BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MIAMI - A World Series of serious flaws ended with an unqualified classic.
Marlins manager Jim Leyland salutes the Florida fans with a victory lap around the stadium.
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In the first minutes of this morning, in the bottom of the 11th inning, with the bases loaded and two out, a slender shortstop named Edgar Renteria slapped a single to center field that made world champions of the Florida Marlins.
It was an unearned run, but a hard-earned 3-2 victory, and a seventh game worthy of World Series traditions for tension, drama and, especially,heartbreak.
Two outs away from their first World Series title since 1948, the Cleveland Indians failed to finish the job in the bottom of the ninth. Jose Mesa squandered the save opportunity, allowing singles to Bobby Bonilla and Charles Johnson and a game-tying sacrifice fly by Craig Counsell. Counsell would later score the winning run in the 11th, after reaching base on an error by Tony Fernandez.
Indians fans will agonize about this game the way Boston has brooded over 1986 and Bill Buckner. It was one of those excruciating endings only possible in baseball, where time stands still to let men suffer.
For six innings, Cleveland pitching prodigy Jaret Wright dominated the Marlins, holding them to one hit and little hope.
Series MVP Livan Hernandez, left, and Gary Sheffield hoist Game 7 hero Edgar Renteria.
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The Indians scored both of their runs in the third inning. Jim Thome led off with a walk from Florida starter Al Leiter, who then gave up a full-count single to Marquis Grissom.
With two runners on and nobody out, Wright's assignment was to advance the runners with a sacrifice bunt. He finally succeeded in tapping the ball into the field of play with two strikes, though his bunt pushed the ball perilously close to first baseman Darren Daulton.
Daulton's first thought was to try for a force play at third base, to eliminate the lead runner, and he had sufficient time to make that play. Yet when Daulton failed to grab the ball cleanly from his glove, he was forced to reconsider and settled for the out at first base.
Ballgames sometimes turn on these little bobbles. They are not errors, but neither are they effective execution. When Fernandez subsequently knocked a soft, two-out single into center field, it was worth two runs.
The score remained 2-0 until the bottom of the seventh inning, when Bonilla hit Wright's 98th pitch into the right-field stands. The Indians' rookie, pitching on three days' rest, faced two more batters before turning the game over to his bullpen. All that separated him from icon status was eight more outs.
Moises Alou gets a champagne shampoo. Alou, who had two three-run homers in the Series, singled and scored the tying run in the ninth inning.
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Relievers Paul Assenmacher, Mike Jackson and Brian Anderson protected Wright's 2-1 lead through the eighth inning, and Mesa came in to close. He had been hit hard in the post-season, but had managed to finish all four of his previous outings.
Moises Alou led off the Florida ninth with a single to center field and moved to third base on a one-out single by Charles Johnson. Counsell then hit a fly ball to right field, deep enough for Alou to tag up and score the tying run.
Charles Nagy, who had been originally scheduled to start the game, came in in relief in the 10th. An inning later, he was the loser. Bonilla led off the 11th with a single to center field. Gregg Zaun, assigned to bunt the sore-legged Bonilla into scoring position, popped up instead to Nagy. Then Counsell hit a slow grounder to the left of Fernandez.
Fernandez - as sure a glove as there is in the game - had the ball glance off his glove and into right field. He may have been temporarily screened by Bonilla, who held up in the basepath to let the ball go by, but his failure to block the ball enabled Bonilla to advance to third base.
Indians SS Omar Vizquel ponders what might have been.
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''I was prepared for anything,'' Fernandez said, ''but I didn't think it would end that way.''
Nagy walked Jim Eisenreich intentionally to fill the bases, and the strategy succeeded initially when Devon White grounded to Fernandez, who threw home to force Bonilla at the plate for the second out.
But Renteria, whose first-inning double was Florida's only hit through six innings, slapped a single over Nagy's head and between the diving Fernandez and Omar Vizquel, and the series was over. ''You felt the momentum shift after the ninth inning,'' Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove said. ''We battled to keep it from happening, but it happened anyway.''
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