Driving west on Interstate 90 in the last dark hour of Saturday,
having been on the losing side of the longest and possibly
strangest postseason game in baseball history, Roberto Alomar is
overcome by the possibility that this wretched day has time for
one final insult. The silver Audi, the one his brother Sandy
lent him to use while he was in Cleveland for the American
League Championship Series, is running out of gas.
"Is there a gas station there?" Roberto asks while veering into
an exit lane. Spotting no glowing beacon of petrol in the
darkness, he quickly swerves left, back onto the highway, and
presses on nervously. Relief is a mile or so away. Roberto exits
the highway, rolls to a halt at a red light and then steers the
Audi past the wrong side of a phalanx of orange-striped
construction barrels, bounces it noisily over the pocked
roadway, cuts across a side street and at last slides it to a
stop next to a self-service pump.
He fills the car with $25 worth of gas and then signs an
autograph on a blank charge slip for another patron who can't
believe he has found the second baseman for the Baltimore
Orioles, an eight-time All-Star, pumping gas near midnight. The
Audi sated, Roberto climbs back in and only now can laugh at one
of the universal truths of brotherhood and birth order. Between
them the Alomars will earn more than $8.8 million this year:
$6.2 million for Roberto and $2.6 million for Sandy. But for the
favor of lending his car, Sandy, the 31-year-old Cleveland
Indians catcher, has exercised a timeless fraternal tradition:
sticking the kid brother with an empty tank of gas. "Just like a
big brother, huh?" says Roberto, 29. "He's always getting me
like that. Whenever we talk on the phone, I'm the one who has to
call, because, he says, I make more money than he does."
Welcome to the ALomar Championship Series, where the battle for
the pennant has the look of a family picnic, particularly after
Roberto drives to Sandy's Westlake, Ohio, house to chew on a
bizarre Game 3 and some pizza with their mom, Maria, their dad,
Sandy, a former 15-year big league infielder, as well as Sandy
Jr.'s wife, Christie, and their two children. The sons and their
father watch highlights of the game on a big-screen television,
providing commentary in a loud mixture of Spanish and English.
The room goes silent when Sandy raps a seventh-inning grounder
that apparently will put his Indians ahead 2-0. But Roberto
dives headlong at the ball to his left, gloves it and throws out
his brother at first base. The Alomars never speak to each other
during a game. Even here, in Sandy's family room, the sibling
rivalry remains an unspoken one.
October 19, 1997
Conversation resumes with more highlights, especially the last
one, in which Marquis Grissom steals home to score the winning
run for Cleveland on a botched squeeze play four hours, 51
minutes after the epic began. In the history of the Cleveland
franchise--exactly 15,000 games through Monday--no pitcher
struck out more Indians in a game than the Orioles' Mike Mussina
(15, all within the first 21 batters he faced) did last Saturday
and no staff whiffed more hitters (21) than did Baltimore's. The
Orioles had tied the game at 1-1 in the ninth when Brady
Anderson lifted a fly to center and Grissom lost the ball in a
dark-blue sky tinged with amber streaks, allowing Jeff Reboulet
to score the tying run from second. So the ending in the 12th
inning, which put the Indians ahead two games to one, was
jarring, as if a felt-pen mustache had been scribbled upon this
oil painting of a game. Cleveland's Omar Vizquel, the batter,
missed a squeeze bunt, and Baltimore's Lenny Webster, the
catcher, missed the pitch. John Hirschbeck, the umpire, the same
one Roberto spat upon a year ago, ruled that Webster's misplay
hadn't been caused by a foul tip.
"I don't know," Roberto says after watching several replays,
"but the other umpires should have stayed on the field to help,
just to make sure the call was right."
"He didn't tip it," Sandy says. "Watch Webster. He flinches when
the ball comes. If a ball is barely tipped, it hardly changes
direction. You catch it. He flinched."
"I think he tipped it," the father says. "Watch Webster. He
doesn't go after the ball. He doesn't try to tag the runner. He
must have known it was a foul ball."
