The Perfect Season Project is a unique look at Cleveland Indians history that asks the question ‘What if the Indians always won?’ For more about the Project, check out the Methodology and Inspiration pages
September 30, 2018 – Four Starters have 200+ Strikeouts for the First Time in MLB History
The 2017 Indians set an MLB record with 1,614 strikeouts over the season by the entire pitching staff. They were also the first team to maintain a strikeout rate of greater than 10 per 9 innings. The 2018 Indians picked up the strikeout mantle and ended up with another unique achievement.
Carlos Carrasco took the mound on the last day of the season against Eric Skoglund of the Royals. Francisco Lindor reached on a fielding error by Skoglund when he dribbled the 3-1 pitch down the first base line. Lindor then stole second with Michael Brantley at the plate. Brantley struck out looking, but Lindor broke for third on the 1-1 pitch to Jose Ramirez.
Royals catcher Eric Haas sailed the pickoff throw into left field. Lindor picked himself up and scampered home to give the Tribe a 1-0 lead.
Lindor led off the top of the third by golfing a stike low in the zone over the wall in left-center. His 38th homer of the season put the Indians up 2-0.
In the bottom of the fifth, Brian Goodwin got aboard with a single to left that was only the Royals second hit of the day. He stole second and advanced to third on an Alcides Escobar groundout. Carrasco walked Brett Phillips and the Royals had runners at the corners. Meibrys Viloria hit a sharp ground ball back up the middle. It skipped over Carrasco’s glove and into center field scoring Goodwin.
To stay stretched out and setup the playoff rotation, Trevor Bauer came on to pitch in the bottom of the sixth. Carrasco’s final line was one run on three hits and six strikeouts. This brought his season K total to 231.
Bauer faced only fourteen Royals in four innings of work. His defense of a one run lead through the final four innings earned him his first (and still only) save. He added two strikeouts bringing his season sum to 221.
Today’s two pitchers along with Corey Kluber (222 strikeouts) and Mike Clevinger (207) were the first pitching staff to have four 200+ strikeout pitchers in the same year. Only three teams had previously had three 200+ K pitchers: the 1967 Twins, 1969 Astros, and 2013 Tigers. The 2017 Indians narrowly missed joining this club.
The pitching staff overall was 4th in the league in strikeouts with 1,544.
October 9, 1910 – St. Louis Attempts to Hand the Batting Title to Nap Lajoie to Spite Ty Cobb
At the beginning of the 1910 season, Hugh Chalmers of the Chalmers Automobile Company pledged to give a Model 30 car to player with the best batting average in either league.
Going into the last day of the season, Ty Cobb was leading the batting race by a healthy, but not insurmountable margin of .385 to Nap Lajoie’s .376. Cobb was sitting out the final game of the season for Detroit claiming an eye ailment. The Naps and Lajoie would play a double-header at Sportsman’s Park against the Browns.
Prior to the first game, St. Louis manager Jack O’Connor told third baseman Red Corrigan to play back on the outfield grass. He reportedly told Corrigan, “one of Lajoie’s line drives might kill you.”
During the first game of the day, Lajoie bunted three times up the third base line, reaching safely each time. He also hit a triple, but it was not enough as the Browns broke the 4-4 tie with a walkoff hit in the bottom of the ninth.
In the second game, O’Connor returned to his spot behind the cut of the infield grass. Knowing a good thing when he saw it, Lajoie put three more bunts up the line to go along with another infield single. In his fifth at-bat of the second game, Browns shortstop Bobby Wallace misplayed the ball. Lajoie beat his throw to first, but the play was scored as an error on Wallace.
Coach Harry Howell then sent a bat boy with a note to the official scorer, a woman named E.V. Parrish, with an offer of a bribe. Howell offered up a new suit of clothes if she would change her call and give Lajoie a 9 for 9 double-header. Miss Parrish declined.
The Naps won the second game of the doubleheader to finish the season 71-81 in fifth place in the American League.
The next day, newspapers posted a wide variety of unofficial batting averages and declared Lajoie the winner. Critics of the cruel and impersonal Cobb rejoiced.
