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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / AMERICAN LEAGUE

A Long Day Works for Indians

Game 3: Four of Cleveland's five hits are homers in 4-3 victory over Boston, now on brink of elimination.

October 03, 1998|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — On a chilly afternoon, marked by fading sunlight and rising playoff pressure, the Cleveland Indians took four 390-foot steps nearer to the American League championship series.

Momentum swing? There were four of them here Friday--four solo home runs among the Indians' five hits--as Cleveland shoved the Boston Red Sox to the brink of elimination in this division series.

Indian starter Charles Nagy maximized the home run support by continuing his dominance of the Red Sox, and the Indians won Game 3--and jumped ahead in this best-of-five series, 2-1--with a 4-3 victory before 33,114 at Fenway Park.

"I needed to be a ground-ball pitcher today, and I ended up being a fly-ball pitcher," said Boston starter Bret Saberhagen, who gave up three homers in seven innings. "I guess that's what it comes down to.

"I pitched pretty good, but not good enough, with the way Nagy was pitching."

Boston now has a survival game today at Fenway, and if the Red Sox win they must travel to Cleveland for the deciding Game 5 on Sunday.

The Indians, knowing that Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez is scheduled to start Game 5, were not about to start celebrating.

"We're still in Boston, and we still have to win," Cleveland Manager Mike Hargrove said. "And that's a tough proposition. Boston's a good team and they haven't given up all year long. We're not taking anything lightly or for granted."

In Friday's game, with both teams aware that the late-afternoon starting time limited the batters' vision and gave the pitchers the edge, Cleveland capitalized on Red Sox vulnerabilities.

Saberhagen gave up only four hits, but one of them was a leadoff homer to Jim Thome in the fifth to center field, one was a one-out homer to Kenny Lofton just over right fielder Trot Nixon's glove in the sixth, giving Cleveland a lead it never lost, and one was a leadoff homer by Manny Ramirez over the Green Monster in left field in the seventh, the first of two homers by him.

Thome's homer was the first Indian hit, and tied the score after the Red Sox had taken the lead with a run in the bottom of the fourth.

"When Jimmy hit his leadoff homer, that just picked everybody up," Hargrove said. "That was the first sign that we had that we might be able to get to Saberhagen."

Said Saberhagen: "I take a lot of pride after we score runs to get us back in the dugout as soon as possible. So after we scored in the fourth, in the fifth I give up a home run that ties the game. It was frustrating."

In the next inning, Lofton, who had homered and doubled earlier in the series, hit a deep fly ball that barely flew over Nixon's glove and into the Red Sox bullpen for a 2-1 lead.

Ramirez started the seventh with a long shot, then also ripped a line shot off Red Sox reliever Dennis Eckersley leading off the ninth--the 11th postseason home run of his career--to make it 4-1. That turned out to be crucial when Nomar Garciaparra hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth against Cleveland closer Mike Jackson.

After Garciaparra's homer--his ninth and 10th runs batted in of this series--the batters behind him, as has been their habit this series, went out meekly to end the game.

Garciaparra and first baseman Mo Vaughn have 17 of the team's 18 RBIs in this series, but Boston's Nos. 5 through 9 hitters have managed only nine hits in 58 at-bats--and were one for 17 Friday.

Nagy, who threw only 88 pitches, gave up four hits, struck out three and did not walk a batter.

He won for the eighth time in nine decisions against the Red Sox, and now is 6-1 at Fenway, where visiting pitchers usually see their earned-run averages skyrocket and their records trashed, and has a 1.27 ERA.

"You have to trust your stuff, and you know what you have to do--it doesn't matter what ballpark you're in," Nagy said. "I thought I had a good sinker today, and a good splitter.

"The only thing you have to do here is to make sure you keep the ball down--to lefties and righties--and that's what I did today."

Though Saberhagen beat the Indians twice this season, and had given up only one earned run, Nagy said he wasn't worried when the Red Sox broke the scoreless tie with the run in the fourth.

"I wasn't too concerned--I know our hitters and I know what they're capable of doing," he said. "I knew if I could keep them to one run, our hitters could do something about it."

And now it's up to Boston to do something, or else it will lose its fifth consecutive postseason series, starting with its 1986 World Series loss to the New York Mets.

"We took one of two at their ballpark," Saberhagen said. "We wanted to get them down and out. We didn't do that. . . . But it's not like we've been out of any of the games. Hopefully we can bounce back [today] and play a little bit better."

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