August 29, 2007 – Sabathia vs Santana – Indians Beat Reigning Cy Young for 4th Time in Season
This Wednesday night matchup was billed as a faceoff between two pitching titans. CC Sabathia was at the peak of his pitching prowess. Johan Santana was the 2016 Cy Young winner and had mowed down major league lineups for years. However, the Indians had beat him three times already in 2007, mostly by hitting a lot of home runs.
Santana came into Progressive Field with a 14-10 record. Sabathia entered the game with a 15-7 record. Both were on the AL All-Star squad earlier in the summer.
Sabathia struggled a bit in the early going. He faced six Twins in the first inning, but managed to get out of the inning with the score still 0-0.
Grady Sizemore led off the Indians half of the first with a single. Hitting second, the rookie Asdrubal Cabrera deposited Santana’s 3-1 pitch just over the 19 foot wall in left for his second ever major league home run. After a Travis Hafner groundout, Victor Martinez put one on the home run porch in left field. After a Ryan Garko groundout, Franklin Gutierrez doubled, and then was driven in by a Kenny Lofton single. Casey Blake grounded out to end the inning, but it was quickly 4-0 Tribe.
Although Santana struggled with his velocity, he did not allow more than one hit per inning until he was pulled in the sixth after 104 pitches. He did record his 200th strikeout of the season.
CC held the Twins scoreless until the top of the fifth, when Torii Hunter drove in Jason Tyner to erase the shutout. Sabathia went six innings giving up two runs on seven hits and two walks. Jensen Lewis came on to pitch the seventh and retired the Twins in order.
Rafael Betancourt pitched the eighth for the Indians. Mike Redmond touched him up for one run, driving in Rondell white who had previously doubled. Closer Joe Borowski put the tying run on base when Jason Tyner knocked a single through the right side of the infield, but a pop-foul and a game-ending double play took care of the Twins.
This was the fourth time in the season that the Tribe had handed Santana a loss. The following Monday in Minnesota, Sabathia and Santana would face off again. The Indians had Johan’s number again with a 5-0 victory in Game 137. Overall on the season, the Tribe were 14-4 against the Twins and 5-0 against the reigning Cy Young winner.
August 26, 2005 – Grady Sizemore Straight-Steals Home
The Indians were north of the border and C.C. Sebathia was on the mound against the Blue Jays and rookie starter Dustin McGowan.
Grady Sizemore led off the game with a line drive single to center. Coco Crisp tapped one back to the mound and was put out at first, but Sizemore was safe at second. Sizemore advanced to third on a wild pitch before Jhonny Peralta struck out swinging.
Sizemore noticed that McGowan was barely looking at him, let alone checking him back to the base. Pitch by pitch, he took a larger and larger lead as Travis Hafner worked against McGowan.
“Throughout the at-bat, I just kept going farther and farther,” Sizemore said. “I wanted to see how much they would let me have before they stopped me. They never did, and I told Skins [Third Base Coach Joel Skinner], ‘I can take this.’ “
Despite the two-strike count, Sizemore took a broad walking lead and turned it into a sprint to the plate. McGowan finally saw Grady break out of the corner of his eye, and rushed his pitch, which ended up coming in high. Catcher Guillermo Quiroz did not even attempt to apply a tag as Sizemore slid into home.
Travis Hafner was as surprised as anyone that Grady would attempt the steal on a two-strike count, “If I had swung and hit Grady in the face, I would have had every woman in America mad at me.”
Two pitches later, Hafner sent a home run over the Roger’s Center wall. He later jokes with Sizemore, “If I end up with 99 RBIs this year, you’re off my Christmas list.'”
Later in the inning, Ben Broussard notched an RBI with a line drive to left that scored Victor Martinez. The first inning came to a close with the Tribe up 3-0.
Victor Martinez homered off McGowan in the top of the third. In the top of the ninth, Travis Hafner cracked his second home run of the game–a two-run shot off Justin Speier that drove in Coco Crisp. Victor Martinez followed with a single to right and then Ronnie Belliard took Speier deep as well.
Sabathia went six innings giving up three runs on six hits. It was not his best outing, but the Indians offense more than covered for any mistakes. Bob Howry faced only seven batters in his two innings of work out of the bullpen, and David Riske closed things out with a scoreless ninth to preserve the 9-3 victory.
