July 14, 2002 – Bill Selby’s Grand Slam Off Mariano Rivera
A sellout crowd packed Jacobs Field for the Sunday finale of this weekend series with the Yankees. Chuck Finley took the hill for the Tribe against the Yankees Mike Mussina. The Indians trailed almost immediately, as the Yankees manufactured four runs off five singles in the top of the first.
Mussina retired the first nine Indians he faced, while the Bombers tacked on an additional run in the top of the third via a Jason Giambi double and two in the fourth to make it a 7-0 ballgame.
The Indians began to climb back into things in the bottom of the sixth when Jim Thome homered after singles by Omar Vizquel and Ellis Burks.
Ramiro Mendoza replaced Mussina in the bottom of the 7th. Omar Vizquel drove in third baseman John McDonald with an RBI double. Both bullpens continued to pitch effectively, and the bottom of the ninth began with the score Yankees 7, Indians 4.
New York brought their legendary reliever Mariano Rivera in to close the game. Rivera had already recorded 215 of his eventual career 652 saves coming into the 2002 season. In the previous season, he gave up only five home runs in 71 appearances. So, Joe Torre and the Yankees felt that the game was in more than capable hands.
The Indians comeback kindled quickly. John McDonald led off the bottom of the ninth with a line drive single to right. Backup catcher Eddie Perez knocked a single into right, advancing McDonald to third. Einar Diaz came into pinch run for Perez while Chris MacGruder stepped to the plate. MacGruder grounded to short, and Diaz was forced out at second. McDonald scored on the play, bringing the score to 7-5.
Omar Vizquel then singled to right, advancing MacGruder to third. With runners at the corners, Ellis Burks hit a line drive to deep left field. It dropped in for a double that plated MacGruder and put Omar on third. With the winning run now at second, Mariano intentionally walked Jim Thome to load the bases and set up an inning-ending double play. Travis Fryman struck out swinging on three straight pitches, leaving the Indians down to their last out.
Career utility man Bell Selby stepped in. He pulled Rivera’s fifth pitch deep down the right field line. It was called a foul ball, but many insist that a puff of chalk was visible. A double into the corner would have easily won the game, but Selby trotted back to the batter’s box to face a 2-2 pitch from the game’s most prolific closer.
He later told a Plain Dealer interviewer, “When they talk about somebody dying or coming close to death, they talk about how your whole life flashes before your eyes. I can remember by the time I got halfway to first and realized it went foul, on the walk back, so many things went through my mind… I remember walking back, going, ‘That was my pitch. No, no, no. Clear your thoughts. Just relax. You’ve proven to yourself now you can get to the ball. Stay relaxed and breathe a little bit.’”
On some advice from hitting coach Eddie Murray, Selby choked up on the bat and dug in again. He sent Rivera’s pitch hooking near the right field foul pole. It cleared the right field wall and dropped into the bullpen, unleashing pure joy from the sellout crowd. The Indians scored 10 unanswered runs to come back and tie the weekend series.
In a later interview Mariano stated, ”It was where I wanted it. It was there. He hit my best pitch. I can’t get upset at that.” This was the first grand slam that Rivera had allowed in his seven year career. He would not give up another until 2010.
This iconic Indians moment was one of 11 career home runs for Selby, who played in 122 games across parts of five MLB seasons.