BALTIMORE - Tony Fernandez was supposed to be on the bench. He was a late addition to the Cleveland lineup, a last-minute replacement for Bip Roberts. He was a hero by happenstance.
In this inconceivable Indians' October, this is the way things work. Fernandez hits a ball in batting practice that somehow finds Roberts' thumb.The swelling forces a substitution at second base. Fernandez prays that he can cope with right-handed pitching after a season as a platoon player.
Then he hits the home run that wins the pennant.
"About midway through batting practice, Bip was taking ground balls at second base and took a line drive below his thumb on his left hand," Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove said. "He couldn't grip the bat, and we put Fernandez in. I think it's an absolutely fantastic story."
Where these Indians are concerned, we have come to expect nothing less. Wednesday's 1-0, 11-inning triumph over the Baltimore Orioles was the Indians' sixth one-run victory of the postseason, and the fifth time they had prevailed in their last turn at bat.
Look out, Florida
The Florida Marlins are forewarned that fate may be playing favorites this fall. The Indians reach the World Series riding a wave of wonder.
"This is not shocking," said Baltimore pitcher Mike Mussina. "But that was a strange series. Strange things happened."
Strange days indeed. The Indians won one game on a suicide squeeze they missed, another by getting two runs on a wild pitch, and Wednesday's clincher on a home run by a guy who was supposed to spend the day as a spectator.
"I told Bip that he's got to know to get out of the way," Fernandez joked. "Some people underestimate my power."
For 10 innings, the only power on display at Camden Yards Wednesday afternoon belonged to the pitchers. Mussina and Cleveland's Charles Nagy, and their bullpen successors, dominated the scene with simultaneous shutouts.
Never in the field of baseball conflict has one man done so much as did Mussina, and had so little to show for it. The Orioles' ace struck out 25 Indians in 15 innings during the best-of-seven series. He allowed four hits and one run in two spectacular starts, and earned two no-decisions.
Mussina struck out 10 Indians in eight innings Wednesday, and allowed only one hit - a fifth inning double by David Justice. Nagy, meanwhile, weaved in and out of danger like a man negotiating a mine field.
Baltimore put its leadoff hitter on base in each of the first four innings, and moved runners into scoring position in seven of the eight innings Nagy started. The only time Nagy retired the side in order, B.J. Surhoff and Chris Hoiles hit balls to the warning track against a stiff breeze.
"We were knocking on the door," said Orioles outfielder Eric Davis, "but no one let us in."
Finally, after 10 innings of exhausting impasse, Tony Fernandez came to the plate with two out and no one on and took two quick balls from Baltimore reliever Armando Benitez. He decided to look for something he could drive.
"I was ahead in the count and he threw me a pitch outside," Fernandez recalled. "He (Benitez) complained a little bit, and I motioned to him that it was a strike. We kind of laughed. I thought he was going to throw me a fastball, but he didn't. He threw me something off-speed."
Finding the ball
Rod Carew, the most disciplined hitter of his generation, taught Fernandez not to look for a particular pitch in a situation, simply to seek out the ball. Fernandez found it, connected, and watched it sail over the wall in right field.
He clapped his hands twice as he left the batter's box, convinced that he had hit it hard enough to clear the fence.
"I asked God to help me," he said later. "I haven't played against that many righties. I didn't feel good. I had no rhythm.
"But when you've played the game a long time, you know anything can happen."
If there are any surprises left in this baseball season, these Indians are sure to find them.
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