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 23, 2005 – Bob Wickman Converts His 45th Save of the Season
Most closers live and die by the fastball. Bob Wickman relied on his sinker. Wickman lost part of his right index finger in a farm accident as a child. He credited the motion of his sinker to the unusual grip he adapted. A wily and strategic closer, Wickman walked batters he did not want to face rather than overpower them. His sinker was his out-pitch and so the difference between a converted save and a game-ending double-play could be a bad hop in the infield.
The Indians were a game and a half back of the White Sox and visiting the abysmal Royals for the second-to-last weekend of the season. C.C. Sabathia was matched up with Jose Lima for the Friday night contest.
Jose Lima retired the Tribe in order in the first inning (Limatime, BELIEVE IT!) and Chip Ambres led off the Royals half of the first by sending C.C.’s 2-2 pitch into the fountains at Kaufmann Park.
First baseman Jose Hernandez tied things up for the Tribe with an RBI single in the bottom of the second that drove in Travis Hafner.
The Indians broke things open in the top of the third. Grady Sizemore was hit by Lima’s second pitch. Grady stole second and then scored on a ground ball that Jhonny Perralta scorched past the shortstop. Travis Hafner teed off on Lima, sending a two-run homer over the wall to put the Indians ahead 5-1.
The Royals would chip away at the Indians lead. Chip Ambres came into score for the Royals on a wild pitch in the third.
Victor Martinez extended the lead to four runs with an RBI double in the top of the fifth.
Sabathia continued to have control issues in the bottom of the fifth. He gave up a single to Andres Blanco, threw another wild pitch to Ambres, and hit Matt Diaz with a pitch to put runners at the corners. The Royals manufactured three runs in the inning to bring the score to 6-5 and chase C.C. from the game.
Indians reliever Bob Howry blew his save opportunity when he gave up a solo homerun to Mark Teahen to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth.
The Royals kicked it around a bit in the ninth. Grady Sizemore reached on an error and then advanced to third on a throwing error as Coco Crisp tried to beat out a grounder. Sizemore scored on a ground ball single into left off the bat of Jhonny Perralta.
Bob Wickman entered the game looking for his 45th save. He struck out Denny Hocking swinging. Pinch hitter Aaron Guiel fell victim to Wickman’s sinker and grounded out to first. Terrance Long flied out to left on the first pitch to give the Indians the win.
This was one of the few instances where Wickman did not put at least one runner on base. It was a rare respite for fans from the high-tension situations Wickman would build up and eventually overcome.
In 1995, Jose Mesa converted 46 saves in 48 opportunities. Tied for second on the leaderboard for saves in a season are Wickman’s 45 in 2005 and Joe Borowski’s 45 in It 2007. Wickman chalked up 139 saves, which made him the all-time franchise leader, until he was surpassed by Cody Allen in Game 59 of 2018.
September 19, 2008 – Fausto Carmona Beats on Gary Sheffield in Bench-Clearing Brawl, Choo Homers Twice
Both the Indians and Tigers were well out of the playoff picture behind the Division-leading White Sox. It was only 70 degrees and the breeze was blowing in off the lake, but balls were jumping out of Progressive Field as though it were mid-August.
The pitcher then-known as Fausto Carmona retired the first nine Tigers he faced. Meanwhile, Shin-Soo Choo put the Tribe up 1-0 with a solo home run of Armando Galaraga in the bottom of the first.
Curtis Granderson doubled down the left field line to lead off the bottom of the fourth. After two outs, Miguel Cabrera took Fausto deep with a two-run homer to left center.
Carmona returned to form and pitched 1-2-3 innings in both the fifth and sixth. Then Grady Sizemore tied things up with a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth.
Maglio Ordonez led off the Detroit half of the seventh with a single. Miguel Cabrera stepped in and launched his second homer of the night off Carmona. Matthew Joyce grounded out, and Gary Sheffield stepped in with the 4-2 lead.
