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Baseball Playoffs

Mental 'Blauch' Turns Series Around

Gift Victory From Yankees Has the Indians Believing They Can Pull Off Big Upset

October 09, 1998|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CLEVELAND — This whole American League championship series feels different, and it has nothing to do with play shifting to Jacobs Field, where the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians will meet in Game 3 tonight.

It has everything to do with the top of the 12th inning in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, when Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauch turned into a "Blauchhead," as one New York tabloid declared, Indian pinch-runner Enrique Wilson scored from first on a bunt, umpire Ted Hendry made one of the most controversial calls in playoff history, and the Yankees went ballistic.

"Absolutely, that changed the whole series," Cleveland reliever Paul Shuey said of the Indians' 4-1 victory in Game 2, which evened the best-of-seven series, 1-1.

"We lose that game, we come back here and it's like, 'Let's pack up.' We win and we're thinking, 'Maybe we're really in this thing.' And by beating them in New York, we know we can go back and do it again."

It seemed all of New York--and much of the nation--was ready to canonize the Yankees after Game 1, a near-flawless, 7-2 victory that raised them to 4-0 in the playoffs and stirred rumblings that New York could pull off a triple sweep, taking the division series, the league championship series and World Series without losing a game.

Then came the fateful 12th inning Wednesday, when Knoblauch's mental gaffe--his decision to argue with Hendry instead of retrieving the ball behind the first-base bag allowed the winning run to score--threatened to rip apart one of the most cohesive and controversy-free teams in Yankee history.

"When you lose a game like that, you can have everyone on your team pointing fingers at each other," said Shuey, who pitched two innings of scoreless relief Wednesday.

"I don't know if that's happening, but it can create some dissension. It's not good for their team, but it's good for us, and we'll take any advantage we can get."

Some in the Yankee clubhouse took offense at Shuey's comment.

"Maybe they would point fingers at each other, but you won't see that here," Yankee designated hitter Chili Davis said. "A loss is a loss. We're not pointing any fingers."

Regardless of how the Indians won Game 2--even the Cleveland Plain-Dealer headline proclaimed that the Indians had received "A Gift from New York"--the victory seemed to inject new life into their clubhouse, which was alive with salsa music and filled with an air of confidence Thursday.

"Yeah," Manager Mike Hargrove said, "there's probably more bounce in our step."

The underlying belief is that the Indians, unlike everyone else, don't expect the Yankees to simply walk all over them.

"Everyone's betting on the Yankees, no one expects us to win," Indian shortstop Omar Vizquel said. "Everyone wants the Yankees to win--ESPN, Fox, NBC, CNN, the FBI. . . . Even in the Boston series, no one gave Cleveland a chance. They all said it would be Boston in four games, Boston in three games. I'm so happy we're turning that around."

Uplifting Cleveland were Charles Nagy's solid 6 2/3 innings Wednesday, when the right-hander gave up one run and five hits, the bullpen's 5 1/3 shutout innings, and a sluggish Yankee offense that, with the exception of two innings, has been a mere shadow of its steamrollering self.

New York, touted as one of the greatest teams in baseball history, is hitting .243 and has scored 17 runs in five playoff games. Since their five-run first inning in Game 1 of this series, the Yankees are 12 for 69 with three runs.

Praised for their ability to manufacture runs and hit in the clutch, the Yankees are two for 21 with runners in scoring position since the first inning of Game 1, and Tim Raines' failed sacrifice in the seventh and Shane Spencer's failure to advance Homer Bush to third with no out in the ninth Wednesday were costly.

"You have to do the little things to win the pennant," Vizquel said. "They had Raines bunt and he didn't. They didn't have Spencer bunt, and he struck out. Look at it--we got one stupid bunt down [in the 12th] and it meant three runs."

Yankee Manager Joe Torre didn't hide his concerns about his offense or about the Indians, who have played in two of the last three World Series and have a veteran, playoff-tested team.

"Did you watch our [division series] games against Texas?" Torre asked. "We didn't do a lot of rolling over anyone. They were very close games that could have gone either way.

"When a club has been to the World Series two out of three years and has been to the postseason as many times as Cleveland, you don't take them for granted."

Still, there was no sign of panic among the Yankees on Thursday.

"Everyone is writing like it's doomsday or something," right fielder Paul O'Neill said. "Right now, we're 1-1. No one has the edge."

Someone will after tonight, though.

"Game 3 is the big one," Indian first baseman Jim Thome said. "Tonight we'll see whether the momentum has shifted into our favor or it hasn't."

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