Saturday, October 25, 1997
Walks haunt Series


BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CLEVELAND - The simple answer is strikes. The World Series would look a lot better if the pitchers simply put the ball over the plate. Fewer walks mean fewer runs.

Fewer 2-and-0 counts mean fewer 2-and-0 fastballs to hitters prepared to pounce on them. The pitcher who is always behind in the count is almost never ahead in the game. We hold these truths to be self-evident, and are consequently starting to hold the Cleveland Indians and Florida Marlins in contempt.,

The World Series is supposed to be about excellence, but this year's is mainly about excess. The Indians and Marlins have drawn 56 walks in the first five games, and 19 of them have resulted in runs. This is more walks than Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar has had in the past three seasons combined, and more runs than were scored in the entire 1966 World Series.

''We have walked too many people all series,'' Alomar said after Thursday's Game Five. ''They have got too many good hitters to let people on. They don't go more than two or three at-bats without damage.'' In this respect, Florida has been no better. Livan Hernandez walked eight Thursday night, and was still in the game in the ninth inning. One win from a world championship, the Marlins have yet to retire the Indians in order two innings in a row.

''I think the weather has something to do with it,'' said Chicago White Sox scout Eddie Brinkman. ''Because I've seen them pitch awfully well in the summer.''

Some tired arms

Tired arms are another factor. Cleveland rookie Jaret Wright, who had never pitched more than 129 innings in one year in the minor leagues, has already worked 203 2/3 innings in his rise from Class AA to postseason star in 1997.

Cleveland's Orel Hershiser, an old warhorse soon to be put out to pasture, threw only 96 pitches Thursday night, but he threw at least the last 10 while pitching on fumes. If this series has a single turning point thus far, it came during this sequence, when Hershiser fell behind Moises Alou, two balls and one strike, and threw a tired slider that would come to rest beyond the wall in center field.

''Good major-league hitters, if you are behind them all the time in the count, they're going to lay on the pitcher's throat,'' said Indians manager Mike Hargrove. ''And it's going to hurt you . . .

''You look at the Florida ball club, they're a very patient ballclub, too. And patient hitters have a tendency to hit deep in the count and to hit ahead in the count.''

Some pitchers - Cleveland's Eric Plunk comes to mind - might be more effective if they just placed the ball on a batting tee and left hitters to their own devices. One of the eternal truths about baseball is that hitters will often get themselves out if given the opportunity.

You see it every day in batting practice. A pot-bellied coach will throw a succession of straight, 65 mile-per-hour fastballs and some of the best hitters in the game will hit half harmlessly. Plus, nobody walks.

''For me, a walk is like an extra out,'' said Marlins manager Jim Leyland. ''When you start giving good teams an extra out, you're going to get beat.''

Highest scoring Series

Never before have two World Series teams provided so many extra outs and so little authentic excitement. Through five games, this is the highest-scoring series in history (14.2 runs per game). Cleveland's earned-run average is a scandalous 6.14; the Marlins a miserable 6.75.

Acting Commissioner Bud Selig says umpires should call more high strikes to pick up the pace of the game. Randy Marsh, the NL umpire who worked the plate Thursday, prefers to cite American League pitching philosophy.

''I noticed it in the interleague games,'' Marsh said Friday. ''National League pitchers are more aggressive. They try to get ahead. In the American League, they try to strike you out without throwing a strike.''

In the World Series, they just walk you.

COMPLETE WORLD SERIES COVERAGE FROM ASSOCIATED PRESS
SULLIVAN ARCHIVE