Carmona’s second pitch hit Sheffield square in the elbow. Sheffield walked all the way to first carrying his bat and maintaining a staredown on Fausto. Brandon Inge steps in, but the tension in the building remained between the mound and first base. Fausto made a pickoff move to first, which Sheffield took further exception to. He motioned toward Inge and told Fausto, “Throw to the Plate.”
Helmets and gloves came off as Sheffield charged the mound. 6-foot-4, 270 pound Carmona caught him in a headlock and landed three or four solid punches before the benches arrived to push and shove the two apart. Victor Martinez in his catching gear goes down after a block in the back and gets up looking to knock a Tiger out. Brandon Inge is able to pull Victor away from the Fray while fellow Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera gets between Victor and the rest of the Tigers.
Once things settled down and ejections were sorted out, Edward Mujica struck out Brandon Inge. Victor Martinez gunned down Jeff Larish (who had replaced Sheffield on first) at second for a strike-out throw-out double play to end the frame.
Ramon Santiago tripled to lead off the eighth for the Tigers, and he was driven in on a Dusty Ryan sacrifice to give Detroit a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth.
Jamey Carrol pinch hit for Andy Marte to lead off the bottom of the eighth and grounded out to second. Asdrubal Cabrera popped out to short. Grady Sizemore blooped a two-out double into short left field which chased Galaraga from the game.
Casey Fossum emerged from Detroit’s bullpen to throw five straight balls. He issued a walk to Ben Francisco, and then Shin-Soo Choo hit a prodigious three-run blast to right center on Fossum’s first strike. Choo’s homer tied the game at 5-5.
Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez combined to retire the side in the ninth inning.
Freddy Dolsi hit Kelly Shoppach with his second pitch to put Shoppach on first. He was replaced by Bobby Seay while Josh Barfield came on to pinch run for Shoppach. Travis Hafner struck out swinging, and then Ryan Garko singled down the left field line to put the winning run at third. Utility infielder Jamey Carroll lofted a fly ball to deep right field. It dropped for a walkoff single.
October 2, 1908 – Addie Joss Throws a Perfect Game in a Pennant Race
The Naps, White Sox, and Tigers were in a three-way pennant race going into the last week of the season. Cleveland was one game behind Detroit, and Chicago was half a game behind Cleveland.
On Friday October 2nd, the White Sox traveled to Cleveland to kick off a weekend series at League Park. “Big Ed” Walsh took the mound for Chicago with an incredible 39 and 14 record for the season so far. However, Walsh had yet to win at League Park that season. Two of his three loses in Cleveland had come against Addie Joss, the “Human Hairpin” with the corkscrew delivery.
Joss took the mound with a 23-11 record so far in 1908 and an incredible strikeout to walk ratio of 4.20. During the team warmups, Joss spotted Walsh on the White Sox bench. A local reporter snapped a photo of the two ace pitchers having a quiet conversation before one of the biggest matchups of the season.
Both pitchers came out dealing. Joss sat down the first nine White Sox he faced. In the bottom of the third, Naps centerfielder Joe Birmingham led off with a single into right. Birmingham took a wide lead off first and Walsh made his pickoff move. Birmingham broke for second. The throw to second struck Birmingham in the back and bounced into center field and he reached third without a slide.
After Freddy Parent grounded out to short and Joss struck out attempting to bunt, leadoff hitter Wilbur Good came to the plate. Walsh got Good to strike out swinging, but the third strike sailed out of catcher Osee Screcongost’s reach. Birmingham came home on the wild pitch and gave the Naps a 1-0 lead.
Through the middle innings, both pitcher mowed through the opposing lineup. Ed Walsh was striking out two or more Naps an inning, but Joss was getting the White Sox out with ruthless efficiency.
Around the bottom of the seventh, the crowd began to sense that history was on the line. The horns, cowbells, and other noisemakers that were customary at League Park feel silent as the tension was building.
