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WORLD SERIES: ATLANTA BRAVES vs. CLEVELAND INDIANS : Maddux Throws a Fall Classic : Game 1: His two-hit, 3-2 victory against Indians leaves Braves ahead and everyone in awe.

October 22, 1995|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — The Cleveland Indians, with their aura of invincibility, truly believed they had him figured out. They read all of the press clippings. They studied the scouting reports. They watched hours of videotape.

They knew everything about Atlanta starter Greg Maddux but his brand of underwear.

However, they missed something.

"We knew he was good," Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar said, "but come on, no one expected that. That was ridiculous. That wasn't even fair."

Maddux, pitching one of the finest games in World Series history, left even his teammates in awe Saturday night by leading the Braves to a 3-2 victory over Cleveland in the first game of the 1995 World Series at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

"I've been around the game a long time," Cleveland Manager Mike Hargrove said, "and that was as well-pitched a game as I've ever seen. He totally dominated the game.

"I've never seen anything quite like it."

Maddux not only pitched a two-hitter--the fewest hits given up by a World Series pitcher in 24 years--but the Indians managed to hit only four balls out of the infield. In Maddux's 95-pitch performance, he got 19 ground-ball outs, never walked a batter, and gave up two unearned runs.

"The way he was pitching tonight," catcher Charlie O'Brien said, "I knew he wasn't going to give up any runs. The other eight of us might give it up, but not Mad Dog. It was vintage Maddux."

Said Atlanta outfielder Dwight Smith: "I told him, 'You gave up the two runs just to give yourself some ink.' You know, he's like a kid that gets all A's in school. The kid gets a B once in awhile just to get attention.

"I call him, 'Greg Nintendo.' He's like a Nintendo game. Push a button, and watch him throw strikes."

The Braves didn't take the lead until scoring two runs in the seventh inning, but never once did they doubt the outcome.

"I know it might sound crazy to say," Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz said, "but I never once felt uncomfortable. It's a 1-1 game and there was never a doubt we'd win."

Cleveland starter Orel Hershiser valiantly kept up with Maddux for six innings, keeping the game tied at 1-apiece, but he fell apart in the seventh inning.

Hershiser, who had been 7-0 in postseason, entered the seventh having yielded only three hits. The first batter up was Fred McGriff, who had hit a 436-foot solo homer in the second inning and was the last Brave to reach second base. McGriff worked him to a full count, and walked.

Hargrove had two pitchers warming up in the bullpen, but never planned on using them. Even when Hershiser followed up by walking David Justice on four pitches, Hargrove sent pitching coach Mark Wiley to the mound merely to give Hershiser a breather. But Hershiser asked out.

Hargrove summoned reliever Paul Assenmacher, the hero in Game 5 of the American League championship series when he struck out Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay Buhner. This time all he needed to do was throw strikes to pinch-hitter Mike Devereaux, who was trying to bunt. He couldn't even do that, and walked Devereaux on five pitches, loading the bases.

Right-hander Julian Tavarez relieved Assenmacher. Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox countered with left-handed hitter Luis Polonia. Yet, the biggest surprise was that Hargrove didn't bring the infield in, instead playing for a double play that would still enable the Braves to score the go-ahead run.

"It's like they didn't know who was pitching," Polonia said.

Said Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel: "I was surprised a little, but I never second-guess my manager. . . . We would have made the play we needed to make."

Instead, it was disaster. Polonia hit a routine double-play ball, but Vizquel, a two-time Gold Glove winner, couldn't get the ball out of his glove. He then bobbled the ball, dropped it, and was still bobbling it when he crossed second base. Umpire Bruce Froemming still called it a force out, prompting Cox to rush out and scream at Froemming.

Little did the Indians, the sellout crowd of 51,876, or even Justice realize what would happen next.

Cox headed back to the dugout and flashed a sign to third-base coach Jimy Williams, who leaned over and whispered to Justice standing on third, "Squeeze."

"I said, 'What, this pitch?' " Justice said. "It shocked the hell out of me. Never in my six years here have I been involved in a squeeze.

"That was the play of the game."

Rafael Belliard laid down the perfect suicide squeeze, Justice came across the plate, and with a 3-1 lead and Maddux on the mound, the game was over.

"It was a joke," Atlanta pitcher Steve Avery said. "He showed why he's the best pitcher in the game. There was no way they were going to come back. We could have hit the showers right then."

Cleveland center fielder Kenny Lofton at least made it mathematically possible for a comeback. He opened the game by reaching base on Belliard's fielding error, became the first American League player since Babe Ruth in 1921 to steal two bases in one inning, and scored on Carlos Baerga's groundout.

Maddux, who didn't permit a ball to be hit out of the infield until the fourth inning, yielded an opposite-field single to Jim Thome in the fifth. It was the last ball hit out of the infield until Lofton's one-out single in the ninth.

Lofton went to second on Vizquel's groundout, kept on running to third, and scored on McGriff's throwing error. No matter. Maddux got Baerga to foul out to third baseman Chipper Jones, ending the game.

"The pressure is over, really," Maddux said. "As you live with it, you deal with it. The longer you do it, you learn to accept it.

"That was a lot of fun. It was just like any game in June or July."

Said Alomar: "Well, I guess the bright side is that we know what he can do, and why he won all of those Cy Young Awards. And we know he can't pitch any better than he did tonight.

"Can he?"

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