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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

Cool Indians Put Heat on Yankees

Game 3: Colon goes distance and so do four Cleveland homers in 6-1 victory that's good for 2-1 series edge.

October 10, 1998|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel swears the Indians are not as relaxed as they seemed Friday night, when they trashed the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the American League championship series as thoroughly as Yankee owner George Steinbrenner shredded the umpires the other day.

"We seem loose, but we're not as loose as you think," Vizquel said. "Sometimes we get nervous and start shaking."

Except for Manny Ramirez. The Cleveland right fielder was as cool as the crisp autumn breeze swirling around Jacobs Field, where Cleveland ripped the Yankees, 6-1, before a crowd of 44,904 to take a two-games-to-one lead over The Team Formerly Known as the Greatest in Baseball History.

Ramirez homered off Yankee starter Andy Pettitte to start a two-out, four-run rally in the fifth inning and added a double and a single in support of 23-year-old Bartolo Colon, who tossed a complete-game four-hitter with three strikeouts.

Jim Thome added two home runs--a solo shot in the second and a two-run shot in the fourth--and Mark Whiten, who began this season with the Chetumal Mayas of the Mexican League, added a home run and a double, as the Indians pinned the Yankees into a near-must-win situation in Game 4 tonight.

But it is Ramirez, nicknamed Baby Bull, who is now being touted as this generation's Mr. October. And rightfully so.

His homer Friday night was the fourth of this year's playoffs and the 13th postseason shot of his career, moving the New York native into sole possession of fourth place on the all-time playoff home run list behind Mickey Mantle (18), Reggie Jackson (18) and Babe Ruth (15).

"Manny doesn't feel pressure," Vizquel said. "If he was naked in the jungle and surrounded by lions he wouldn't feel pressure. He's amazing. He can strike out on three pitches and the next at-bat hit a 490-foot home run. You ask him what his approach is at the plate, and he says he just sees the ball and hits it."

Ramirez may irritate Manager Mike Hargrove with his occasional lapses on the bases and in right field, but he simply drives opponents batty with his sweet swing and simple approach.

"I feel great, and I'm getting a lot of good pitches to hit," said Ramirez, whose double hit the top of the wall in center. "I'm not really thinking about home runs, and I don't know how I'm doing it."

Another mystery at this series: What the heck is going on here? After finishing with an AL-record 114 wins, the Yankees were expected to cruise into the World Series, but the battery charging their offense has gone dead.

New York is hitting .210 (22 for 105) with nine runs in three games against the Indians, and after scoring on Bernie Williams' RBI single to take a 1-0 lead in the first Friday, the Yankees advanced only one runner to second base. Any hint of a rally was snuffed out by the Indians, who turned three double plays.

"We got our [butts] kicked," Yankee Manager Joe Torre said. "We're not scoring runs, and a lot of people are frustrated with that fact alone."

Whiten said he didn't think the Indians had the Yankees worried, "but they may have themselves worried more than anything," he said. "They've got a great team, they've had a great year, they may be feeling pressure to win."

Cleveland has played in two of the last three World Series, losing to the Atlanta Braves in 1995 and the Florida Marlins in 1997, but they are thriving in the underdog role this season.

"Everybody's surprised, but we're not," Vizquel said. "We know we can beat this team. We've done it before--we beat them in the division series last year. No one gives us credit, but we're out to prove people wrong."

They started in the second inning Friday when Thome homered to right- center, Whiten doubled in his first career postseason at-bat, and Enrique Wilson singled Whiten home.

The fifth began innocently enough, with Vizquel flying out and David Justice grounding out, but then the Indians broke out the heavy artillery, starting with Ramirez's opposite-field homer into the Yankee bullpen in right.

Travis Fryman walked, and Thome, who struck out looking three times in Game 2, followed with his second homer, a towering blast that landed on top of the right-field wall to give Cleveland a 5-1 lead.

Whiten then drove a 3-1 Pettitte pitch deep onto the concourse above the left-field wall, an estimated 416 feet away, to make the score 6-1 and bring an inglorious end to Pettitte's evening.

The three homers in an inning tied a league championship record, achieved three other times, and the four homers in a game equaled a series record, achieved four other times. Pettitte had never given up four home runs in a game--that also tied a league championship record.

As for that postseason home run record held by Mantle and Jackson, Ramirez is only 26 and would appear to have an excellent chance of breaking it. But the slugger didn't seem comfortable being mentioned in the same breath as some of the game's all-time greats.

Asked what he thought Babe Ruth would think of his swing, Ramirez said, "I don't know, you've got to ask him."

Ruth was not available for comment.

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