Why Very Few People Leave The Jake Early
CLEVELAND (AP) _ So this is why very few people leave the Jake early.
When the night began, the Cleveland Indians barely had enough of a future to throw to the cat. But to most people outside of this town, even that began to seem like a generous amount by the time 39-year-old Eddie Murray dragged his tired bones to home plate in the bottom of the 11th inning.
He was hitting .167 coming into the game. He was already 0-for-5 on the night. And he had struck out three times.
But the connoisseurs of all those late-night shows at Jacobs Field knew exactly what that meant: At long last, the Indians had the Atlanta Braves just where they wanted them.
``I’m not sure why,″ Kenny Lofton, Cleveland’s sure-firing sparkplug said afterward, ``but we knew once we came home, we’d have everything on our side.″
Sure enough. Four hours and nine minutes after things got underway at the Jake, Murray ended them by spanking the first offering from the Braves’ sixth pitcher, Alejandro Pena, into center field. That enabled Alvaro Espinoza, pinch-running for Carlos Baerga, to rush home with the last run in a 7-6 decision. Whatever else it meant, it meant the Indians had now won 29 baseball games in their last at-bat, 19 of them at home.
Casual baseball fans see a number like that and wonder why we don’t hear from the Indians until they’re tied to the track and there’s a train whistle sounding in the distance. But by this point in a magical season, Cleveland fans wonder whether there’s any other way to win a game.
The short answer: Yes.
Even Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove, who has been at the switch for all 19 of those nerve-fraying, skin-flaying, everybody-in-the-dugout-is-praying wins, conceded as much.
The Indians came back home trailing 2-0 in games but built a quick 4-1 lead and cruised into the sixth on starter Charles Nagy’s arm with hardly a bump in sight. Hargrove would have been happy to call it an evening anywhere along that stretch and get home in time to catch the highlights on the late news.
But he apparently forgot he was at the Jake. And that the Indians never, ever do anything nice and easy at the Jake when they can do it the hard way.
``It was a big win for us, emotionally, physically, the whole gamut,″ Hargrove said.
But a moment later, after someone asked whether it was an even bigger win because of the way the Indians won it, Hargrove wasn’t sure how to answer. They won so many others the same way the wins no doubt have started to run together.
``I don’t know if it makes it any bigger the way that we won it,″ Hargrove said finally. ``It indicates the amount of effort that this club has put into this series up to this point.″
The amount of effort, perhaps, but not the amount of suspense the Indians might well inject back into this little postseason tournament. Suddenly, everybody remembers the reason this was supposed to be a classic series: Cleveland bats against Atlanta arms. The Indians needed almost every last bit of 11 innings to get their 12 hits. Still, it was four more than they collected in the two previous losses.
``We were a little bit timid,″ catcher Sandy Alomar said. ``We had a little bit of a pep talk in the clubhouse. I think Kenny Lofton initiated it, just talked about how we needed to go out there, relax and let our talent take over.
``It’s great to be back home,″ he added a moment later. ``This is a great stadium to play in.″
Especially, if you like late nights.
Or, as in Hargrove’s situation, you have no other choice.
``It doesn’t change at all,″ he said, describing the approach he will take in his pre-Game 4 talk.
``We talked about it this afternoon, that to get back in this thing, we had to take it one game at a time. Tonight, we concentrated on Game 3,″ he said, ``and now we’ll concentrate on Game 4.″
What that means is that he’ll ask his starter, Ken Hill, to throw a no-hitter, and everybody else in the lineup to hit early and often, so the Indians can roll to a football-sized score and everybody’s nerves can take a rest. And what he’ll expect to really happen is what almost always happens at the Jake: a win in the last at-bat.
Which is why no one ever leaves the Jake early.