October 13, 1995 in Sports

Indians Could Rock Or Get Rolled By M’S

Tom Boswell The Washington Post

To sense how long ago 1954 really was, go to the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame here. Decades of stars are honored, many of them dead or, at any rate, real old. Yet Bill Haley didn’t cut “Rock Around The Clock” until a year after the Cleveland Indians’ last visit to the World Series.

From Elvis to Nine Inch Nails - through funk and punk, disco and soul, metal and rap - every species of headbanger or glitter freak has had an hour upon the stage. But not the miserable, stinking Indians.

So, Cleveland’s message to the Seattle Mariners before Game 3 of this American League Championship Series is extremely simple. Bring on Randy Johnson. You’re going to need him. On Wednesday night in the Kingdome, a Mariners fan held a sign that said, “Grunge 1, Rock 0.” Now, after the Indians won Game 2 to even this playoff, the signs here say, “Rock 1, Grunge 1.”

Watch out, Mariners. You might get moshed.

Around here, it’s not safe to mention Nirvana, Pearl Jam or Bill Gates. No Clevelander wants to hear people from Seattle - what are they, anyway, Seattleans? - complain about how many years they went without so much as a single winning team. So, the M’s stunk. So what? Whose fault is that? When it comes to disgrace and embarrassment, Indians fans hold all the trumps. Sure, the Mariners have a dungeon with a trip-wire roof for a ballpark. But at least nobody ever called your stadium The Mistake By The Lake.

Just a week ago, Indians fans had to listen to how the Boston Red Sox hadn’t won a Series since 1918. Don’t tell a Cleveland fan about The Curse of the Bambino. At least the Red Sox kept getting a chance to choke in October. As Indians general manager John Hart says, “We have The Curse of Doug Jones.” That means your guys are so bad you’re mathematically eliminated in August.

Only a couple of years ago, it would have been inconceivable that the Indians and Mariners could meet in baseball’s glamor League Championship Series. Historically, they reigned unchallenged as the sport’s two ugliest ducklings. Maybe the Cubs were more luckless. But the Indians and Mariners were pure dreck.

To say that Cleveland awaits Game 3 with both glee and dread is an understatement. On one hand, how could you wish for an easier ticket to punch to get to the Series than the modest M’s who, if they’d been in the A.L. Central, would have finished 21 games behind the 100-win Indians. Both teams have fabulous hitting. But that’s where the similarity stops. The Indians have more speed, more defense, more bullpen, more bench and more punch at the bottom of the lineup. Most important, over a long season, the Indians have the best starting rotation and the best closer in the league. The Mariners have a rotation full of mediocrities like Chris Bosio, Tim Belcher and Andy Benes.

However, this is not the regular season. This is now, in effect, a five-game series in which Mr. Johnson - who would have to clean up his act to play drums for Dead Pets - will pitch the first and last game.

Johnson has been a much tougher customer since, three years ago, he went to his idol Nolan Ryan and asked for advice. The Express told him that, generally speaking, it helped a pitcher with a 100 mph fastball if, every month or so, he accidentally drilled somebody good and solid. Just so the word would get around the league that the law of the jungle hadn’t been repealed.

If the combo of Johnson’s heavy work load and the Indians fab batting order, plus the volume of those 10,000 Maniacs in Jacobs Field can get the better of the 6-foot-10 southpaw, then this Championship Series is probably as good as over.

But, to reduce this equation to its simplest terms, Johnson’s record this year, counting postseason, is 20-2. Pitchers who reach October on this kind of roll usually become, if anything, more dominant in the postseason.

This means that, while the Indians are better than the Mariners - much better - they can still lose. Just like the 111-win Indians of ‘54 who not only lost the Series but were swept. This is a franchise that couldn’t go all the way when it had Bob Feller and Hal Newhouser as its spot starters. Now they’ve got to throw Charles Nagy, the master of the 11-hitter, at Randy Johnson.

The Mariners are a paper underdog, but, even beyond Johnson, they have an upset pedigree. For example, the last two games of this playoff are back in the Kingdome, where Cleveland has gone 7-20 since 1991.

Finally, if Johnson can win Game 3, don’t underestimate the Griffey Factor in Games 4, 5 and 6. When tens of millions of people are watching, you need a central star who loves the spotlight. Junior has already taken his father’s “have fun” advice by hitting six homers in seven postseason games.

In most seven-game series, Game 3 is a sleeper. This time, it may be the fulcrum on which an entire postseason turns. If America hasn’t fallen in love with the Mariners yet, it’s getting close. As for the Indians, they’re a great statistical team. But they have never faced much pressure or accomplished any lasting deeds. They haven’t had to cope with the paralyzing idea - the injustice, actually - of losing to a lesser team in a fast series.

If the scraggly-haired pitcher who looks like a hard rocker can dominate the Indians, suddenly the spooky music will start playing.

Rooting for barely-worthy underdogs to upset truly superior teams in fluky postseason playoffs is a decadent pleasure. But, like the best trashy rock ‘n roll, it’s just so much fun.

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