Joss faced three pinch hitters in the bottom of the ninth. Doc White grounded out to second. Lee Tannehill whiffed for Joss’ third strikeout of the day. John Anderson pinch hit for Ed Walsh with two outs. He smacked a line drive down the left field line that fell just foul–the nearest that Chicago came to a hit all day. Following the foul, Anderson grounded third for the 27th out.
Joss had pitched just the second Perfect Game in baseball history, and he had done it using only 74 pitches. Two years later, Joss would become the first player to no-hit a team twice when he blanked the Sox in Game 5 of 1910. It would be another 73 years before the next Perfect Game in Cleveland, when Len Barker tossed his in Game 24 of 1971.
Among pitchers with over 1,000 innings in the books, Joss and Walsh have the lowest ERAs in baseball history. Walsh’s 1.82 over fourteen seasons edges out Joss’ 1.89 over nine years with Cleveland. Joss remains the all time leader in WHIP with a mark of 0.968.
Joss is the only player every to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with less than 10 years of play in MLB. Joss died of tuberculosis just before the 1911 season began. In 1978 the rule was waived to include Cleveland’s original pitching ace in Cooperstown.
Honorable Mention – October 2, 2014 – Carlos Carrasco Tosses a 12K Maddux
While not quite a 74-pitch Perfect Game, Carlos Carrasco’s 12-stikeout, two-hitter against the Astros in late 2014 deserves an honorable mention. It earned Cookie his eighth win and was shortly followed by a hefty contract extension.
September 27, 1914 (Game 1) – Nap Lajoie Notches His 3000th Hit
Honus Wagner became the first player in modern baseball history to record 3,000 hits on June 9, 1914 for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Some historians also recognize Cap Anson of the Chicago Colts as a member of the 3,000 hit club, but all of his hits came in the nineteenth century under significantly different rules.
Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie’s star power helped to make the early American League a success. When he signed with the Cleveland club in 1902, his former team disputed the validity of the contract. As a result, Lajoie did not travel to Pennsylvania for two years (missing all away games against the Athletics). In 1902, his .378 average led the American League. To start the 1903 season, local media held a poll to rename the team that had been the Blues and the Bronchos in its first two campaigns. “Naps” was the runaway favorite.
1902 was the first of 10 years LaJoie would hit above .300 for Cleveland. He led the league in hits in 1904 (208 hits), 1906 (214), and 1910 (227 hits). All of those hits piled up into quite a career.
The Yankees were visiting League Park on the second-to-last weekend of the baseball year. In Game 1, Guy Morton and his abysmal 1 and 13 win-loss record was on the mound for Cleveland. He was facing off with Marty McHale.
The play-by-play account of this game has been lost to history, but we know that one of Cleveland’s seven hits on the day was Lajoie’s 3000th. The Cleveland Press reported that, “Lajoie, of Cleveland, made his three-thousandth big league hit in the first game. It being a two-base hit, the ball being taken out of play and presented to Lajoie as soon as he reached second.”
The Cleveland club went on to win 5-3. However, they would finish the season with only 51 wins–dead last in the American League.
Twenty-nine players have joined the 3,000 hit club since Wagner and Lajoie reached the milestone in 1914. However, none have been so dominant or so beloved that the team was re-named in their honor. Lajoie finished his career with 3,243 hits, 2,052 of those came with the Naps. He remains the all-time franchise hits leader, 87 ahead of Tris Speaker. Modern, long-tenured stars like Omar Vizquel and Kenny Lofton are more than 400 hits behind Lajoie. The Indians active hits leader is Carlos Santana 1,143.
September 24, 1950 – Bob Lemon Helps Out His Own Cause, Scoring Winning Run in 10-Inning Complete Game
Bob Lemon led a very solid Indians rotation along with Bob Feller, Early Wynn, and Mike Garcia. Despite outstanding pitching, the Indians were in the middle of the pack. They were sitting in 4th in the American League standings when Detroit came to town in the waning days of the 1950 season. Lemon was matched up with Ted Grey on this Sunday afternoon on the Lakefront.
Lemon got out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the first when he got Jerry Priddy to ground out and end the threat.
