Sunday, October 12, 1997
Indians whiff and win

The Cincinnati Enquirer

CLEVELAND - The batter missed his bunt, but the catcher missed the ball. The weirdest game of baseball's post-season ended on the squeeze play that wasn't.

The ball gets past Orioles catcher Lenny Webster after Omar Vizquel botched a bunt attempt. Webster said Vizquel fouled it, but umpire John Hirschbeck ruled otherwise, and Marquis Grissom scored the winning run.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
After suffering 21 strikeouts Saturday afternoon and evening, the death-defying Cleveland Indians finally succeeded through failure. They beat the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, and took a 2-1 lead in the American League Championship Series, when Marquis Grissom scored on a 12th-inning passed ball by Lenny Webster.

Omar Vizquel was supposed to bring Grissom home with a bunt, but he waved his bat at Randy Myers' 2-and-1 slider without result. What followed were 10 seconds of complete chaos, for almost all concerned.

"I was just getting ready to kill myself because I missed the ball," Vizquel said. "But when I saw Marquis crossing the plate, everything changed."

After four hours and 51 minutes of frenzy and frustration, Jacobs Field fell silent for a few moments. Only when the Orioles commenced arguing did it become clear that Grissom's run would count, that the game had been won, and that an Indians' October of incredible twists had topped itself yet again.

The Orioles protested that the ball had been fouled - and claimed to have heard and seen supporting evidence - but replays revealed no contact was made. If Vizquel executed anything correctly on this play, it may have been in briefly blocking Webster's view.

"I thought I heard it tick the bat," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said. "Maybe that's wishful hearing. I saw the ball change directions and I thought for sure it hit the bat. Webby didn't even go after it. He said, 'I catch it real easy if it's not a foul tip.' "

Plate umpire John Hirschbeck, whose previous conflicts with the Orioles include Roberto Alomar's celebrated spitting episode, was asked to consult with his colleagues to verify that he called the play correctly. Johnson said Hirschbeck declined that request, but Hirschbeck later said umpiring procedure would have led any umpire who saw a foul to say so without prompting.

"I'm catching, and in defense of John (Hirschbeck), it was pretty loud and probably impossible for him to hear it," Webster said. "But it definitely made contact and ricocheted. All I could do was get a bit of my glove on it."

Webster turned to see Hirschbeck gesturing with both arms, and said he interpreted it as indicative of a foul. He must have believed it, too, for he was in no rush to retrieve the ball as Grissom raced home with the winning run.

"Vizquel offered at the pitch," Hirschbeck explained. "I pointed with my left (hand) to say, 'Yes, you went,' and I went up with my right to signal strike. If it had been a foul, I would have had both arms up in the air. I would have been screaming 'foul,' loud, and waving emphatically. If I called foul, he would have heard me."

Grissom heard nothing amid all the noise, but he left nothing to chance. On a suicide squeeze, the runner at third base breaks for home plate as the pitcher releases the ball. Grissom loped across the plate with a blank expression, uncertain whether he had really scored or simply gone through the motions following a foul ball.

"I couldn't tell," he said. "My job is to get to home plate. I knew the ball hit the catcher's mitt, and I had to continue to try to touch home plate. I can always go back to third base if it's a foul ball."

Grissom, Cleveland's conquering hero in Game Two, had been a study in futility Saturday. He had struck out four times against Oriole starter Mike Mussina and his successors - Mussina's 15 strikeouts were two short of Bob Gibson's post-season record - and he had also lost sight of a routine fly that enabled the Orioles to tie the score in the ninth inning.

"I felt like the worst person in the world," Grissom said of his fielding lapse. "But I tried to bounce back because you always might have a chance to redeem yourself."

With these Indians, especially, it's never too late.