers for a bases-empty home run in the sixth inning.

But no other Mariner runner advanced past second base against the 37-year-old, who walked one, struck out seven and improved his postseason record to 6-0 with a 1.47 earned-run average in nine starts.

"I'd like to think that I stay the same in big games and maybe the pressure affects the other guy, and he goes back some," said Hershiser, who underwent reconstructive shoulder surgery in 1990 and signed with the Indians last spring. "It looks like I'm rising to the occasion, when in fact I'm going about it as I do all season."

Hershiser seemed oblivious to the pressure--he'd laugh one minute, yawn the next. And he seemed unaffected by the occasional ear-splitting noise of the Kingdome.

A video-board clip of actor Pat O'Brien playing Knute Rockne in the middle of the eighth inning pushed volume to its highest levels, but Hershiser responded with another scoreless inning before giving way to closer Jose Mesa in the ninth.

"I like the noise, the music, the fans when they rise to a crescendo," Hershiser said. "It makes you realize this is a big pitch, a big moment. I play mind games with myself--I make believe they're cheering for me."

The Indians didn't have any pressure games this season--they went 100-44 and ran away with AL Central title--but Hershiser has come through in two pressure-packed playoff games, shutting out Boston for 7 1/3 innings in a 4-0 division series victory.

"Of all the people I've been around in this game over the last 20-25 years, Orel may be able to focus and concentrate better or more consistently than anybody," Hargrove said. "He's very intelligent. The way he studies the game and the hitters, you're not surprised."

Sandy Alomar said the key to Hershiser's success was staying ahead of batters and using different sequences of pitches for every hitter's at-bat. Hershiser struck out leadoff hitter Vince Coleman three times, and Edgar Martinez and Tino Martinez went a combined 0 for 7.

Seattle starter Tim Belcher matched Hershiser's shutout for four innings, but Cleveland broke through for two runs in the fifth on Carlos Baerga's two-out, two-run single, and two in the sixth on Ramirez's two-out homer and Alomar's run-scoring triple.

Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel made two great defensive plays, diving to the hole to stop Jay Buhner's fourth-inning grounder and throwing him out, and charging for Luis Sojo's chopper in seventh, making a bare-handed grab and throwing him out.

"It's amazing watching him play defense," Hershiser said. "No adjectives can be big enough for that guy."

The same could be said about Hershiser when it comes to post-season performance. He won National League championship games for the Dodgers in 1985 and '88 and went 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA in the '88 World Series.

"It was fantastic in 1985 and '88, but I had complete health and youth then," Hershiser said. "But now, being the so-called 'hired gun,' to have that kind of pressure, it's very satisfying to do this, especially coming back from the surgery."

* EMPTY SEATS: The lingering aftermath of the strike may have been the reason for the empty seats in Cincinnati. C8

* NOT GOING TO WAIST: Former Angel Luis Sojo lost 10 pounds in the off-season and has improved his play. C8

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