Cleveland's chunky pitcher, the fourth man in the Indians' starting rotation and previously a zero at the plate, beat Florida's formidable Kevin Brown with both his arm and his bat Saturday night, forcing a decisive Game 7 and a reappraisal of the odds.
The Indians won Game 6 4-1, and their improbable chase of a World Championship gained another implausible chapter. Chad Ogea chose baseball's biggest stage for his first two major-league hits, and was instrumental in three Cleveland runs.
For those who have seen the hand of fate in this Indians' October, here were a set of fresh fingerprints.
The Marlins came home to Pro Player Stadium with a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven, their ace pitcher rested, champagne on ice and 67,498 throaty spectators anticipating a party.
But no matter what it might portend, baseball is ultimately unpredictable. Who could have figured Chad Ogea for a stealth slugger? Who would have imagined that Brown, who had thrown a no-hitter earlier this season, would be undone by a pitcher whose last hits were in high school?
''It was kind of a freak ballgame,'' said Marlins manager Jim Leyland. ''Cleveland played almost a perfect ballgame.''
Certainly the Indians played as well Saturday as either team has played in this subpar series. Cleveland center fielder Marquis Grissom made a remarkable over-the-shoulder basket catch in the second inning. David Justice made a sliding stab in the fourth. Omar Vizquel saved two runs in the sixth with a diving grab to his right, and a long throw to first that nipped Charles Johnson.
''The most important play of my life,'' Vizquel called it.
Omar Vizquel, who made a spectacular fielding play to save two runs, shares congratulatioins with Jim Thome after the game.
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But for sustained brilliance and baffling surprises, there was no one close to Chad Ogea. He beat Brown for the second time in the series, again allowing only one run, this time adding offense. With the bases loaded and one out in Cleveland's second inning, Ogea went to the plate carrying a .000 lifetime average. Under the circumstances, about all the Indians could hope for was that their pitcher would avoid hitting into a double play.
But with a compact swing and a stubborn persistence, Ogea stood in the batter's box determined to put the ball in play. He fouled off four of Brown's pitches, and then defied the percentages and the pressure by slapping a single into right field.
''I was just trying to go up there and make contact,'' Ogea said. ''It happened that the ball went through. It was fun . . . I know the hitters will laugh at me for saying this, but the last game I really saw the ball good out of (Brown's) hand.''
Cleveland scored its first two runs on Ogea's single, and added a third an inning later. Ogea helped fatten his lead when he came up again in the fifth. He opened the inning with a double between first baseman Jeff Conine and the right-field line, reaching second by a mighty act of will.
Bip Roberts singled softly to left field, moving Ogea to third base, and one out later Manny Ramirez brought him home with his second sacrifice fly of the game.
Too much running
Yet running the bases exhausted Ogea's energy reserves. After holding the Marlins to one hit through four innings, he yielded successive singles to start the fifth.
''I was definitely gassed,'' Ogea said. ''When you don't run the bases at all, it's definitely different.''
Ogea was fading fast, but he would finish the fifth, allowing the Marlins a single run. He returned to the mound to start the sixth, walked Gary Sheffield, and was finished.
''I thought we would have a better chance against him,'' Leyland said. ''But I was very impressed with him. He changed speeds very well, and when you see him swing the bat, he looks like he's had a bat in his hand before.''
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