The Indians were on a roll, with an 18-6 record since the end of July. However, they would eventually miss the playoffs after getting swept by the White Sox in the final weekend of the season.
August 14, 2003 – Travis Hafner Hits for Cycle Just Before Widespread Blackout
The Indians were wrapping up a mid-week series in Minneapolis with a Thursday-afternoon getaway game. Even for dedicated fans, most people are not engaged with the game in real-time. Despite the history-making moments in this game–not many Clevelanders remember it–likely because not many of them even saw the highlights.
Brian Anderson was matched up with Brad Radke of the Twins in the Metrodome. Travis Hafner opened up the scoring with a solo home run on Radke’s first pitch of the at-bat. It was a towering drive to right that landed somewhere in the “baggy” covering the collapsible seating sections used for Vikings games. At the middle of the second inning the Tribe were up 1-0.
In the top of the third, Casey Blake bounced one into the seats and scored Jhonny Perralta with the ground-rule double.
With two outs in the top of the fourth, Hafner slapped a bouncer over Brad Radke on a check swing. The ball found its way between the second baseman and shortstop. As it dribbled into the outfield, Pronk raced around first, and slid into second for a double.
Anderson scattered just five hits through the first six innings and the Twins never really threatened.
The Tribe broke things open in the top of the seventh when Hafner chopped one in front of the plate and beat Matt LeCroy’s throw to first. The catchers throw sailed past the first baseman and Hafner took second on the throwing error–but was credited with a single.
Josh Bard bunted Hafner over to third. He then scored on a ground-rule double by Jhonny Perralta. The Tribe would add three additional runs in the seventh to bring the lead to 6-0.
After another 1-2-3 inning by Anderson, Ben Broussard led off the Indians half of the eighth with a single. Ryan Ludwick struck out swinging and brought Hafnet up with a shot at the record books. Not known for his speed–clearly a triple would be a tall order for Hafner. He sent a line drive into the right-center gap, perfectly placed between the outfielders. It skipped to the wall on the Metrodome turf. Torii Hunter fielded the ball up against the wall and double-clutched before hitting his cutoff man. By the time the relay came to third, Hafner was in safely with a head-first slide.
Anderson eventually gave up a home run to Matt LeCroy and was chased from the game. Reliever David Cortes gave up two additional runs while closing out the bottom of the ninth, but was more than serviceable in getting the Tribe to the 8-3 victory.
Hafner’s final line was 4 hits, 2 RBI in 5 plate appearances. His mother, Bev had driven 400 miles from Sykeston North Dakota to see her son at the nearest ballpark. Hafner was the seventh Indian to hit for the cycle to date. Rajai Davis and Jake Bauers have done it since.
The game in Minnesota ended when it was 3:36 p.m. in Cleveland. Around 3:10, various transmission lines and substations in the First Energy system began tripping off. At 4:09 all Cleveland Public Power customers were completely in the dark. Eventually, over fifty-million people in eight states and parts of Canada would be without power.
With Clevelanders scrambling to empty fridges, locate flashlights, procure generators, or drink beers with their neighbors under the stars few were paying attention to the sports day’s highlight reel and so Hafner’s cycle became a bit of trivia that escaped the memory of many.
The 2001 Seattle Mariners were one of the best ballclubs ever assembled. They had a .360 On Base Percentage for the season, and ended up with an MLB record 116 wins. Dave Burba was matched up with Aaron Sele in a late-summer contest that saw a good Indians team facing the juggernaut from the west. Seattle came into the game with a record of 80-30.
That summer, my high-school girlfriend was hosting an exchange student from Talinn, Estonia. The game was nationally televised, and the wraparound weekend series had been hyped all week. We decided that on Sunday night, we would try to teach the exchange student about baseball.
Burba pitched a 1-2-3 inning to start the game, but quickly began to unravel in the second. Al Martin and Mike Cameron hit consecutive doubles to score Seattle’s first run of the night. After a fly out by Carlos Guillien, Burba issued a walk to David Bell. With runners on first and second, Tom Lampkin doubled down the right field line to score Cameron. Ichiro drove in Bell and Lampkin with a line drive single to left. The Mariners were up 4-0 very quickly.