Likewise, Grey escaped a bases-loaded situation in the bottom of the third when Tribe shortstop Ray Boone popped out to left field.
In the bottom of the fourth, Lemon helped out his own cause by smacking a two-out home run to put the Indians up 1-0.
Tigers shortstop Johnny Lipton tied things up in the top of the seventh when he led off the inning with a solo home run off Lemon. Lemon then retired the next eight Tigers he faced. After issuing a walk to Lipton in the bottom of the ninth, George Kell grounded out back to the mound.
Gray struck out Joe Gordon and Jim Hegan in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extras.
The Tigers got runners to first and third in the top of the tenth, but Lemon cut down Don Kolloway for his fifth strikeout in 10 innings.
Lemon led off the bottom of the tenth by slapping one into the massive outfield at Municipal Stadium. Lemon stretched the hit into a triple. Gray intentionally walked both Dale Mitchell and Bobby Kennedy to load the bases. Larry Doby was put out on a pop foul. Next up, Luke Easter grounded one sharply to first. Kolloway got to the bag for the out, but had no play on Lemon coming home to score the winning run.
Lemon threw a 10-inning complete game giving up only one run on five hits. He scored the Indians only two runs in the game on two of the Tribe’s six hits on the day. Lemon notched his 22nd win (of an eventual 23). This was his league-leading 22nd complete game. He also appeared seven times out of the bullpen in 1950 and went 6 for 26 as a pinch hitter.
September 20, 2000 (Game 2) – Omar Vizquel Catches Cormier Sleeping, Straight Steals Home
The Indians were fighting for the Wild Card spot and Boston was trying to keep their fading playoff hopes alive as the Indians visited Fenway to play back-to-back doubleheaders in the middle of the week. In Game 1 on Wednesday, the Indians defeated Pedro Martinez for the first time in 10 games. In Game 2 Dave Burba was matched up with Paxton Crawford.
Troy O’Leary doubled to left field to lead off the bottom of the second. After a Trot Nixon strikeout, Lou Merloni drove in O’Leary with a line drive to deep left field.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Red Sox extended the lead to 3-0 when Scott Hatteburg doubled with two outs. Lou Merloni followed with an RBI double, and then Brian Daubach drove in Merloni with a liner into center field.
The Indians came up with their own two-out rally in the top of the fifth. Bill Selby was hit by Crawford’s pitch to get on base. Kenny Lofton moved him over to second with a single into center field. Omar Vizquel drew a five-pitch walk. Robbie Alomar poked a single into left-center that scored Selby and Lofton. Robbie and Omar executed a double-steal with Manny Ramirez at the plate.
Manny drew a walk to load the bases, and Rheal Cormier came in to relieve Crawford. Cormier entered the game facing Jim Thome with the bases loaded. Cormier was focused on his pitches to Thome and took his time moving into the stretch for every pitch. He neglected 33-year old Vizquel on third. Jim Riggelman took two steps out of the third base coaches box and appeared to just say “Go.” Vizquel broke for home, and barely had to slide as he came in to score the tying run.
Cormier never even attempted a throw to the plate.
Trot Nixon smashed a home run over the wall in left-center to lead off the bottom of the fifth and put the Sox up 4-3.
In the bottom of the sixth, Steve Karsay came on to pitch against Lou Merloni who already had two doubles in the game. Scott Hatteberg was on first. Karsay got Merloni to ground out into a 4-6-3 double play.
Chan Perry grounded out to begin the Indians’ half of the seventh. Kenny Lofton singled to right and then Omar walked. With runners on first and second, Rich Garces came on in relief for the Sox. Robbie Alomar flied out to center, but Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome plated two runs with back-to-back singles.
Steve Karsay and Paul Shuey held things down through the late innings, before closer Bob Wickman came in to face Merloni with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth. Wickman got Merloni to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the eighth. He was able to close the door in bottom of the ninth to seal the 5-4 victory.
