The Cleveland rotation, though, had no such glory. It wilted under the pressure of the deep Baltimore lineup while exemplifying the continual lowering of the bar for starting pitchers. Orel Hershiser, once known as Bulldog, called it a day after five innings in Game 2. Jack McDowell, who has a reputation as a workhorse, was pulled after getting the first two outs of the sixth inning of Game 3. And ace Charles Nagy agreed he was done after throwing six innings in Game 4.
With the micromanaging of relief pitchers, such light workloads have become typical. However, neither Cleveland nor anyone in baseball has a bullpen as strong as New York's. In a typical game the Yankees give opponents 18 outs. If you haven't jumped the New York starter by then, you're toast. The Yankees are 70-3 when leading after six innings this year, thanks largely to Mariano Rivera, who usually shuts the door in the seventh and eighth innings, and John Wetteland, who keeps it closed in the ninth. The Texas pen, meanwhile, coughed up every lead it had against New York. The Rangers got their only win when manager Johnny Oates kept the bullpen gate locked in Game 1, allowing John Burkett to throw a complete game in a 6-2 victory. "Collectively," says Yankees starter David Cone, "our bullpen has been the MVP of this team and maybe the league."
The Rangers did not score after the sixth inning in any game against the Yankees. Not even rightfielder Juan Gonzalez, the slugger who checked into a New York hotel under the name John Lennon, could get to the Yankees in the late innings. Imagine. However, he did rip five home runs, tying the postseason series record held by Reggie Jackson and Ken Griffey Jr. Texas fans dubbed him Señor Octubre. Given the lack of help he received, better they should have called him the Lone Ranger. He drove in or scored nine of the team's 16 runs.
The outcome proved kinder for Gonzalez's former teammate from the Sabana Horyos, a Mickey Mantle League team near San Juan. On that club Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams batted seventh. "No power," he says. "I tried to hit ground balls to shortstop and beat them out." The scouting report has changed dramatically since then. Williams, 28, has blossomed into a thumper who is his club's best clutch hitter (.356 with runners in scoring position) and—owing to his low profile and late development—the best player in the big leagues never to make an All-Star team. He batted .467 in the Rangers' series with three home runs, including one from each side of the plate in the 6-4 clincher last Saturday. No one else has hit home runs from both sides of the plate in a postseason game. Williams has done it twice.
"We did something a little different in this series," says New York manager Joe Torre. "We put him in the middle of the lineup. He's been in the middle basically against lefthanded pitchers, but I decided to put him in both ways because Bernie is becoming a big-play guy."
Home runs also helped carry Atlanta past Los Angeles and into its fifth straight National League Championship Series. The Braves play offense like the old Oakland Raiders with Daryle Lamonica at quarterback. Everyone goes deep. There's not much more to it. Atlanta won Game 1 on a 10th-inning bomb by Javy Lopez, took Game 2 with solo shots by Ryan Klesko, Fred McGriff and Jermaine Dye, and put away Game 3 with a two-run homer by Chipper Jones.
Of course, the Dodgers were the only postseason team not to homer. Braves starters Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine permitted L.A. only 12 hits and two earned runs in 22⅔ innings. Mark Wohlers saved each game. That left the middle relievers—the supposed Atlanta weakness—only six outs to secure over the series. Greg McMichael and Mike Bielecki took care of that while allowing one run.
The St. Louis Cardinals will have to get into the Atlanta bullpen earlier to get past the Braves. The Cardinals also swept their way into the Championship Series with clutch home runs. Gary Gaetti drove in all their runs in Game 1 against the San Diego Padres with a first-inning homer in a 3-1 victory. In the finale Brian Jordan slammed a ninth-inning two-run shot in a 7-5 win.
The Padres were in each game up to the final out, which to their dismay was left in the still reliable hands of Dennis Eckersley. The Cardinals' 42-year-old closer out-pitched his 28-year-old counterpart, Trevor Hoffman, who didn't start playing professional baseball until five years ago. St. Louis won Games 2 and 3 in its last at bat with Hoffman on the mound. Eckersley, who is third behind Lee Smith (473) and Jeff Reardon (367) on the alltime saves list, with 353, ended the opener by winning a Cooperstown-quality matchup against seven-time National League batting champion Tony Gwynn, who grounded sharply to the box with two runners on base. "That was kind of a magical moment," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "It crossed my mind that this was as good as it gets."
Thankfully, it is moments like that one, and not, say, the umpires delaying the first pitch of the opening playoff game by 17 minutes while waiting to hear a decision from a federal judge, that will endure. By last weekend the game had moved toward closure, and not just for the Indians, the Rangers, the Dodgers and the Padres, all of whom were eliminated on Saturday. That day Hirschbeck announced that he had accepted Alomar's apology. The previous day the acting commissioner, Bud Selig, announced a "summit meeting" next month in which owner, player and umpire representatives will establish "codes of conduct." According to a league source, spitting in the face of an umpire is expected to be on the Not Acceptable list, right below running with scissors.