Burba gave up three consecutive singles to load the bases in the top of the third, and manager Charlie Manuel had seen enough. Reliever Mike Bacsik was called from the bullpen to make his first major league appearance. Bacsik would later become a historical footnote for giving up Barry Bond’s 756th home run while pitching for the Nationals. The M’s sent ten batters to the plate against Bacsik and scored eight runs in the frame. The Indians found themselves in a 12-0 hole against the best pitching staff in baseball.
Down 12 runs, Manuel decided to give some starters a rest–Juan Gonzalez, Robbie Alomar, Ellis Burks, and Travis Fryman all came out of the game after their second at bat. Kenny Lofton later remarked that he, “wanted to stay in the game for some reason. [Maybe] I had a girlfriend there.”
Jim Thome hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth to end the shutout, but Seattle quickly regained their 12-run margin scoring twice in the bottom of the fifth.
In the bottom of the seventh, Russel Branyan cranked a home run to left center off Aaron Sele to lead off the inning. After retiring Marty Cordova and Will Cordero, Sele began to fade. Backup catcher Einar Diaz singled to center, and then Sele walked both Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel.
After John Halama was brought in from the Seattle Bullpen, Jolbert Cabrera followed with a two-RBI single that cut the lead to 14-5.
In the bottom of the eighth, Jim Thome led off with a home run off Halama. Russel Branyan took first when Halama hit him with his first pitch. Marty Cordova followed with a homer that made the deficit 14-8. Omar drove in one additional run in the 8th with a double to right field.
Rich Rodriguez pitched a 1-2-3 top of the ninth for the Tribe. He used only seven pitches and got the offense–which was now beginning to feel a little spark–back to the plate.
With two outs and the bases loaded, Einar Diaz singled to left, pushing Eddie Taubensee and Marty Cordova across the plate. The Mariners were forced to bring in their star reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki to attempt to quell the threat. Kenny Lofton took Sasaki’s second pitch through the left side of the infield to re-load the bases.
Vizquel worked Sasaki into a full count. On the eighth pitch of the at bat, Omar hit one sharply over the first base bag. It skipped under backup first baseman Ed Sprague’s glove and out toward the foul pole. Kenny Lofton–showing his characteristic speed, but on aging legs at this point in his career–dug hard to score from first. The bases-clearing triple tied the game at 14. The Tribe had closed the 12 run deficit over the course of just three innings.
I turned to the exchange student. For about the fifth time in the last hour and said, “That is not usually how this works.”
Both teams would fail to score in the 10th. The Indians’ controversial recent acquisition, John Rocker, came on to pitch the top of the 11th. Rocker struck out the side against the bottom third of the M’s order.
After a fly out by Einar Diaz to lead off the bottom half of the frame, Kenny Lofton got aboard with a line drive single to center. Omar singled again to move Lofton into scoring position. This brought Jolbert Cabrera to the plate. Cabrera swung at Jose Paniagua’s first pitch and shattered his bat, sending fragments out to third base and the ball into short left. Lofton raced from second and rounded third. Mark McLemore threw a strike from left field to the plate, but Lofton slid in under the tag to deliver the walkoff victory.
After the game, Lofton was beyond enthusiastic, “I can’t explain it. It was unbelievable. I’ve never been in a game like that in my life. My voice is gone from hollering so much. It was fun. Wow.”
Honorable Mention: August 26, 1995 – Eddie Murray Steals Home
At age 39, Eddie Murray was one of the grizzled veterans on the 1995 squad. I was with my father fishing for perch. We were bobbing at anchor next to the 5-mile crib with the Saturday day game on the radio. When Eddie Murray broke from third and stole home off of Tiger’s pitcher Mike Moore I asked my dad if it was a joke. It seemed unlikely, but was the real outcome of a wild fifth inning.
July 31, 2009 – Indians Walkoff Win in the 13th after Trading Lee and Martinez
The Indians had just traded Cy Young winner Cliff Lee to the Phillies and fan favorite Ryan Garko to the Giants. In the afternoon prior to Game 103, the Indians traded beloved catcher and clubhouse leader Victor Martinez to the Red Sox for Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, and Bryan Price. The Indians were classic sellers at the trade deadline, as they were 43 and 60 going into July 31st and 11 games behind the division-leading Tigers at the trade deadline.
