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IT WOULDN'T BE FALL CLASSIC WITHOUT A RISING STAR

MIAMI -- At moments like these, you wonder why anyone bothers to predict the outcome, why they don't just sit back and marvel at the sheer unpredictability of autumn baseball.

That's always been the beauty of the World Series, after all -- the way it has of defying logic and numbers, of turning marginal players into heroes and superstars into goats.

For starters, few people expected Florida and Cleveland to get here. For opening-night starters, no one expected the Indians' Orel Hershiser, the best clutch pitcher of his generation, to get shelled in Game One.

And who could have imagined that the Marlins' Kevin Brown, who hadn't lost since July 27, would get similarly abused Sunday with a chance to put Florida ahead, 2-0, in the Series?

With Brown matched up against Chad Ogea, every expert in sight was preparing a cautionary tale about the dangers of getting overconfident -- the way Atlanta fans did when they won the first two against the Yankees a year ago.

Well, they badly underestimated the Indians, and in particular the 26-year-old Ogea, who came through with the performance of his career when his team needed it the most.

Ogea thoroughly outpitched Brown, giving up seven hits and just one run in 6 2/3 innings as the Indians cruised to a 6-1 victory and sent the Series back to Cleveland tied at one game apiece.

"I knew coming out of the bullpen that I was throwing the ball well," said Ogea, who got his first career postseason win. "After the national anthem, I was throwing in the bullpen and I told myself 'Relax, settle down. Don't try to throw the ball through the catcher, but to the catcher.' "

Ogea was in and out of trouble, but he made the tough pitches when he needed them. He had command of his fastball and changeup, and used his sinker to get out of some difficult jams.

The biggest came in the third inning. Florida had men at first and second with one out, but Ogea retired Bobby Bonilla and Jeff Conine on easy flies to the outfield.

"I don't remember exactly how I got out of that one," Ogea said. "I got out of a lot of jams tonight. Guys were all over the bases. Anytime when there's men at first and second like that, you have to make sure to take your time and be patient."

"He located his fastball in and out," said Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar, who resumed his magical '97 with a home run and a couple of big defensive plays. "He kept his changeup down.

"That's the key with Chad," Alomar explained. "When he gets his pitches up, he's in big trouble."

As recently as two months ago, Ogea couldn't have imagined being in this situation. He was pitching in Buffalo, rehabilitating from knee and elbow injuries.

It wasn't just his limbs that were hurting. His head wasn't in great shape, either. Ogea had lost his confidence and his work habits. He was also overweight.

"I was lost," Ogea said. "I had to go back to square one. It kind of made me rededicate myself to the game, being hurt. I had to rediscover what worked for me. When you pitch bad, everybody's telling you something. Everybody has advice.

"The thing is, you have to listen to yourself," he said. "You have to trust yourself. It made me realize I had to change my work habits to get back to the major leagues. Getting there was easy, but I got lost."

After working with Bisons pitching coach Gary Ruby in August, he found himself again. And come October, he was ready to make an impact on a Cleveland pitching staff that was desperate for help.

Ogea's failure to win in postseason was not due to his pitching. He had a 2.79 ERA in his three playoff starts, but the Indians didn't score a run for him in his 19 1/3 innings.

That changed in a big way Sunday, as the Indians pounded Brown.

"It goes in streaks," Ogea said. "You go out sometimes and throw good and get no runs. Then sometimes you go out and throw bad and get a bunch of runs."

You never know in this game. That's what makes the Series endlessly satisfying to baseball fans. Tomorrow it could be some other marginal player -- or, heaven knows, another ex-Bison -- stepping into the hero's role.

Whatever the case, the Series is tied, 1-1, and that's where the Indians had hoped to be heading back to Jacobs Field.

They've beaten the best pitcher Florida has to offer, and they have to be feeling good about their chances of winning the World Series for the first time in 49 years.

But after these two games, only a fool would make any serious predictions at this point. Anything can happen. From what I'm told, it might even snow.

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