Omar would repeat this feat several times throughout his career. Although he had moved on from the Indians by then, his straight-steal of home in 2008 at age 41 bears quite a resemblance to the play above.
No Indian completed a straight steal of home again until Grady Sizemore in Game 129 of 2005.
September 17, 2016 – Most Pitchers Ever Used in a Shutout After Carlos Carrasco Is Hit with Line Drive
The Plain Dealer’s Sunday Sports Headline the next day read, “Sept. 17: The day Cleveland Indians’ postseason dreams ended before they began.” Of course, that turned out to be false. Although 2016 ended in heartbreak, the heartbreak happened in Game 7 of the World Series and was hardly a foregone conclusion.
The Tribe had an eight-game lead over Detroit in the Central and was poised to clinch the Division, but had been wracked with injuries–most recently to Danny Salazar and Yan Gomes. A strong regular season including a then franchise-leading fourteen game win streak had the Indians in a strong position, but fans and writers were doubting their staying power. Carlos Carrasco was set to square off with Justin Verlander in the premier matchup of the weekend.
Ian Kinsler lined Carlos Carrasco’s first pitch right back to the mound that struck Carlos in the hand. Carrasco left the game and was later diagnosed with a broken bone in the little finger of his throwing hand. It was immediately apparent that he was done for the season.
A day that started as an opportunity for a workhorse starter to eat innings and prepare for the post-season became a bullpen day in an instant.
Terry Francona called Jason Bere the bullpen coach, “Tell them to put their seat belts on, ‘because they’re all going to pitch, and we’re going to win.” First up was Jeff Manship, who attempted to right the ship. Manship erased Kinsler by getting Cameron Maybin to ground into a double play. He went on to pitch a scoreless 1 ⅓ innings.
Kyle Crockett retired the remaining two batters in the top of the second with no damage done. Cody Anderson was untouched in the top of the third. In the top of the fourth, Miguel Cabrera got aboard with a line drive single to left, but Victor Martinez grounded into a double play. Zach McAllister needed only ten pitchers to retire the Tigers side in the top of the fifth on three fly balls. Perci Gardner put runners on first and third before getting Victor Martinez to strike out to end the inning. Bryan Shaw walked J.D. Martinez to lead off the seventh, but retired the next three Tigers with no damage done. Cody Allen dispatched with Detroit in order in the top of the eighth.
Through all of these changes, Justin Verlander worked through the Indians lineup. He pitched seven scoreless innings, giving up only one hit and four walks. Alex Wilson replaced him on the mound for the bottom of the eighth and held on to the scoreless tie.
Andrew Miller came on to pitch the top of the ninth for the Indians. He battled Miguel Cabrera through an 8 pitch at-bat and eventually set Miggy down on a swinging strikeout. J.D. Martinez came up with a two-out single, but was left on base when Justin Upton lined out to right.
After the Tribe squandered a two-out rally in the bottom of the ninth, Andrew Miller returned to pitch the top of the 10th. Miller struck out the first two Tigers, and then got Jose Iglesias to ground out weakly back to the mound.
Justin Wilson stayed on to pitch the bottom of the 10th for Detroit. Carlos Santana drew a walk to lead off the inning. Jason Kipnis laid down a bunt, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia scooped it up in front of the plate and forced Santana out at second. With Franciso Lindor at the plate, Kipnis advanced to second on a wild pitch, and then stole third. Lindor drew a seven-pitch walk to put runners at the corners. Detroit issued Mike Napoli an intentional walk to load the bases and set up a double play.
Jose Ramirez stepped in and knocked Wilson’s 2-2 pitch into center field scoring Kipnis easily. Jose’s walkoff single was the club’s 10th walkoff win of the season. Miller was credited with the win and later remarked, “”We have no other choice … we have to find a way to win – no matter who is starting.” There could not have been a better tagline for the six weeks that were about to come between Game 148 and Game 7 of the World Series.
The Indians used nine pitchers who combined for a four-hit ten strikeout victory. The bullpen crew gave up only three walks throughout the whole game.