September 5, 1969 (Game 1) – Rare Walkoff Win From One of the All-Time Worst Tribe Teams
The 1969 Cleveland Indians are regarded by many as the worst Indians team of all time. At this point in September, they were 39 games off the pace behind division-leading Baltimore. They weren’t re-building per-se. The last time the Tribe had finished within striking distance of a playoff spot was a second-place finish in 1959 and the next time they would finish in second was 1994. Although other teams lost more games in total, the 1969 team was almost entirely forgettable.
The Yankees came to town for a weekend series that included a Friday double-header to make up for an earlier game that was cancelled by rain. The pitching matchup for game one was quite promising for two bad teams–Sam McDowell would face Mel Stottlemyre of the Yankees.
Indians catcher Duke Sims drove in centerfielder Russ Snyder for an RBI single in the bottom of the first to give the Tribe the early lead.
Frank Fernandez plated Horace clark with a sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth to tie things up 1-1.
McDowell scattered nine hits, almost evenly throughout the game. He got out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the eighth by getting a key groundout from Joe Pepitone. He struck out five and walked only two.
Likewise, Stottlemyer gave up ten hits and four walks, but the Indians were not able to take advantage of most of those opportunities until first baseman Russ Nagelson singled to center in the bottom of the ninth. Steve Hargan came in to pinch run for Nagelson. Eddie Leon laid down a solid sacrifice bunt to move Hargan over to second. Third baseman Lou Camilli grounded out to first, and Hargan was safe on third with two outs. So far, the Indians were 2 for 7 with runners in scoring position, and the few fans that scattered Muni Stadium probably thought that Hargan would be stranded like the nine Indians baserunners before him.
Ken Harrelson came on to pinch hit for McDowell and was intentionally walked by Stottlemyer. That brought up Jose Cardenal who had replaced Snyder in center field. Cardenal slapped a single into right field to bring home Hargan and win the game.
They would go on to lose the second half of the double-header and 99 games on the season, but this walkoff win was a bright spot for the home crowd. The Indians would finish with a worse record than both of the League’s brand-new expansion teams. The Kansas City Royals finished 69-93 while the Seattle Pilots edged out the Tribe with a record of 64-98.