Those same Tigers were in town for a Friday night contest at Progressive Field. Fausto Carmona throwing against Detroit’s Edwin Jackson. Both pitchers took a minute to find their footing. Fausto gave up two runs on three hits in the top of the first. Asdrubal Cabrera battled Jackson through a full count, sending the ninth pitch of the at bat over the right field wall for a two-run homer.
Shin-Soo Choo gave the Tribe a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fourth when he doubled in Trevor Crowe, who had reached on an error to lead off the inning.
Taiwainese reliever Fu-Te Ni came in to pitch for the Tigers in the bottom of the sixth. He gave up a leadoff single to Trevor Crowe and then a line-drive RBI double to Asdrubal Cabrera. After hitting Choo in the next at bat, Ni was pulled with the score 4-2.
Brandon Inge closed the gap for Detroit, poking a ground ball single into center that scored Maglio Ordonez to make it a 4-3 ballgame.
Trevor Crowe led off the bottom of the eighth with a triple–his third hit of the night. Grady Sizemore drove him in with a single through the right side of the infield to extend the lead to 5-3.
The Indians had acquired Kerry Wood as a free agent to be their closer after the steep decline of Joe Borowski in 2008. Wood had secured fourteen saves with the Tribe to date. He gave up a line drive single to left to Placido Palanco to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Carlos Guillen stepped in and cranked Kerry’s 3-1 pitch deep into right center. Although he retired the next three Tigers on eight pitches, he was credited with his fifth blown save of the season and the game went to extra innings.
Tomo Okha pitched some very solid relief for the Tribe, scattering four hits across his four innings pitched.
Johnny Perralta knocked a line drive down the right field line for a double to lead off the bottom of the 13th. Utility man Jamey Carroll, who had pinch run for Travis Hafner in the bottom of the ninth, stepped in. Carroll sliced a single just inside the first base bag to drive in Perralta and give the Tribe an emotional walkoff win.
The next day, a Victor Martinez bobblehead promotion was planned for Game 104. Despite V-Mart’s departure the bobbleheads were distributed as planned. Six days later, the promotional team went ahead with a Victor Martinez chest protector backpack giveaway–a case study in why not to schedule player-specific promotions the week after the trade deadline.
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.
July 16, 2004 – 50 Total Bases, Back-to-Back-to-Back Home Runs
The Indians entered this game against the Mariners with a 43-46 record and 4.5 games back of the division-leading White Sox. Cliff Lee was on the mound in the Emerald City against Travis Blackley.
Blackley got off to a rough start, loading the bases in the top of the first and forcing in a run on a five-pitch walk of Travis Hafner. He then retired first baseman Lou Merloni, but the Tribe had the early 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the third, Omar Vizquel led off with a line drive single to center. Matt Lawton took Blackley’s 1-1 pitch deep to make the score 3-0. Victor Martinez followed him with a home run of his own. Not to be outdone, Casey Blake stepped in and sent the 2-1 pitch up and out for back-to-back-to-back home runs!
Clearly struggling with control, Blackley hit the next batter, sending Travis Hafner to first. Lou Merloni knocked a ground-ball single into left center. Then Jody Gerut doubled to right field, scoring Hafner. Mariner’s skipper Bob Melvin had finally seen enough of Blackley and brought J.J. Putz in to face Coco Crisp with no outs and Merloni on third. Crisp popped out, but Ronnie Belliard was able to push across the sixth run of the inning before Putz retired the side.
Cliff Lee pitched effectively, until the bottom of the fourth, when he gave up a three-run home run to Mariners third baseman Justin Leone.
Ron Villone replaced Putz on the mound for the Mariners in the top of the sixth, and immediately got himself into a bind. He walked Vizquel to lead off the inning, and then hit Matt Lawton. With those two on base, Victor Martinez crushed the 0-1 pitch for a three-run home run which extended the Tribe lead to 10-3.
Victor eventually accounted for fourteen of the Indians’ 50 total bases, including a two run single in the top of the seventh and a third homer–this one a solo shot off Justin Mateo–in the top of the ninth.
In all, the Indians scored 18 runs on 21 hits, including eight home runs. The Indians would not hit back-to-back-to-back homers again until Game 72 of the 2019 Season.