Thursday, October 23, 1997
Classic? Not by a long shot

The Cincinnati Enquirer

CLEVELAND - The World Series is all even, and quite odd.

It is a long story in search of a point, a drama in need of dramatics. The Cleveland Indians beat the Florida Marlins Wednesday night, 10-3, and all the goosebumps through four games have been weather-related.

Game Four was not nearly as ugly as Game Three, but neither did it provide much in the way of comic relief. The Indians scored three runs in the first inning, three more in the third, and continued an offensive onslaught which left a dozing America to ponder this puzzle:

How did these Marlins ever beat the Braves?

The World Series does not always match the two best teams in baseball, but this one has dropped any pretense along those lines. The Indians, so inspired and so compelling during the American League playoffs, have been exposed as a big lineup with batting practice pitchers.

The Marlins?

The Marlins? A slightly lesser lineup and a bunch of batting tees.

Their play thus far in the wintry Fall Classic underscores the risk inherent in expanded playoffs: that the best teams will stumble in a short series. Florida is the first wild-card team to reach the World Series. Cleveland had the worst record of the four American League playoff clubs.

That doesn't mean the Marlins and Indians are undeserving - they won when they had to, and beat better teams - but they are not nearly as absorbing against each other as they were in challenging Atlanta and Baltimore.

Blame it on the weather, if you like. Blame it on the low-profile players. Blame it - a lot of it - on inferior pitching. But this series is going to have to step up, as the ballplayers like to say, if it is to become mildly intriguing.

More strikes would be a good start. Game Three featured 17 walks; Game Four included 11.

''I've never seen anything like this,'' said Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar. ''It's like our pitchers pitch like they don't want to get hit. We need to be more aggressive.

''A lot of guys are tired. A lot of guys haven't gone past October in the past. A lot of tired arms. It's very difficult to pitch at this time, particularly in this weather. The guys are doing the best they can.''

Pitchers hate cold

Probably, the pitchers' control problems are directly related to the weather conditions. Extreme cold - and the wind chill during Wednesday's game reached 15 degrees - makes gripping the baseball nearly as difficult as throwing it. The pitchers have insisted the weather is no excuse for their wildness, but this is their macho speaking, not their minds.

What is more disturbing, from a purist's perspective, is that when the pitchers do manage to get the ball over the plate, they are getting mauled. The Indians had 15 hits Wednesday night - this without the necessity of batting in the ninth inning - and raised their series average to .340. They have six home runs and nine doubles in four games, and have scored in the first inning of all of them.

Wednesday, the Marlins' unremarkable Tony Saunders was strafed for seven hits in two innings, and also contributed three walks. Manny Ramirez hit a two-run homer in Cleveland's first inning, and the game never got any closer. With two outs, Sandy Alomar doubled home a third run - Matt Williams eluding a tag at home plate - and a nation of channel surfers commenced searching for something more stimulating.

''To be honest with you, the key is normally your starting pitcher,'' Marlins manager Jim Leyland said. ''I think Tony - the changeup that Alomar hit confused him a little bit. I think it got him trying to be too perfect with his pitches all of a sudden . . . He felt like he had to make a perfect pitch every time to get the club out.''

How many perfect pitches Saunders made is a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact that his World Series earned-run average is 27.00.

''We couldn't stop the bleeding,'' Leyland said.