WHEN THE World Series came back to our doorsteps, like some
prodigal son gone two years, it came back looking warmly
familiar, in the simple ways we like to remember it. It came
back with every game to be played with real grass underfoot and
nothing but the expanse of October sky above--the first time that
has happened in this decade. It came back with the best team
from each league, a given in simpler times but a welcome gift
now, considering the permutations of a playoff format swollen to
three rounds and 41 possible games. Mostly, it came back
reminding us--at least through the first two games--of a tenet of
the game that has been as unchangeable as the 90 feet between
the bases: Good pitching beats good hitting.
"Been true about as long as the game's been around," says
Cleveland Indian hitting coach Charlie Manuel. "Still is."
Yes, the World Series now may be beamed by satellite from here
to Qatar, and a record 15 players on the two rosters were born
off U.S. shores, but the importance of pitching is as great
today as it was in 1905, the only other time the World Series
resumed after missing a year (an interruption caused by the
refusal in 1904 of the National League champion New York Giants
to have anything to do with the upstart American League and its
champion, the Boston Pilgrims). Every game of that five-game
series between the Giants and the Philadelphia Athletics was a
shutout, including three thrown by New York righthander Christy
Two games into the 1995 World Series, with Greg Maddux looking
like Mathewson, the Atlanta Braves shut down, if not shut out,
the Indians--the best hitting team since Cincinnati's Big Red
Machine of the 1970s. In winning both games Atlanta limited
Cleveland to a total of eight hits, including, in 64 at bats,
only one extra-base hit. No team had stifled its World Series
opponent more completely since 1966, when the Baltimore Orioles
held the Los Angeles Dodgers to seven hits in the first two games.
Said Cleveland catcher Tony Pena, looking hopefully to Games 3,
4 and, if necessary, 5 at Jacobs Field this week, "We haven't
hit like we're capable the whole postseason. Sooner or later
we're going to wake up."
In their 11 postseason games through Sunday, the Indians batted
.224--a 67-point falloff from their regular-season average when,
in the words of Cleveland general manager John Hart, the Tribe
"feasted, absolutely feasted, on teams' three-four-five
starters." The built-in travel days of postseason series prevent
that kind of gluttony--teams can employ as few as three starting
pitchers--though Cleveland never has seen a staff as good as
Atlanta's in short or long form.
Further, the National League rules used at Atlanta-Fulton County
Stadium (no DH) kept the platoon of Paul Sorrento, who had 25
homers this year, and Herbert Perry, who hit .344 against
lefthanders, out of the Indians' lineup. Heading into Game 3,
Cleveland needed to challenge Atlanta pitching with more than
just the dynamic baserunning of leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton,
whose four times on base over the first two games produced more
mayhem than a Stallone flick: four Atlanta errors, a wild pitch,
four stolen bases and three runs scored, all of them
The Tribe's third and fourth hitters, Carlos Baerga and Albert
Belle, respectively, opened the Series a combined 1 for 14 with
one RBI; they totaled 216 RBIs during the regular season.
Through Sunday, Belle had as many errors in this postseason as
he had RBIs (four), after a year in which he became the first
player to smash 50 home runs and 50 doubles. Against Maddux,
Baerga and Belle hit one ball hard between them.
"One of the advantages we have is we've never seen them," Maddux
said. "They've done nothing to intimidate us before. There's no
bad history at work, something that would cause you to lose
confidence. I think that's important. That keeps you confident
against them, and when you're more confident you tend to be more
aggressive. I think that's how we've pitched them.
"It was not until they saw Maddux last Saturday that the Indians
had as few as two hits in a game this year. In a 3-2 Atlanta
win, Maddux outlasted Orel Hershiser in a riveting matchup of Cy
Young Award winners who each had 150 career wins entering the
game. A spent, 37-year-old Hershiser left, by his own request,
with the score tied 1-1 after walking two batters to open the
seventh. He suffered his first postseason loss in eight
decisions when Atlanta pushed the runners across against the
Cleveland bullpen without getting a ball out of the infield.
So fierce was the pitching that the game could have been played
inside the Braves' postgame party tent without disturbing the
buffalo meat carving station. Sixty-one batters went to the
plate, and only seven put the ball out of the infield. The clubs
combined for only five hits; no World Series game has produced
fewer. "It's great for the game," said Atlanta pitching coach
Leo Mazzone, "to see two masters of their craft on top of their
game like that."
Mostly, the game belonged to Maddux, whose first opportunity in
a World Series further confirmed his place among the alltime
great pitchers. He came within one flubbed grounder and two
opposite-field singles of throwing a perfect game against a
lineup with seven .300 hitters. He was so good that he threw
only 32 balls, and the late movement on his pitches caused so
many futile swings and broken bats that the Indians lost count
of the kindling; estimates from their clubhouse ranged from six
to more than 10. "The ball is there, and then it's not there,"
said Indian catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. "I've never seen anything
In one typical example of his brilliance, Maddux struck out
Manny Ramirez in the fifth inning with three straight sinking
fastballs that painted an imaginary ellipsis (dot-dot-dot)
across the lower boundary of the strike zone, each fastball only
inches farther outside than the last. Wonderstruck, Ramirez
never moved the bat off his shoulder.
"That was the best pitched game I have ever seen," said
Cleveland coach Buddy Bell, who broke into the majors in 1972.
"I don't know how you can be more perfect."
"Tell Buddy, when you see 700 innings of Maddux, you
see a lot of that," Mazzone said. "You're at a loss for words. I
don't know what to say anymore."
The placid Maddux, who reported to work that night wearing
glasses, a Bugs Bunny T-shirt and a Mickey Mouse cap, admitted
it was "my best game ever, everything considered." He ripped
down the lineup card from the dugout wall to present to his
father. He kept the ball from the final out for himself.
Maddux dismissed Cleveland with 95 pitches, or four fewer than
lefthander Tom Glavine needed on Sunday night to slog through
six innings in Game 2. Unlike Maddux, Glavine often missed with
his pitches early in the count. Even then, Glavine refused to
abandon his changeup or the perimeter of the plate. "Staying
stubborn on the edge," Mazzone called it. "He doesn't give in.
If he misses, he moves the ball inches in, not over the heart of
Catcher Javy Lopez earned Glavine the 4-3 win when he broke a
2-2 tie in the sixth with a two-run home run off another gassed
Cleveland pitcher, 40-year-old Dennis Martinez. It marked the
15th time in 27 postseason games this year that the outcome was
decided by one run or in a team's last at bat.
Baseball in October looks familiar. It is the best all the
king's horses and all the king's men can do. "Ten days,"
Hershiser said of the World Series, if it lasts that long, "to
forget about labor strife and enjoy the perfection of the game."
Said John Smoltz, Atlanta's scheduled starting pitcher for Game
3, "There is no lead, no out, no inning that's going to be safe
in this Series."
That is why, as Glavine said, "everyone is talking about the key
being their hitting against our pitching." And that is the
reason someone hung a banner from the upper deck in Game 2 that
put an updated spin on an ancient idea. It said: PITCHING RULES.