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SERIES BEGGING FOR SHOT OF DRAMA TO EASE THE PAIN

What this World Series needs now is Carlton Fisk standing at home plate, waving his arms and willing his game-winning home run to land inside the left-field foul pole.

It needs a groundball to roll between Bill Buckner's legs, while Ray Knight races home with the winning run. Or Kirby Puckett slamming up against the fence in left-center field to make a game-saving catch.

Yes, what this World Series needs a defining Game Six moment, a dramatic gesture that will burn into our memories for all time and obliterate the memory of the sorry week that preceded it.

Baseball desperately needs that sort of game right now. It needs a great game, a compelling moment, a lot more than it did in 1975, 1986 or 1991. It needs to remind people of its infinite capacity to amaze, and it needs to do it quickly.

I hate to be a curmudgeon about it, but this has been an awful World Series. If you haven't fallen asleep during a game by now, I don't know whether to applaud you or feel sorry for you.

It's not that there haven't been some memorable performances. Sandy Alomar and Moises Alou -- Latin-American sons of former big-leaguers and alphabetical neighbors in the Baseball Register -- have been brilliant.

Alomar, putting the finishing touches on a fairy tale season, has already driven in 10 runs for the Indians. That would equal the record for a six-game series. Alou, playing with a bout of the flu and a sore wrist, has knocked in nine.

But the good moments have been overshadowed by the overall slovenly play, the erratic pitching, the brutal cold weather in Cleveland, and the continuing disgrace of long games lasting beyond midnight.

In the first four games, a team held at least a three-run lead in 17 of the 36 innings. There have been 56 walks in the Series. The Marlins have a team earned-run average of 6.75 -- and they're one game from winning it all!

We finally got a one-run finish in Thursday's fifth game, but only because of a horrible missed call at first base by Ken Kaiser to start the ninth. If the Indians had tied the game, people wouldn't be talking about what a great game it was.

No, everyone would be ripping Kaiser and comparing him to Don Denkinger, whose missed call at first base cost the Cardinals in 1985. Shabby umpiring would have been added to the list of things wrong with this flawed World Series.

I can appreciate the civic fervor (some might call it front-running) for the Marlins here in Florida. But it's hard to get sentimental about a team whose owner spent $89 million to be competitive, then decided to sell the team when he got his wish.

Jim Leyland, the Marlins' terrific manager, has waited his whole life to reach this point. But you get the distinct feeling that he isn't having as much fun as he expected.

Leyland is a notoriously emotional man, and he finally lost it Thursday. He said he was sick of people blaming the Marlins and Indians for the poor ratings. He said the notion that the best teams weren't in the Fall Classic made him want to vomit.

"I'm not apologizing for anybody being here," Leyland said.

He's right. If anyone ought to apologize, it's the people who run baseball -- for consistently bowing to base financial interests and giving fans the short end of the deal.

Bud Selig, the impostor commissioner, had the nerve to blame the players for the interminable games. Leyland, to his credit, refused to let that one go unchallenged.

"In my opinion, we contradict ourselves a lot in baseball," he said. "We're trying to get the youth back involved. For God's sake, most youth are sleeping by 9 o'clock. And more importantly, so is the guy who works from 7 o'clock to 4 or 5 in the afternoon.

"The blue-collar guy is tired. By the sixth inning, I think he's in La La Land somewhere."

Blue-collar guys and gals should be on their feet cheering at that speech. It gets redundant year after year after year, but something has to be done about the late starting times of the Series games.

Those of us with a public forum have two choices: We can hammer away on the issue, or throw up our hands and concede that nothing is going to be done about it. We have to keep hammering away, until baseball sees the folly of ending games after midnight.

This has been the worst World Series in recent memory. The ratings seem to reflect that fact. But baseball has a history of rewarding and astonishing us, just when we're about to give up on it.

There is still time for baseball to salvage this Series, a chance for the game to rise from its week-long torpor and give fans a conclusion to remember. It could produce another Fisk, Buckner or Puckett story here tonight.

The problem, of course, is that if it does happen most of America won't be awake to see it.

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