The Indians made Game 7 possible by beating Florida's ace righthander Kevin Brown 4-1 in Game 6, the second time in the Series that Brown had lost. That night lefthander Al Leiter, who would start Game 7 against Wright, went home and said to his wife and mother, "I don't want to see, read or talk about baseball. I know what tomorrow means." On the day of Game 7 his telephone rang about 40 times. He took only two calls: from former New York Yankees teammate Dave Righetti and former minor league coach Gil Patterson, both of whom encouraged him to throw more curveballs to keep the Indians from sitting on his fastball and cutter.
Not long before the first pitch Florida manager Jim Leyland assembled the Marlins in front of their teal lockers in the clubhouse. He had spoken to them before every game of the Series, often invoking the name of Muhammad Ali. So often did Leyland mention the former heavyweight champion that the Marlins were thinking about asking Ali to visit them before one of the games in Cleveland. Leyland decided against it, not wanting to subject Ali to the inevitable swarm of media that would descend upon him.
Instead Leyland, in a throaty voice made scratchy by too many cigarettes and too much coffee over the 3,721 pro games it took him to get to the World Series, made this promise to his team before Game 7: "When you come back here, you will be world champions." The room fell silent. Then the 52-year-old manager, always seeming to push the right buttons at the right time, cracked up his players by saying, "Since I couldn't get Ali, I tried to get Elvis, but he couldn't be here."
Leiter pitched gallantly, allowing only two runs over six innings on a third-inning single by Fernandez. Wright was even better. He took a one-hit shutout into the seventh, and even after allowing a home run to third baseman Bobby Bonilla and leaving the last eight outs to the bullpen, he was in line to become the first rookie in 88 years, since Babe Adams of the Pittsburgh Pirates, to win Game 7.
The Indians wasted a chance to add to their 2-1 lead in the ninth when they put runners at first and third with one out. Centerfielder Marquis Grissom, batting against Nen, bounced to Renteria, who shocked Alomar by throwing him out at home rather than trying for a double play. "I was a dead dog," Alomar said. Nen then retired pinch-hitter Brian Giles on a fly ball.
"The last few innings seemed to take forever," Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel said. "The minutes trying to get to the end went so slowly."
In the ninth inning Hargrove gave the ball to his closer, righthander Jose Mesa. An NBC crew began setting up a wooden platform draped with red-white-and-blue bunting in the Cleveland clubhouse, to interview the apparent world champions. A sheath of clear plastic was draped over the lockers to protect clothing from the spray of champagne. But then Alou, who put the Marlins ahead to stay in Games 1 and 5 with three-run homers off Hershiser, grounded a single into leftfield.
The 67,204 fans at Pro Player Stadium quaked in anticipation. In Cleveland, the insecurity capital of the country, Indians fans quaked with dread. Their Tribe had not won a World Series since 1948. The town has not won a championship in a major sport since its departed Browns won the 1964 NFL title, the longest drought among cities that have fielded teams in three major sports. John Elway, Earnest Byner, Michael Jordan and even current Indians DH-outfielder David Justice, who won the 1995 World Series with a Game 6 home run for the Atlanta Braves, have ruined would-be championship seasons in Cleveland. Die-hard Indians tans buy up more home team merchandise than any baseball fans but the Yankees'—in Game 3 the entire stadium was sold out of merchandise, sending club vice presidents to a warehouse for emergency restocking before Game 4. A city with a terrific orchestra, a beautiful ballpark and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame desperately yearns to be validated by a trophy. Or as one of Cleveland's cabbies put it, "All we want is a winner."
Mesa struck out Bonilla, bringing the Tribe within a double-play grounder of finally becoming champions. But catcher Charles Johnson cracked a single to right-field, sending Alou to third. Counsell then tied the game with a sacrifice fly. "What's so hard is that we were one pitch, one batter, however you want to put it, from winning," Vizquel said later in the clubhouse, where the plastic wrap had been hastily shoved into a corner behind a refrigerator. "We were so close. It's just so hard to describe."
Mesa departed in the 10th inning, leaving a two-out, two-on mess for Nagy, Cleveland's best starter during the regular season, whom Hargrove had skipped in favor of Wright because "right now Charlie gives you the body language that tells you, I don't want to be on this earth.' " As Nagy warmed up with the World Series in the balance, Vizquel said to Renteria, the runner at second base, "Do you drive a convertible? You've got a nice tan." Then he asked, "Where did you go last night? Did you go out after the game?"