Maybe it was meant to be for Livan Hernandez and the Florida Marlins all along.
How else to explain what happened in the NL championship series?Hernandez pitched one of the great games in postseason history, striking out an NLCS record 15 and allowing just three hits as the Marlins beat Greg Maddux and the Atlanta Braves 2-1 Sunday for a 3-2 lead.
Starting only because of Alex Fernandez's torn rotator cuff and Kevin Brown's viral infection, Hernandez added the latest twists to a series full of odd turns. The 22-year-old rookie from Cuba took advantage of plate umpire Eric Gregg's wide strike zone, as did Maddux.
"I'd like to say I expected this," Marlins manager Jim Leyland said. "But I don't think there's a person in this room, in the stands or in the world that expected this."
Jeff Conine, the lone player left from Florida's first game in 1993, hit a go-ahead single in the seventh inning that moved the 5-season-old Marlins within one win of becoming the fastest team to reach the World Series.
The victory touched off a big celebration in the middle of the diamond. Marlins players rushed from the bench, bullpen and all over the field to congratulate Hernandez while team mascot Billy the Marlin waved a banner from atop the mound.
The loss, meanwhile, left the Braves in familiar territory. Atlanta rallied to win the final three games of the 1996 NLCS, including the last two at home, to overtake St. Louis in seven games.
Leyland is well aware of Atlanta's playoff comebacks. The Braves overcame a 3-2 deficit to beat Leyland's Pittsburgh team in the 1991 NLCS, and beat Leyland's Pirates in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.
Game 6 will be Tuesday night at Turner Field. Tom Glavine, the winner in Game 2, will oppose Brown, the Game 1 winner.
Indians 8, Orioles 7
At Cleveland, with more hocus pocus at home plate and a game-winning hit from Sandy Alomar, the amazing Cleveland Indians are one win away from the World Series.
First, Alomar scored from second on a wild pitch in the fifth inning on a bizarre play that rivaled the wacky 12th inning of Game 3. Then, after the Indians blew a two-run lead, Alomar hit a game-winning single off Armando Benitez in the ninth to give Cleveland an 8-7 victory over the stunned Baltimore Orioles Sunday night.
Cleveland seized a 3-1 lead in the AL championship series as the frazzled Jacobs Field crowd cheered nonstop after Alomar's hit landed in the right-center field gap. Baltimore, with an AL-best 98 wins during the regular season, faces elimination in Game 5 on Monday.
Alomar - who squats behind it as the Indians' catcher - was right in the middle of the mayhem. The star of the division series with a Game 4 homer that staved off elimination, he hit a two-run homer in the second and an RBI double in the fifth that led to the strange parade of runners on Arthur Rhodes' wild pitch.
Then, in another of Cleveland's dramatic moments, he got the winning hit in the ninth after a walk to Matt Williams with first base open.
After the Orioles tied a championship series record by hitting three home runs in the third inning to take a 5-2 lead, the Indians scored once in the fourth and four times in a wild fifth.
Trailing 5-3, Manny Ramirez opened the inning with a home run and Jim Thome and David Justice followed with singles. Erickson, who four-hit the Indians over eight innings to win Game 1, then struck out Matt Williams but was lifted after Sandy Alomar's RBI single pulled the Indians to 5-3.
Arthur Rhodes replaced Erickson and walked Brian Giles, loading the bases, and then bounced a 2-2 pitch to Marquis Grissom that got behind catcher Lenny Webster.
Justice raced home ahead of Webster's short toss to Rhodes and wiped out the pitcher with a slide into the plate. The ball hit Justice and squirted away from Rhodes.
Alomar never slowed at third and slid home ahead of Rhodes' throw to third baseman Cal Ripken, covering the plate as the fans in Jacobs Field roared.
It was the second strange play at home plate in two games. Cleveland won Game 3 Saturday on a steal of home during a botched squeeze in the 12th inning.
Baltimore pulled within one in the seventh and Jose Mesa the lead in the ninth when he allowed the first two runners to reach and Rafael Palmeiro hit an RBI single off the reliever's glove.
No more lead?
Alomar and his magic wand were coming up in the bottom of the inning.
Manny Ramirez led off the ninth with a walk - the first runner in three-plus innings against reliever Alan Mills. Lefty Jesse Orosco came on and almost picked Ramirez off first, which would have been a replay of the ninth in Game 3.
Kevin Seitzer, batting above .400 as a pinch-hitter in his career, hit for Jim Thome and sacrificed Ramirez to second.
After Williams walked on a 3-2 pitch with two outs, Alomar waved his magic wand yet again.