However, once The Sporting News crunched all of the numbers for the season, they put Cobb ahead .3850687 to Lajoie’s .3840947. Commissioner Ban Johnson conducted an investigation and confirmed the result–Cobb was the batting champion. Ban Johnson insisted that both O’Connor and Howell be fired from the Browns. They were both effectively blacklisted from professional baseball for their tampering in the batting race.
Chalmers delivered Model 30s to both players, effectively calling the batting race a tie. However, even Chalmers may have had a preference for the more affable Lajoie. “I’ve always understood,” Nap later said, “that the automobile I got ran a lot better than the one they gave to Ty.”
September 29, 2017 – Ramirez Knocks 90th Extra-Base Hit, Bauer Just Misses 200 Strikeouts
Chicago was in town to start off the final series of the regular season. While the Tribe had long clinched the Central Division crown, they were locked in a fight with the Astros for home-field advantage and looking for their 101st win of the season.
Trevor Bauer took the hill for the Tribe with 189 strikeouts on the year. He would have to have a career night to join Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco with over 200 Ks for the season. Mike Pelfrey was slated to pitch for the White Sox.
Bauer got right to work, striking out Yolmer Sanchez to lead off the game and Jose Abreu to end the top of the first. The Tribe loaded the bases against Pelfrey before Carlos Santana’s line out to deep left ended the threat.
Bauer pitched another 1-2-3 inning in the second, but all of the outs came on batted balls.
Jason Kipnis was aboard with a walk to lead off the bottom of the second. After a Yandy Diaz strikeout, Kipnis stole second with catcher Roberto Perez at the plate. Perez eventually drew a walk, and then Francisco Lindor lined out to left for the second out.
Austin Jackson poked a two-out RBI single over the second base bag and into center field. Jose Ramirez drove a double down the left field line that scored Perez and Jackson. Edwin Encarnacion reached on an error and Jose was able to come around and score during the confusion. Jay Bruce blasted a homer into deep left-center to cap off the 6-run inning.
Bauer collected two more strikeouts in the top of the third, while the Indians scored four more in the bottom of the frame, including a bases-clearing double by Encarnacion.
Yolmer Sanchez was the first White Sox to reach base, and he did so in a big way. He lead off the top of the fourth with a home for the Sox only run of the day. He notched three more strikeouts before being relieved by Joe Smith in the top of the seventh.
With a nine-run lead the Tribe relievers cruised to a Friday-night victory and held on to home field advantage.
The Indians narrowly missed being the fourth team in MLB history to have three starters with 200 strikeouts for the season. Kluber (265) and Carrasco (226) far surpassed the mark, with Bauer falling just short at 196.
Jose Ramirez’ two doubles (55 on the year) gave him 90 Extra-base. That put him 4th in Indians history for Extra-Base Hits He trailed only Albert Belle (103 in 1995), Hal Trosky (96 in 1936) and George Burns (94 in 1926).
September 29, 2005 – Sabathia Throws 8 Scoreless Innings in Chase for Wildcard
On August 1st, the White Sox led the AL Central by 15 games. Starting August 1st the Indians went 37-15 to close the gap to three games with four to play. The White Sox were in Detroit looking to avoid a historic late-season collapse. The Indians had Tampa Bay in town and CC Sabathia on the hill against against Casey Fossum.
The Rays put runners at first and third before CC got himself out of the jam by getting Aubrey Huff to ground out to second.
The Tribe got an early lead with some timely two-out hitting in the bottom of the first. Jhonny Perralta drew a walk and was driven in by Travis Hafner’s home run. Victor Martinez poked a single into center before Ronnie Belliard belted one out of the park to make it 4-0 Indians.
In the bottom of the second Grady Sizemore grounded into a double play that allowed Aaron Boone to scamper home from third. Jhonny Perralta led off the Indians’ half of the third with a homer that chased Fossum from the game.
