The Indians' master plan has worked so far. They got a split in Baltimore and have turned home-field advantage in their favor. Tied at a win apiece, the American League Championship Series is now essentially a best-of-five affair with the next three games at Jacobs Field.
But that picture could quickly change when the Tribe and Orioles meet today at 4:15 (Ch. 29; Radio 710, joined in progress by 1520). Obscured by their stunning 5-4 win Thursday night at Camden Yards is the fact the Indians' big guns have been struggling mightily at the plate. Seeing Baltimore ace Mike Mussina on the mound today doesn't figure to help matters.
Marquis Grissom, whose three-run, eighth-inning homer won Game Two, and David Justice have combined to go 6 for 12 in the first two games of this series. The rest of the Tribe is a paltry 4 for 49.
Combine the numbers from the five-game Division Series victory over the New York Yankees and they get even more gruesome.
The Tribe's team batting average is .164 in this series and .232 in the postseason. Grissom and Justice are hitting .313 in the seven playoff games while their teammates are at just .211.
The Cleveland culprits are numerous. Jim Thome is 3 for 18 and homerless after a regular season during which he blasted 40. Matt Williams and Sandy Alomar are both 6 for 25. Manny Ramirez is just 4 for 28.
"I feel fine. I've been aggressive," said Thome, who has not homered since Sept. 14. "But it just hasn't worked as you'd hope so far. Omar (shortstop Omar Vizquel) picked us up in the first series (by hitting .500) and Marquis got a big hit here. Now we want to get that pop back in the middle (of the lineup)."
"It's a very big turnaround for us," Williams said of the Grissom homer. "Those two guys (Grissom and Justice) have done it before in Atlanta and they're showing again why they're so good. We need to get more of it. We've stalled in the middle innings with the bats and it's going to take everybody in the postseason to get the job done."
There is some concern in the Cleveland camp about Justice, who missed Friday's workout because of a rotator cuff bruise in his shoulder suffered diving back into second base Thursday night. Justice had an MRI Friday that showed no tear, and his status is day-to-day.
The Orioles, meanwhile, have decisions to make on outfielders Brady Anderson and Eric Davis. Anderson has a muscle bruise near his groin, while Davis underwent another chemotherapy treatment Friday in his battle with colon cancer. Manager Davey Johnson said he was virtually certain Anderson would play, but didn't know about Davis because he wasn't scheduled to arrive in Cleveland until late Friday.
Even if he is missing some offense, Johnson hopes he won't need much with Mussina on the mound. Mussina won both matchups with Seattle's Randy Johnson in the Division Series, posting a 1.93 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 14 innings.
"I played behind guys like (Jim) Palmer, (Dave) McNally, (Mike) Cuellar and (Pat Dobson) and Mike has as good stuff as any of them," said Johnson, a second baseman on Baltimore's pitching-rich clubs of the early 70s. "His curveball is better, his change is as good as a Cuellar screwball. His fastball is in the 90s and he locates it like Palmer. He has everything all the great pitchers have."
Mussina was 2-0 against Cleveland this year with a 1.69 ERA and 19 strikeouts. He threw a one-hit shutout May 30 in Baltimore, coming within two outs of a perfect game before Alomar singled.
Cleveland will counter with Orel Hershiser, whose 39-year-old arm produced a pair of no-decisions in the Division Series.
Grissom's home run was so improbable (hit by a No. 9 hitter who has been battling the flu) that Hershiser was asked Friday to compare its impact on the Indians to the turn in fortunes his Dodgers felt when Kirk Gibson torched Oakland's Dennis Eckersley to win Game One of the 1988 World Series.
"Any home run that turns the game in a short series is a memorable moment," Hershiser said. "Oakland had just swept Boston that year and we weren't supposed to be on the same field with them, so Gibson's home run was big. If (Thursday's) game was a shocker to the nation and to the people on the field and people watching, then Grissom's homer could be equated.
"It's not a World Series yet . . . but it was one of the more 'gamer' days I've seen from a guy. He was just trying to survive the game (due to the flu) and he ends up being a hero."
Because of that Marquis moment, the Indians did not return home in an 0-2 hole and in danger of a quick elimination.
"The whole aura of this series would be negative if it had been 0-2," Hershiser said. "It would have been us against the world, just those 25 guys in that room. We still have a big hill to climb . . . but I think we like our position now much better."