Cleveland maintains series is far from decided

  • Rich Myhre / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, October 9, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By Rich Myhre

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – Afterward, they spoke of this being just one game in a longer series, and insisting the Seattle Mariners were too formidable a foe to overlook or disrespect.

That said, the Cleveland Indians were obviously upbeat and confident – buoyant, even – following Tuesday afternoon’s 5-0 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-five American League Division Series.

“In a five-game series, every game is critical,” said Cleveland third baseman Travis Fryman. “Certainly the momentum can shift in a hurry, but to come into Seattle and win the first game is a very big game for us. And it was a convincing win. To win 5-0 against the best team in baseball is pretty big.”

“Coming into this stadium, where they’ve played so well, and to take Game 1, the advantage swings toward us,” added designated hitter Ellis Burks.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, of course. Seattle matched the major league record for single-season victories with 116, while the Indians managed just 91, the lowest total among the four American League playoff teams. Backed by a record Safeco Field crowd of 48,033, and with hard-throwing All-Star Freddy Garcia on the hill, Tuesday’s opener figured to be the first step toward a Mariners opening-round triumph.

The fans brought that air of expectation into the stadium, and so did some of the media. Several times, in pregame and postgame questioning, the Indians were asked about the role of “underdog” in this series. Everywhere, it seemed, people thought the Indians had showed up with a “Just glad to be here” attitude.

Everyone, that is, except the Indians themselves. Sure, the Mariners had a superb season, worthy of “being given the title of the best team in baseball,” said pitcher Chuck Finley, who will start Game 2 for Cleveland on Thursday. “Their road to this series was a little bit smoother than ours. We took the back roads and the dirt roads, but we ended up in the same place. And we feel we have as good a chance as anybody, even if we didn’t have 116 wins.”

Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel agreed.

“Any time you’re in the playoffs, whether it’s a five-game series or a seven-game series, you’re starting off 0-0,” Manuel said. “You’ve got the same chance. And when the first pitch is thrown, you play the game. And basically that’s what happened today. It was a good ballgame, and we scored five runs and won.”

The Indians owed this outcome largely to the guile, poise and blistering fastball of 26-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon, a native of the Dominican Republic. Despite finishing the season with a modest 14-12 record, Colon tamed the Mariners on just six hits through eight innings. Though Seattle had baserunners in every inning but one against Colon, they had more than one aboard only once. Similarly, they advanced a runner as far as third base just one time.

Colon finished with 10 strikeouts – he whiffed Seattle’s Mark McLemore, Bret Boone, John Olerud and Mike Cameron twice each – and allowed just two outfield outs. The other 13 outs in his eight innings were infield grounders and popups (with one caught stealing), an indication that Mariner hitters were making less-than-solid contact.

“We obviously got a great game from Bartolo,” Indians first baseman Jim Thome said. “That kind of set the tone for the whole day. We were fortunate enough to get some hits off (Seattle starter Freddy) Garcia and score some runs, and the way Bartolo takes that was the key to the game. He really did a nice job against some very good hitters.”

Colon is certainly capable of quality starts, but he is just as capable of faltering, as his record suggests. He had one stretch of four consecutive midseason wins, but otherwise he matched wins and losses most of the season. And in his final regular-season start, last Thursday in Kansas City, Colon lasted just 1 1/3 innings while giving up four hits, four walks and six runs.

He was nothing like that on Tuesday. Working with a generous outside corner provided by home plate umpire Steve Rippley, Colon pitched the Mariners away most of the day.

“The thing that’s hurt Bartolo this season is maybe a walk or two an inning,” Fryman said. “Then he throws another pitch and gets too much of the (plate), and somebody hits a home run. That’s what’s always beaten Bartolo, but today he had great command. When a guy throws 99 mph on the outside part of the plate, it’s very difficult to get on top of that pitch and to hit it well. There aren’t many guys who can do that. He owned the outside part of the plate today.”

“That’s the best he’s pitched in quite awhile,” Manuel said.

Colon’s shoulder started to tighten in the seventh inning and he left after eight, giving way to reliever Bob Wickman. The change made little difference to the Mariners, who were quickly retired on two strikeouts and a popout to end the game.

And now the Indians will take aim at a sizable 2-0 series lead on Thursday.

Winning the opener “was big,” Thome said, “but it’s a long series, believe me. I think we realize that even though we came out here and won Game 1, it’s not over by any means. We still have a battle ahead of us.”

“It’s not over,” agreed center fielder Kenny Lofton. “You have to win three games to win it all. We feel like we took the first step, but now we’ve got two more steps.”

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