MIAMI — The World Series hasn't exactly been Must-See TV, the Cleveland Indians and Florida Marlins combining for 71 runs, 111 hits, 56 walks and 11 errors in the first five games.
But pitching and defense finally reared their pretty heads in Game 6 Saturday night, when the Indians used the superb relief work of right-hander Mike Jackson and the wizardry of shortstop Omar Vizquel to keep the Marlins scoreless in the critical sixth inning of Cleveland's 4-1 victory.
The situation: Bottom of the sixth, Indians leading, 4-1, starter Chad Ogea tiring. Ogea walks Gary Sheffield and is replaced by Jackson. Bobby Bonilla pops to short, but Jackson walks pinch-hitter Jim Eisenreich.
Up steps Moises Alou, the clutch-hitting outfielder whose three-run homer in Game 1 keyed a 7-4 Marlin victory, and whose three-run homer in Game 5 keyed an 8-7 Marlin victory.
The stakes: One more homer from Alou and the score is tied, giving the Marlins momentum.
The outcome: Jackson gets ahead of Alou, 1-2, and throws a nasty slider, down and away. Alou tries to check his swing but can't. He taps a slow roller to second for the second out, putting runners on second and third.
But the inning is not over. Next up is catcher Charles Johnson, and the Indians have to decide whether to pitch around him and deal with Craig Counsell or go after Johnson. Catcher Sandy Alomar and pitching coach Mark Wiley visit the mound. The decision: Go after Johnson.
On a 1-0 pitch, Johnson rips a two-hopper to the shortstop hole, a shot that has two-run single written all over it.
But Vizquel makes a marvelous diving backhand stop, scrambles to his feet and his throw beats Johnson by a step.
"If it's any other guy, maybe I don't even throw that ball," Vizquel said. "But since Charles is slow, I had a chance."
Johnson thought the ball was through the hole, "and then he came from nowhere and just nipped me," he said of Vizquel. "That was an outstanding play."
The bottom line: Vizquel's play saved two runs, and Jackson got out of another jam in the seventh, striking out Devon White and Edgar Renteria with two on and getting Bonilla to fly out with the bases loaded. The Indians win to force Game 7 tonight.
"That was the whole turning point of the game," Indian infield coach Johnny Goryl said of Vizquel's play. "We were on the ropes, they would have had two runs, and we would have been struggling."
Said third baseman Matt Williams: "That was just as important as a game-winning home run."
The last word: The American League is loaded with outstanding young shortstops such as Alex Fernandez, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter, but Vizquel has had a hold on the Gold Glove, winning the award for the fifth consecutive time last week.
Why? Because of plays like he made Saturday night.
"Sometimes I do surprise myself with my defense, but not with that play tonight, because I've done that six or seven times," Vizquel said. "But that's the most important play of my career because I've never done anything like that in a situation like this."
"I was getting a drink of water when the ball was hit and I saw Omar dive and make the play, and I almost choked," Indian Manager Mike Hargrove said. "Nothing that Omar does with his glove surprises me. Nothing he does with his bare hands surprises me. This guy has got the guts of a burglar."