There's something about Orel in October.
Pitching in the post-season for the first time since 1988, Orel Hershiser is acting like he never left. He turned in his second impressive outing of the month on Wednesday night, throwing eight strong innings to lead the Cleveland Indians to a 5-2 victory over Seattle.
Manny Ramirez broke out of his post-season slump with two home runs as the Indians pulled even in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series. Game 3 is Friday in Cleveland, with Seattle's Randy Johnson scheduled to face Charles Nagy.
For Hershiser, the 37-year-old right-hander, it was his sixth victory in nine career post-season starts.
He held the Mariners, who had averaged more than seven runs a game in the Kingdome for the past month, to one run on four hits over eight innings. That comes a week after he shutout Boston over 7 innings in Game 2 of the Division Series. He now owns a remarkable ERA of 1.47 for 73 post-season innings.
Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove said Hershiser has a special ability to focus on the task at hand.
"I don't think I rise to the occasion, I just try to stay the same," Hershiser explained. "With the adrenaline, the fans, the noise, being in the away park, this being kind of a must-win for us, I just tried to stay within myself and take all my skills and abilities to the mound with me and not let anything affect me and not do anything different. I just wanted to stay focused on the job."
The Indians needed Hershiser to do the job. After racing through the season with the best record in the majors, the Indians on Wednesday faced what essentially was their first crucial game of the season _ win, or be down 0-2 to Seattle with Johnson standing on the mound Friday night.
"As far as we were concerned, we had to win this game. This game was huge for us. We really had to had to have it," Hargrove said. "The prospect of being 0-2 and facing Randy Johnson is not one that causes your appetite to stay with you very long."
Playing before a crowd of 58,144, second largest ever for a baseball game here, the Indians started slowly as the Mariners turned a handful of flashy defensive plays behind starter Tim Belcher. But Cleveland broke through in the fifth when Carlos Baerga knocked in two runs with a two-out bases loaded single, taking advantage of a missed double play by Seattle. Ramirez homered with two outs in the sixth and again to lead off the eighth. Sandy Alomar added a run-scoring triple. They also benefitted from some spectacular defense by shortstop Omar Vizquel, a former Mariner.
The Mariners' runs came on home runs by Ken Griffey Jr. (off Hershiser in the sixth) and Jay Buhner (off Jose Mesa in the ninth). It was Griffey's sixth home run in seven post-season games.
Seattle manager Lou Piniella, noting the Mariners had yet to pitch either Johnson or No. 2 starter Andy Benes, was not too discouraged. "Looking at it from that angle, a split isn't bad," he said.
Hershiser was spectacular in the post-season when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1988 he was named Most Valuable Player in both the National League Championship Series and the World Series, posting a 3-0 record and 1.07 ERA in six games. But since then he underwent reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder in 1990 and was let go by the Dodgers following the 1994 season, signing as a free agent with Cleveland.
Because of that, he said he had a special appreciation for what he did Wednesday.
"It was fantastic in '88 and it was fantastic in '85. I accomplished a lot of things with the Dodgers," he said. "But I had complete health then, I had youth, I was vibrant, ready to go. Now being the so-called hired gun, brought here to put the icing on the cake for the Indians, this is very satisfying and very humbling to be able to execute in that situation. I was really feeling a burden to not let the team down."
Ramirez, who hit .308 with 31 homers and 107 RBI during the season, was beginning to look like a burden when he went 0-for-12 in the series against Boston and 1-for-4 Tuesday.
But he responded with a 4-for-4 night, including the two home runs. Hargrove said it was the product of an adjustment. "I think we got him to open up both eyes at the same time," he joked. Actually, the coaches got Ramirez to lower his hands, and it worked.
"It feels great because I've been in a slump," he said.
Hershiser, who signed with Cleveland as a free agent after 12 seasons with the Dodgers, was a big part of the Indians' success this season. He went 16-6 with a 3.87 ERA, posting two five-game winning streaks, and added some experience to the roster.