Roberto begins to wrestle with his seven-year-old nephew,
Marcus, and playfully nibbles on his ear. Sandy cuddles with his
daughter, Marissa, who was born in 1992 on the day after
Roberto's Toronto Blue Jays clinched the first of two world
championships. Sandy the patriarch, who reached the 1976 World
Series with the New York Yankees but didn't play in the sweep by
the Cincinnati Reds, is quiet. It's left to Christie to needle
Roberto with the words everyone must be thinking but dares not
say lest he be accused of taking sides: "The Indians are going
to win," she says. "You've had yours. Now it's Sandy's turn."
Three other sets of brothers have opposed one another in the
World Series (box), but only once before, when Dane and Garth
Iorg met in the 1985 American League Championship Series, had a
sibling rivalry come to this cold postseason reality: One goes
to the World Series, and one goes home. The Alomar brothers are
to October what the Kennedys are to November. Not since 1990 has
an American League Championship Series been played without one
On the Periodic Table of Family Elements, Roberto is Hg for
mercury--fast, excitingly fluid and able to provide a bunt, a
home run or a stolen base when necessary. Sandy is Fe for
iron--a solid team leader and family man who draws less notice
and, largely because of injuries that have interrupted his
career, fewer decorations. On the center of Sandy's family-room
mantel, for instance, gleams his only Gold Glove Award, from
1990. Roberto has won six of them.
This season, for once, iron proved more precious than mercury.
Sandy hit .324 in a career-high 451 at bats, while Roberto
endured ankle, groin and shoulder injuries, though he still
averaged .333. For the first time in the eight years in which
both have been in the big leagues, Sandy led the family in hits.
Like a hyperactive graffiti artist, he tagged his signature all
over this season: a 30-game hitting streak, the longest ever by
an American League catcher; a game-breaking home run that made
him the first MVP of the All-Star Game to win the award in his
home park; the hit that clinched Cleveland's third straight
Central Division title; and a pivotal home run against the
Yankees in Game 4 of the Division Series, when the Indians were
four outs from elimination.
Yet the American League Championship Series began as last season
ended for Sandy: with his brother sticking a dagger of a home
run through it. Roberto's two-run blast helped send a dominant
Scott Erickson and the Orioles to a 3-0 victory in Game 1. Last
year Roberto eliminated Cleveland with a 12th-inning home run in
Game 4 of the Division Series, just eight days after earning the
wrath of the nation for using Hirschbeck as a spittoon. Sandy
walked into the Baltimore clubhouse after that playoff game and
threw his arms around his brother. Roberto wept. "I went over
there because I knew how much he was going through, with
everyone yelling at him and booing him," Sandy says. "He just
When Roberto took his position for Game 1 of this year's
Championship Series, the second base umpire was Hirschbeck. "Hi,
John," Roberto said. "How's your family?"
In Game 2, Cleveland jumped to a 2-0 first-inning lead, an
advantage that would have been larger had Roberto, lunging to
his left, not robbed Sandy of a hit with two runners aboard.
Baltimore rallied to go ahead 4-2 and was four outs from leading
the series two games to none when righty reliever Armando
Benitez blew a lead as surely and as unsightly as Grissom blew
his lunch four innings earlier. Grissom had been so sick an hour
before Game 1 that as he sprawled on a trainer's table with an
IV hooked to his arm, Indians manager Mike Hargrove had barked,
"I'm giving you 15 minutes. You had better look better, or else
I'm scratching you." Grissom, no better 15 minutes later, talked
himself into the lineup. He felt only slightly improved the next
night, rushing into the bathroom after the fourth inning to
vomit. But in the eighth, after two walks by Benitez, he crushed
a lazy slider for a home run that sent the Tribe to a 5-4 win.