Working confidently with a 6-0 lead, Sabathia retired the Rays in order in the fourth, fifth, and eighth innings. Overall, he scattered five hits while striking out nine Rays over eight innings of work.
Rafael Betancourt came on to close the game and faced only three Rays. He got Jonny Gomes to stike out swinging to end the game.
Sabathia closed out a strong 2005 season with a 15-10 record and 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Fangraphs credited him with the fastest fastball velocity in the American League in 2005.
Despite the strong outing, math was not on the Indian’s side. The White Sox defeated the Tigers later in the day to clinch the division. The next day, Chicago arrived in Cleveland for the final weekend series of the year. The Tribe were still very much alive in the wildcard chase before being swept by the Sox in front of sellout crowds. They handed the wildcard berth to Boston on the final day of the season in their own sort of collapse.
September 26, 1973 – Gaylord Perry Complete Game Shutout to Win His Final Four Starts
Gaylord Perry spitballed his way to the 1972 Cy Young Award –the first for an Indians pitcher–by posting a 24-16 record for the worst team in the American League.
In 1973, he continued to baffle hitters both with legal sliders and forkballs along with the occasional illicit greaseball. Gaylord came into this game with an 18-19 record. He was the hard-luck loser much more often in the 1973 season. The Tribe had long been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs–their 69-89 record had them 26 ½ games off the pace in the AL East–but Gaylord Perry never stopped trying to fool the opposition.
He retired the Red Sox side in the top of the first. Bill Lee likewise threw a 1-2-3 inning for the Sox in the bottom of the frame.
Perry gave up a hit to Carl Yastrzemski to lead off the top of the second, but Yaz was quickly erased by a 6-4-3 double play ball off the bat of Orlando Cepeda.
Tribe DH John Ellis smashed a homer to lead off the bottom of the second, thrilling the 1,453 fans on hand at Municipal Stadium.
Perry was challenged with Red Sox in scoring position in the top of the fifth after Frank Duffy got aboard on a bunt and was advanced to second by a Walt Williams single. In the sixth, the Sox had runners at second and third when Orlando Cepeda came to the plate. Perry struck Cepeda out looking to end the inning That was the last time a Red Sox hitter would reach base this evening.
Sox pitcher Bill Lee did his part as well. He gave up only the one run on seven hits and no walks.
In the top of the ninth, Perry faced the heart of the Sox order. He got Reggie Smith to fly out. Yastrzemski grounded out to second. Orlando Cepeda struck out to end the game. It was Perry’s fourth win in a row, and brought his record to 19-19 for the season. For the second year in a row, Perry had a league-leading 29 complete games.
September 24, 2013 – Jason Giambi Walkoff Keeps the Tribe’s Playoff Hopes Alive
The Indians entered this Tuesday night contest barely hanging on to the second wildcard spot. The White Sox sent Hector Santiago to the hill to face Ubaldo Jiminez. After two rough years, Ubaldo had been carrying the Indians rotation since Justin Masterson’s early-season injury.
Michael Brantley put the Tribe out in front with an RBI single in the bottom of the second.
Jiminez walked Connor Gillespie to lead of the top of the fourth. Paul Konerko singled to right to advance Gillispie to third. After Ubaldo struck out Adam Dunn, Avasail Garcia hit a long fly to left. Gillespie scampered home to score on the sacrifice.
Jiminez gave up five hits and struck out seven over 6 ⅓ innings of work. In the top of the seventh he gave up a single to Gordan Beckham and walked Josh Phegley. Cody Allen entered the game looking to end the threat. Alejandro De Aza singled to left, scoring Beckham and putting the Sox up 2-1.
Michael Brantley took Hector Santiago’s first pitch deep into right field to tie things up. Mike Aviles lined one into left for a single. Michael Bourn laid down a sacrifice bunt that moved Aviles over to second. Nate Jones came on to pitch and got Nick Swisher to fly out to center. Jason Kipnis stepped in and lined Jones’ 1-1 pitch into left to put the Tribe on top 3-2.
Joe Smith retired Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, and Avisail Garcia in order in the eighth. Nate Jones returned the favor.
