This game, the Indians simply were not going to lose.
Eddie Murray singled in pinch-runner Alvaro Espinoza in the bottom of the 11th inning to give Cleveland a pulsating 7-6 victory early this morning.
In the process, the Indians answered any questions about their ability to perform under pressure. Had they lost, they would have been down 3-0 and well aware that no major-league team has ever come back from such a deficit to win a post-season series. Instead, they cut Atlanta's lead to 2-1 and can tie the Series in Game 4 tonight.
The Indians blew a 5-3 lead in the top of eighth, but rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the inning and win it in the 11th.
Carlos Baerga led off against Alejandro Pena, the sixth Atlanta pitcher, with a double to left-center. The Braves intentionally walked Albert Belle to get to Murray, a career .290 hitter who had been 0-for-5 in the game and had a .193 World Series average. Murray delivered a single to center and Espinoza easily beat Marquis Grissom's throw.
"We held the game for a long time and went ahead, and we should have held the lead," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We had several chances . . . so did they. It was just a matter of time. One of us was going to do it. They did it first."
The Indians had been shut down in the first two games of the Series. But playing at home, where they were a major-league best 54-18 during the season, they looked much more like the team that won 100 games during the season.
Leadoff man Kenny Lofton reached base six times and scored three runs. Baerga drove in three runs. Omar Vizquel was his magical self at shortstop. And slumping Belle even drove in a big run. Reliever Jose Mesa got the win after three innings of work.
It was the 47th extra-inning game in World Series history.
The first World Series game in Cleveland in 41 years was a memorable one. The score was tied 6-6 after 11 innings.
A crowd of 43,584 filled Jacobs Field on a night when the wind-chill was 29 degrees at the start of the game.
For the first time in the Series, the Braves went on top first with a run in the first inning. Fred McGriff singled in Chipper Jones, who had doubled with two outs.
The Indians answered in the bottom of the inning with two runs off Braves starter John Smoltz. Leadoff man Lofton singled and Vizquel tripled him in. Vizquel scored on an infield out by Baerga.
The Indians were on the move again in the third. Lofton doubled, Vizquel dropped a bunt that hugged the third-base line for an infield single, and Baerga delivered an RBI single. Then Belle, who had struggled with a .229 post-season average, delivered a run-scoring single to left, making it 4-1.
Smoltz left after walking Jim Thome to load the bases. Side-armer Brad Clontz came on to get Manny Ramirez to hit into a double play to end the inning.
It was a disappointing performance by Smoltz, who prides himself on being a big-game pitcher. He had a 1.95 ERA in four previous World Series starts and did not allow more than two earned runs in any of the four. But this post-season, Smoltz is winless in three starts with a 6.60 ERA and has allowed 18 hits in 15 innings. The 2-inning performance was the shortest of his 13 post-season starts.
The Braves whittled the gap to 4-3 with a pair of solo homers. McGriff drove a 2-0 pitch from Nagy 370 feet and over the rightfield fence with two outs in the sixth. Designated hitter Ryan Klesko, who snapped an 0-for-15 stretch with a single in the fourth, hit the first pitch of the seventh inning 402 feet and over the 19-foot high left-centerfield wall.
The Indians added a run in the seventh, with Lofton again the instigator. He walked with one out, avoided a double play by running on the pitch when Vizquel grounded to second, stole third and scored on Baerga's infield single to make it 5-3.
Atlanta went ahead 6-5 in the eighth. Grissom, caught stealing third base to end the fifth, led off with a double to right. Indians manager Mike Hargrove left a tiring Charles Nagy in the game, and Luis Polonia hit a run-scoring single to right.
The rally continued against reliever Paul Assenmacher.
Polonia stole second and Assenmacher, after being ahead in the count 0-2, walked Jones. McGriff then drove a ball to deepest centerfield that Lofton ran down, but both runners moved up a base. Justice hit a hard grounder that second baseman Baerga misplayed as Polonia raced home with the tying run. With runners on first and third, pinch-hitter Mike Devereaux greeted Julian Tavarez with an RBI single to center, putting Atlanta ahead 6-5.
The Indians tied the game in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Manny Ramirez walked and Paul Sorrento singled off Greg McMichael. The Braves brought in closer Mark Wohlers, but Sandy Alomar sliced the first pitch down the rightfield line to score Ramirez. The Braves intentionally walked Lofton to load the bases and Wohlers struck out Vizquel. Baerga's ground out to second ended the inning.
Atlanta had runners on first and second on in the ninth against Cleveland closer Mesa, but first baseman Herbert Perry, the former University of Florida standout, stabbed Jones' ground ball to end the threat.
The Indians got the potential winning run to third in the 10th inning, but Omar Vizquel grounded out.
Baerga robbed Atlanta of a potential go-ahead run in the top of the 10th when he went to the third-base side of the bag to grab a ground ball and throw out Javy Lopez as Fred McGriff rounded third.
Nagy, making his first World Series start, was effective early. But by the end of his night he allowed five runs on eight hits and could not get an out in the eighth.
The 28-year-old right-hander was 16-6 with a 4.55 ERA during the season and benefitted from generous run support _ more than seven runs per start. But in the post-season he has been tremendous _ a 1.20 ERA in two starts before Tuesday.