August 4th, 1996 – Lofton Vaults Outfield Wall to Rob BJ Surhoff Homer
The 1990s Indians were primarily known for their offense. However, of all the great Indians moments of the late 1990s, only one clip is so iconic and instantly recognizable that it was included in the SportsCentury montage that ESPN ran in the final moments of New Year’s Eve 1999.
On a Sunday afternoon in August, the Indians entered this game against the Orioles with the best record in the American League. The Orioles threw Rocky Coppinger against Brian Anderson.
In the bottom of the third, Kenny Lofton led of the inning by drawing a six-pitch walk. With Omar Vizquel at the plate, Lofton stole second and then third. After Vizquel drew his own walk, Jim Thome plated Lofton with a sacrifice fly.
Baltimore tied it up in the top of the fourth with a solo home run by Bobby Bonilla.
The Tribe broke the 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fifth when Lofton homered to right field. Jim Thome gave the Indians an insurance run when he poked a single through the right side of the infield which scored Vizquel from second base.
After replacing Anderson, Paul Shuey gave up a solo home run to Jeffery Hammonds to make it a 3-2 ballgame.
In the top of the eighth, with Raphael Palmero on first, BJ Surhoff came to bat. Shuey fell behind and into a 3-0 count. Surhoff took the 3-0 pitch to deep right-center. Omar Vizquel later shared, “I thought that ball was going to be a homer. Period. I dropped my head and I said, ‘Damn, man.’”
Kenny Lofton had not given up on the play. He raced toward the path of the ball. Lofton originally recruited to the University of Arizona on a basketball scholarship. He is the only person to have played in both an NCAA Final Four and a World Series. Arizona Wildcats head coach Lute Olson once said of Lofton, “He’s quick and a great leaper.”
This was never more evident as this moment when Loften barreled toward the bullpen wall, leapt off the warning track, found a foothold on some padding that protected the bullpen door and vaulted three feet above the right field wall to bring back what would have been a go-ahead homer for Surhoff.
Jim Thome remarked, “Literally, I thought he was going to jump over the wall.”
After Eric Plunk struck out Eddie Murray for the final out of the inning, the energized Indians came to bat. They sent fifteen men to the plate and scored eleven runs on eight hits, including a three-run double by Jose Vizcaino, and three-run home run by Jim Thome, and another three-run homer by Brian Giles.
Jose Mesa pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, but was clearly not eligible for a save in the 14-2 victory.
Honorable Mention: August 16th, 1920 – Ray Chapman is Killed by a Pitch
While not a positive story, Chapman’s is a unique one. He was struck in the temple by a pitch that he likely never saw. The Yankee’s Carl Mays was a submarine-style pitcher known to skuff and soil the ball (as was legal at the time). The game was nearing twilight when Chapman–a talented hitter who is still sixth on the all time list of sacrifice hits–failed to track the pitch and was struck squarely in the head. He collapsed to his knees and was helped off the field. He died hours later in a New York hospital. Chapman remains the only MLBer ever to pass away as a result of an on-field injury.