Chris Perez came on looking for the save in the top of the ninth. Dayan Viciedo smashed Perez’ third pitch over the right field wall to tie the game. Perez struck out the next two White Sox before he hung the first pitch to Alejandro De Aza. De Aza’s homer to right-center put the Sox up 4-3. After Alexei Ramirez poked a single through the left side of the infield, Perez left the mound to a chorus of boos.
Marc Rzepczynski hit the only batter he faced before Bryan Shaw got the final out of the ninth.
Yan Gomes struck out swinging to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Michael Brantley poked a single through the right side of the infield and was safely aboard. Mike Aviles struck out, and things were looking bleak. Michael Brantley stole second to get into scoring position with Jason Giambi at the plate.
Giambi crushed Addison Reed’s 1-1 pitch deep into right field. This was his third pinch-hit walkoff for the Indians. “Yeah I ran into it, I hit it,” Giambi said. “There’s nothing more special, that’s what keeps me coming back every year.” With that he bested his own record as the oldest player to hit a walkoff homer.
Soak in this Hammy Call:
Jason Kipnis put it best in a post-game tweet, “Are you shitting me with this game tonight!! Big G and the Goon Squad comin thru again!! Unreal game tonight!!”
Now, contrast with the call from Hawk Harrelson:
This was the Indians 11th walkoff win of the season, and fifth win in a row. Most importantly, it kept them 1 game ahead of the Rangers in the Wild Card race.
September 22, 1967 – Tony Horton Ends a Marathon with a Walkoff Homer
The Indians were playing out the string in 1967, having long been eliminated from the playoffs. Luis Tiant was matched up with Gary Peters of the White Sox this Friday evening in front of only about 5,000 of the Cleveland faithful. The White Sox were locked in a four-way battle for the American League pennant. Boston and Minnesota were tied at the top of the standings with Chicago one game behind. The Tigers were just one and a half games off the pace.
However, a mid-season arrival was giving Cleveland fans hope for a better team in the future. In June, the Indians dealt Gary Bell to the Red Sox for Don Demeter and 22-year old first baseman Tony Horton. With the opportunity to play every day, Horton had blossomed.
Second baseman Vern Fuller drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the second. Larry Brown knocked an RBI double into left to score Fuller and put the Tribe up 1-0.
Tiant pitched brilliantly, giving up only three hits through the first eight innings. Peters also pitched well, but the Indians offense squandered some opportunities.
Tiant let the 1-0 lead slip away in the top of the ninth when Don Buford doubled to right and then Smoky Burgess hit a pinch-hit RBI single into right to tie the game at 1-1.
The Indians stranded runners at first and second in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extra frames.
Stan Williams was nearly perfect in relief for the Indians. The only baserunners he allowed were when Don Buford reached on an error in the top of the eleventh and a walk by Wayne Causey in the top of the thirteenth.
Horton stepped in against Chicago reliever Roger Nelson to start the Indians half of the thirteenth. He launched the game-winning home run into the Cleveland night.
Horton was one of the Indians most promising young players through the late 1960s. Terry Pluto would later call him “the most tragic Indian.”
Throughout the 1969 and 1970 seasons, Horton struggled through slumps and was particularly affected by heckling from the small Cleveland crowds related to his salary negotiations with the team. After being benched in the fifth inning of a game against the Yankees in August 1970, Horton returned to his apartment and attempted suicide.
He survived, and recovered, but never played professional baseball again. He returned to his native California, went into business, and never looked back. In 1997, the New York Daily News reported the story for the first time with quotes from teammates and others involved in the story. The Daily News approached Horton for an interview, but he declined.
Sam McDowell said of Horton, “From what I understand, the doctors told him he had to completely divorce himself from baseball. Baseball was what drove him to his state. He was so high-strung, with such a drive to succeed, and when he wasn’t succeeding it set him off.”
While we as fans make heroes and villains out of the players on the field based on their stores and statistics it sometimes takes a story like Tony Horton’s to remember that athletes are humans with their own lives outside the lines.