The Cleveland outfielder thought he owed something to Indians fans, but he had figured on reducing the debt next season. Barely an hour before Thursday's playoff game against the Baltimore Orioles, Grissom stood behind the batting cage and remarked on how remarkably he had been accepted during a disappointing first season at Jacobs Field.
"As bad as I've played this year, I haven't heard one negative comment," Grissom said. "I feel I owe them a good season next year."
Not any more. On a night when next year seemed to be closing in on Cleveland, Grissom atoned for a whole season of sins. He smashed a three-run eighth-inning homer to lift the Indians over the Orioles, 5-4, at Camden Yards. The American League Championship Series moves to Cleveland all even.
Marquis Grissom goes home forgiven.
For the second time in their last three post-season victories, the Indians found deliverance four outs from defeat. Grissom's homer might not have been as dramatic as Sandy Alomar's Sunday night shot against the Yankees - it did not stave off elimination - but it spared the Indians the frightening prospect of returning home to face a two-game deficit and Orioles ace Mike Mussina.
It might get bigger than this, but only incrementally.
Grissom is a seasoned major-league player, but his adjustment to the American League has been agonizing. Acquired in a dramatic trade with Atlanta on March 25, Grissom hit .234 in April and .198 in May. While David Justice made a seamless transition to Cleveland, and Kenny Lofton prospered in Atlanta, Grissom struggled.
"It's been a learning process," he admitted Thursday. "People don't know how much different the leagues are. I've got to go out and do my homework. I'm going to try to come back next year and redeem myself."
Another player might have invented an excuse, or assumed an air of insouciance, but Marquis Grissom was not inclined to let himself off the hook so easily. His athlete's ego is no more powerful than his sense of responsibility.
This is a refreshing trait in a multi-millionaire ballplayer, and accounts for Grissom's enduring popularity in Atlanta. After Lofton's error contributed to the Braves' loss in Game One of the National League Championship Series, an Atlanta columnist lamented Grissom's loss at length.
Lofton is clearly the more talented of the two players - a spectacular leadoff hitter, and an extraordinary outfielder - but his intangible qualities are not so obvious.
"Marquis loves to play the game," said Indians manager Mike Hargrove. "He plays through injuries. He was very sick last night with flu-like symptoms. I don't know a lot of people who would have played last night, but he did."
Gold Glove, better bat
Grissom has won four straight Gold Gloves in center field, but his offense is sometimes an afterthought. He hit .262 during the regular season, and was batting ninth Thursday.
Twice, Grissom led off innings with singles, only to be left stranded in scoring position. Baltimore starter Jimmy Key was in trouble throughout his four innings, but left with the score still tied, 2-2.
Mike Bordick, Baltimore's ninth-place hitter, broke the stalemate with a two-run single with two outs in the sixth inning. Grissom got his chance in the eighth because a full-count checked swing by Jim Thome was ruled a ball.
With two on and two out, Grissom went to a 1-1 count against Orioles reliever Armando Benitez. Then he lined a fastball into the Baltimore bullpen, just left of straightaway center.
"I remember in Cleveland he threw me a lot of sliders," Grissom said. "But the guy throws too hard for me to look for anything else (but a fastball). I really got good wood on the ball."
As Grissom rounded the bases, Benitez tossed his glove in the air in exasperation. Payback is hell.
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