Hold off on those obituaries. The Cleveland Indians still have a pulse.
Perilously close to a three games-to-none World Series deficit, the Tribe pulled out one of its trademark rallies to beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-6, in an 11-inning thriller Tuesday night at Jacobs Field.
Eddie Murray's single to center in the 11th scored pinch-runner Alvaro Espinoza with the winning run as Cleveland cut the Braves' series lead to 2-1. Game Four is tonight at 8:20 (Ch. 7), with Cleveland's Ken Hill pitching against Atlanta's Steve Avery.
The first Series game in this city since 1954 was well worth the wait as a frenzied crowd of 43,584 saw a classic. Several hundred ticketless souls even lingered on the street outside the iron gates leading to the outfield bleachers just to get that feeling of being there.
Alas, there's no view of the field from the street. And there was plenty going on inside during the 4-hour, 9-minute affair that was the longest extra-inning night game in Series history.
"It's a huge win for us," said Tribe manager Mike Hargrove. "A big win for us emotionally, physically, the whole gamut."
The foundation was laid three hours before game time, when center fielder Kenny Lofton initiated a players-only skull session in the Cleveland clubhouse to try to regroup after two losses to open the Series in Atlanta.
"Whatever I can do to help the team win, I'm going to do," Lofton said. "Right now it's all or nothing. We weren't focused at the plate and swinging at good pitches. Guys were taking more pitches today and swinging at the ones they should be."
Lofton let his actions reflect his words by being a main spark in the victory. He reached base all six times he came to the plate (three singles, three walks). Officials had no record of any player pulling that trick in an extra-inning Series game. Lofton scored three runs, tying the Cleveland postseason mark set by Tris Speaker in the 1920 Series.
"I think he's on fire right now," said catcher Sandy Alomar, whose RBI double in the eighth scored the tying run. "He's being very aggressive. He wants to win so bad, that's why he initiated the meeting today. We've come so far and have had a great season. If you're going to go down, we want to go down fighting. If you're going to lose, you have to lose with dignity."
The Indians had only shreds of it left after scoring five runs and collecting just eight hits in the first two games.
They got some back Tuesday with a 12-hit attack, but things didn't come easy. Cleveland built a 4-1 lead through three innings and was still in charge, 5-3, through seven before the Braves stunned the Tribe with a three-run eighth. Pinch-hitter Mike Devereaux's RBI single off Julian Tavarez gave Atlanta a 6-5 lead.
Suddenly, the Indians were six outs away from a third straight loss. Everyone in the park knew no team has ever rallied from such a hole to win a Series.
"This was it, this was the time," said third baseman Jim Thome. "We had to step up right then. There was no tomorrow. There was just now."
Alomar took care of matters. After Manny Ramirez drew a one-out walk and Paul Sorrento singled, both off Greg McMichael, Alomar cued closer Mark Wohlers' first pitch over first base to knock in the tying run.
"I went up there just trying to hit the ball on the ground to get an opportunity to tie the game and give our offense a chance to win later on," Alomar said. "I was lucky enough to hit it on the right side of (first baseman Fred) McGriff."
Cleveland closer Jose Mesa then shut down Atlanta over the next three innings before the offense made that breakthrough in the 11th.
Carlos Baerga led off with a double against Alejandro Pena and Albert Belle was intentionally walked. Murray then took the first pitch from Pena into center field as Espinoza streaked home to give Cleveland its first World Series victory since the 1948 clincher over the Boston Braves.
"It's good to get this one over with. We worked pretty hard," Murray, who does not speak to the media, said in printed comments passed out by Indians officials. "It should have been over with a lot sooner. This one would have been hard to swallow, but we stopped them a few times."
"We held the game for a long time and went ahead and should have held the lead," said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox. "When they tied it up, we had several chances to bunt a guy over . . . and several chances to drive in a run, and we didn't. They were in the same boat, too. It was just a matter of time. One of us was going to do it and they did."
Atlanta's best chance against Mesa was in the ninth with runners at first and second. But Chipper Jones' scorcher to first was sensationally scooped up by ex-Bison Herbert Perry to snuff out the threat."No one said it would be easy," said Atlanta second baseman Mark Lemke. "Even though we were up, 2-0, coming in here, we didn't think we would walk through. Cleveland didn't win 100 games during the regular season for nothing. We bounced back all season long and we can do it again."