The series moved to Cleveland last Saturday, as did the elder
Sandy, a roving instructor for the Chicago Cubs who arrived from
Arizona, where he had been tutoring minor leaguers. Before and
after Game 3 he moved quietly between dugouts and clubhouses
with a credential inscribed, INDIANS/ORIOLES. "I just sit and
watch the games without rooting," he says. "If I root for one,
that means I would be rooting against the other."
Sandy Jr. was 0 for 5 in Game 3, extending his hitless streak in
the series to 12 at bats. He had squatted in front of all 166
Cleveland pitches, so when Roberto came back to the house the
next afternoon to play ball with Marcus, Sandy rested on a
leather couch. Later, upon arriving at Jacobs Field, Sandy
watched video and noticed he needed to shorten his swing. He
also ditched his 35-inch, 32 1/2-ounce bat for a model one inch
shorter and half an ounce lighter. "It just felt better," he said.
His signature season continued in Game 4 when he smoked a
two-run homer his first time up against Erickson. In the fifth
Sandy scored from second base on a wild pitch that bounced no
more than 15 feet from the plate. Webster, looking more like the
sorry sitcom character of the same name, made a poor flip to
pitcher Arthur Rhodes, who was covering home plate as David
Justice scored from third. Then as Sandy dashed home, Webster
stood around in such a daze you expected to see cartoon sparrows
and stars circling above his helmeted head. When Webster batted
the next inning, the appreciative Cleveland fans saluted him
with a standing ovation, whereupon he bent down to the crouching
Sandy and cracked, "You guys should trade for me. They love me
Baltimore, though, rallied for a 7-7 tie until the game came
back to Sandy as naturally as a tide to the shore: runners at
first and second with two outs in the ninth against Benitez.
"The whole year," says Roberto, who had been held to a
meaningless single in 12 at bats after his home run, "it seems
like everything comes around to him. Every time you look up,
he's in the right spot at the right time."
Sandy blasted a Benitez fastball on a line to the warning track
in leftfield, a single to give the Indians their third straight
one-run victory in which the winning rally began with a walk in
the eighth inning or later. "I don't know if it's my turn,"
Sandy said after his game-winner, "but I think it's the Indians'
He would have to return to Baltimore to find out, because in
Game 5 on Monday night the Orioles staved off elimination with a
4-2 victory, sealing the win on a brilliant defensive play by
Roberto. But Cleveland still held the upper hand in the
Championship Series, three games to two.
Sometimes the coming of the Tribe seemed as palpable as the
smell of a rainstorm before the first drop has fallen. Roberto
did not want to believe his Orioles would lose, not even after
the lunacy of Game 3. Early Sunday morning, as he points his
brother's car back toward his downtown hotel, Interstate 90 is
quiet. On the left side of the highway Jacobs Field glows
underneath its tubular light towers. The red digits on the
dashboard clock click to 1:00. "I want to get to the World
Series more than anything, no matter how many times I've been
there," he says. "But if I can't go, then it's great to know
that Sandy will go."
Then suddenly, like candles blown out on a birthday cake, the
ballpark lights go dark.
Besides Roberto (far left) and Sandy (left) Alomar, who faced
off in the American League Championship Series this year, four
other sets of brothers have met in postseason play. Here is how
Year Player, Team G AB H HR RBI Avg.
1920 Doc Johnston, 5 11 3 0 0 .273
Jimmy Johnston, 4 14 3 0 0 .214
1921 Bob Meusel, 8 30 6 0 3 .200
Irish Meusel, 8 29 10 1 7 .345
1922 Bob Meusel, 5 20 6 0 2 .300
Irish Meusel, 5 20 5 1 7 .250
1923 Bob Meusel, 6 26 7 0 8 .269
Irish Meusel, 6 25 7 1 2 .280
1964 Clete Boyer, 7 24 5 1 3 .208
Ken Boyer, 7 27 6 2 6 .222
1985* Dane Iorg, 4 2 1 0 0 .500
Garth Iorg, 7 15 2 0 0 .133
*American League Championship Series; all other matchups
occurred in World Series.