After nearly five hours of mind-numbing baseball, one question was left unanswered Saturday at Jacobs Field.
Did Cleveland's Omar Vizquel foul off a squeeze attempt in the bottom of the 12th inning with Marquis Grissom barreling home from third base?
The Baltimore Orioles insisted he did. Vizquel, naturally, says he didn't. The key opinion came from home plate umpire John Hirschbeck, who claimed Vizquel offered at and missed the Randy Myers pitch.
Hirschbeck's opinion counted most. With no contact made by Vizquel, the pitch rolled away for a passed ball on catcher Lenny Webster. That allowed Grissom to score and give the Indians an utterly bizarre 2-1 victory in Game Three of the American League Championship Series.
The Indians lead the series, two games to one, and send Division Series hero Jaret Wright to the mound tonight (7:30, Ch. 29) against Baltimore's Scott Erickson.
Grissom drew a one-out walk in the 12th off Myers and scooted to third on Tony Fernandez's single. Vizquel took the first two pitches for balls before fouling off the next one.
What happened next will be forever branded in the Orioles' minds if the Indians go on to win this series.
Grissom took off from third and Myers threw a slider in on Vizquel's hands. Vizquel bunted through the ball and chaos reigned when it squirted away from Webster, only a couple of feet from the plate.
"I saw Marquis go across the plate and all of a sudden we started jumping and we won the game," Vizquel said. "If you feel the tip, you should know it. I just bunted through it. I was getting ready to kill myself because I had bunted through it because I missed the ball and there was going to be an out at the plate."
Webster didn't hurry to retrieve the ball. Grissom came across the plate, but hardly did so in any sort of celebratory manner. The reaction of the crowd of 45,047 was a delayed one, too; no one in the park seemed to realize the Indians had just scored the winning run.
Not until Hirschbeck signaled Grissom safe did bedlam break out. The crowd went wild -- and so did the Orioles.
Manager Davey Johnson, Webster and Myers all chased Hirschbeck to the backstop area where the umpires exit.
Replays were inconclusive, but Webster's view was that Myers' pitch ricocheted, ostensibly from contact with Vizquel's bat.
"I saw contact. I heard contact," Webster said. "When he (Hirschbeck) gestured (to signal the strike), I thought he meant foul ball. I didn't run and get the ball for that reason."
" 'Webby' didn't go after it because he thought it was a foul ball," Johnson said.
Grissom pleaded ignorance.
"I couldn't tell. My job is to get to home plate," he said. "I knew the ball hit the catcher's mitt."
Hirschbeck is not blameless. He gave a confusing set of hand signals that he explained was a left-hand point to show Vizquel offered at the pitch and a raised right hand to indicate a strike.
"I did not hear anything," Hirschbeck insisted.
Of course, Hirschbeck and the Orioles have a sordid history. He was the umpire involved in the infamous spitting incident with Roberto Alomar last season. Now this.
"I was about ready to go crazy at him because he made a call and took off (to leave the field)," Johnson said. "At least he came back."
The squeeze was a daring way for the Indians to pry home the winning run. Cleveland left two runners on in the ninth -- plus had Manny Ramirez picked off in that inning. The Tribe didn't score in the 11th after getting runners at the corners with nobody out. Cal Ripken's diving stab at third on Kevin Seitzer's ground ball was the key play in that inning.
"I was thinking squeeze from the first pitch on," Tribe manager Mike Hargrove said of Vizquel's at-bat. "We tried to be careful to see if there was a pitchout early in the count. By 2-1, there hadn't been so I took a chance."
The game lasted an LCS-record 4 hours and 51 minutes, with the bizarre finish overshadowing masterful performances from the starting pitchers.
Baltimore's Mike Mussina set an LCS record with 15 strikeouts in seven innings, a figure topped in postseason only by Bob Gibson's 17 strikeouts for St. Louis against Detroit in Game One of the 1968 World Series. Cleveland's Orel Hershiser pitched seven shutout innings and left with a 1-0 lead, thanks to Matt Williams' RBI single off Mussina in the bottom of the seventh.
Baltimore tied it in the ninth off Jose Mesa as Brady Anderson got a gift RBI double to knock in Jeff Reboulet when Grissom lost the ball in the early-evening dusk on what was a routine fly to center. It landed at least 20 feet behind him on the grass, not even reaching the warning track.
"It was a sad, sad feeling. I felt like the worst person in the world," Grissom said. "I felt bad for Orel, bad for myself. I let my whole team down. I had to really accept the fact that I lost the ball, drill it in my head a thousand times that it wasn't my fault."
Baltimore had the first great chance in extra innings, before Alvin Morman got Rafael Palmeiro to strike out for the fourth time in the game and leave the bases loaded in the 11th.
Eric Plunk left a runner on second in the Baltimore 12th. Then it was the Tribe's turn. A walk, a hit and a missed bunt later, everyone in the park was confused.