After collecting 40 home runs and 102 RBIs during the regular season, Indians first baseman Jim Thome was a non-factor in the Division Series.
Until Monday night.
Thome surprised the New York Yankees with a key sacrifice bunt and made one of the game's biggest defensive plays to help preserve Cleveland's series-clinching, 4-3 victory.
Derek Jeter led off the New York seventh with an infield single and Paul Assenmacher relieved Mike Jackson to face New York left-hander Paul O'Neill.
Enter Thome. O'Neill smacked a hard grounder that was headed to right field, until Thome made a headlong dive to corral the ball and threw to second to force Jeter. Bernie Williams followed by hitting into a double play and the Indians were out of the threat.
"I actually threw from my knees and that was a gamble," Thome said. "I wanted the lead runner. We had to have it. That makes it first and third and nobody out in the seventh if it gets through."
Thome was just 3 for 15 with one RBI in the series, with his biggest at-bat coming in the fourth inning after Sandy Alomar led off with a double.
Third-base coach Jeff Newman came down the line to talk to Thome before he stepped in against Andy Pettitte.
"He said, 'I'm not telling you to bunt, but make sure you get the guy over,' " Thome said. "Pettitte threw the first ball away from me, I figured he wouldn't give me anything to pull so I took a gamble and went for the bunt."
It worked perfectly, with Thome's first bunt since July 3, 1994, sending Alomar to third. He scored on Tony Fernandez's sacrifice fly to push Cleveland's lead to 4-0.
"We just wanted to get him to third base with less than two outs," Thome said. "Looking back now, it was a big play in the game.
"I didn't swing the bat real well in this series and other guys stepped up. If you're not doing it offensively, you have to try to do something with the glove."
Here's a rundown of some individual hitting numbers in the series.
Hot: Yankees Derek Jeter (7 for 21), Paul O'Neill (8 for 19, two homers, seven RBIs); Indians Omar Vizquel (9 for 18) and Sandy Alomar (6 for 19, two homers, five RBIs).
Cold: Yankees Bernie Williams (2 for 17), Cecil Fielder (1 for 8) and Joe Girardi (2 for 15); Indians Manny Ramirez (3 for 21) and Matt Williams (4 for 17).
Bernie Williams' cold bat was the Yankees' biggest disappointment. He hit .328 with 21 homers and 100 RBIs in the regular season. He hit .467 in the Division Series last year, and belted a game-winning home run in Game One of the LCS against Baltimore.
Vizquel made the most daring baserunning move of the series, stealing second with two out in the third before Pettitte even threw the ball home. Unnerved by the move, Pettitte yielded Ramirez's two-run double on the next pitch.
"That was one of those times when he (Vizquel) was trying to be creative and scared the hell out of me," said Indians manager Mike Hargrove. "He went on his own. I wanted him to stay there with Manny at the plate. Goodness knows Manny was due."
None of Cleveland's coaches has been rehired for next year, and speculation here remains rampant some may not be back unless the Tribe makes the World Series. Pitching coach Mark Wiley is rumored to be on a particularly hot seat, with Bisons counterpart Gary Ruby high on the list of possible replacements. . . . The series attracted more than 500 members of the media.