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Game 143

September 30, 1995 – Albert Belle Has First and Only 50/50 Season

The strike-shortened 1995 season was quickly coming to a close. The Royals were in town for the final weekend of the regular season. Mark Clark took the hill against Dave Fleming on a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd. 

Clark and Fleming carried their teams through the first three inning scoreless until Tony Pena hit a comebacker to the mound with one out in the top of the third. Fleming left the game and Melvin Bunch took the mound for KC. 

In the top of the sixth, the Royals finally broke through when Brent Mayne smacked a line drive double into center field on Clark’s first pitch. Two batters later, Tom Goodwin deposited a home run into the bullpen giving the Royals a 2-0 lead. 

Kenny Lofton led off the bottom of the sixth with a perfectly placed bunt single and then stole second base. Omar VIzquel flied out to deep right field, allowing Lofton to tag and advance to third. Carlos Baerga grounded to short and was put out at first while Lofton came home. 

Next up was Albert Belle. Albert was one of the most fearsome power hitters of the mid-90s and had risen to legend status in Cleveland both for his prodigious power hitting, but also his fiery temper and off-field struggles. Belle smashed Bunch’s 2-2 pitch over the left-field home run porch and through the stadium gates onto Eagle Avenue. 

Belle’s homer was his 50th of the season, and marked the first and only time a player recorded 50 homers and 50 doubles in the same year. It tied the game at 2-2. 

Mike Hargrove turned the game over to the bullpen to start the seventh inning. Chad Ogea pitched a 1-2-3 seventh. Erik Plunk retired the Royals in order in the eighth. Jose Mesa walked Tom Goodwin in the ninth, but escaped with the tie intact. Alan Embree allowed a single by Juan Samuel to lead off the tenth, but promptly squashed the threat. 

Backup catcher Jesse Levins led off the bottom of the tenth with a double. Jeromy Burnitz came in to pinch run for Levins. The Royals intentionally walked Kenny Lofton. Omar Vizquel laid down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Burnitz to third. Carlos Baerga dropped the game-winning single into center for the Tribe’s twelfth and final walkoff win of the regular season. 

I remember this game playing on our small black and white TV that we kept in the walk-out basement. I was helping my father with fall yard work and we ran inside each time Albert came to bat to wait for history to be made on Channel 43. After Albert hit the home run, dad and I toasted with a 50/50 soda. 

Todd Helton had a 54 double 49 home run season in 2001. This is the closest that any player has come to completing the feat…and Helton played in 159 games that year. 

Belle was known to feud with the media. Mo Vaughn won the 1995 MVP award–a clear rebuke from the baseball writers. Vaughn had a strong season, but was nowhere near the historic stat line that Belle generated in the strike-shortened campaign of 1995. Belle later said, “Actually I’m surprised I got as many votes as I did [from the writers].” He received 11 first-place votes to Vaughn’s 12.

Baseball Reference Box Score

Honorable Mention – September 13, 1936 –  Bob Feller Strikes Out 17 at Age 17

Bob Feller arrived from Van Meter, Iowa in 1936 and instantly took over as baseball’s hardest-throwing strikeout pitcher. On this Sunday afternoon, the 17-year old rookie sat down 17 of Connie Mack’s Athletics on his way to a complete game 2-hit shutout.

Baseball Reference Box Score

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Game 83

July 16 , 1946 – Indians Beat Red Sox by Employing the “Ted Williams Shift”

Baseball’s stars mostly returned to the game in 1946. On this Tuesday afternoon, Bob Feller was on the hill for the Indians against Tex Hughson at Fenway Park. Another all-time great who gave up three years of baseball to serve in the Marines would step into the box against Feller–Ted Williams. 

Two day before, the Indians had a doubleheader with the Red Sox. In the opening game, player-manager Lou Boudreau went 5-for-5 with four doubles and a homer. Ted Williams hit three home runs and went 4-for-5. All of his hits were to right field. This was not the first or the last time Boudreau’s hitting was overshadowed by Williams. 

Boudreau led the AL with a .327 average in 1944; however, this honor always came with the asterisk that Williams was busy serving as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in between winning his six batting titles. 

Between games, Boudreau proposed a radical solution. When Ted Williams came to the plate in the second game, the Indians defense changed their alignment drastically. 

A Fleer Baseball Card Depicting the Shift

When Williams saw the shift for the first time, he turned to the umpire and said, “What the hell is going on out there? They can’t do that.” 

They could, though. Boudreau had checked the rules. The current edition of the MLB Rulebook is 184 pages long. The clause that implicitly allows a defensive shift is rather succinct: 

5.02(c) “Except the pitcher and the catcher, any fielder may station himself anywhere in fair territory.”

The Tribe shifted on Williams and held him to only one hit in the second game of the double-header, but managed to lose 6 to 4. 

Seeing the success of his new strategy, Boudreau continued to apply the shift two days later in Game 83. The Indians got on the board early when a long fly out by Pat Seerey allowed George Case to tag and score. Ken Keltner made the lead 2-0 with a home run to lead off the top of the second. 

Heinz Becker led off the Indians’ half of the fifth with a double and was driven in by catcher Jim Hegan. Pat Seerey led off the top of the sixth with another home run to make the score 4-0. 

In the bottom of the sixth, Ted Williams beat the shift with a line drive to center field that went for a triple and scored Johnny Pesky from second. 

Jim Hegan answered with a triple of his own in the top of the seventh, which again plated Becker. 

Williams singled to left in the bottom of the eighth, but it came to naught as Feller retired the next three Red Sox in order. Overall on the day, Feller gave up three runs on nine hits but it was good enough to get the complete game win after squashing a late comeback attempt that included a two-run double by Dom DiMaggio in the bottom of the ninth. Williams went 2 for 5 with the triple noted above as the only highlight. 

Boudreau would continue to use the shift against Williams throughout the mid-40s. Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer would use a similar tactic against Williams to win the 1946 World Series. Eventually he trained himself to be less of a pull hitter, but that required major adjustments to his approach. 

Of course, statistical analysis and sabermetrics has made the shift commonplace over the past 10 years or so. As FiveThirtyEight noted, this was likely due to changing perceptions rather than a change in effectiveness. The shift has always been a good idea–the manager just looks silly when it fails. The team that has embraced defensive shifts most fully is probably the Astros, who have used a very similar extreme shift against pull hitters such as Joey Gallo. 

It is hard to overstate how shocking this was to the baseball establishment at the time. Lou Boudreau is remembered not only as a talented hitter in his own right, but also as an innovative manager who knew the rules and how to bend them. 

Baseball Reference Box Score 

Honorable Mention – July 1, 2014 – Tribe Turns 7-2-4 Triple Play

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Game 68

July 1, 1951 – Bob Feller’s Third No-Hitter (Not a Shutout)

On the first Sunday in July, the Tigers were visiting Municipal Stadium. Bob Feller was on the mound facing Detroit’s Bob Cain.

Bob Feller on a Roadmaster bicycle, made by the Cleveland Welding Company

With runners on second and third in the bottom of the first, Luke Easter grounded to short scoring Dale Mitchell from third.

In the Detroit half of the first, Tigers shortstop Johnny Lipon reached on an error by Tribe shortstop Ray Boone. With Jerry Priddy at the plate, Lipon stole second and advanced to third on a wild throw by Dick Kryhoski. Lipon scored on a sacrifice fly by George Kell, tying the game at 1-1.

Feller issued two walks, but otherwise had the Tigers offense locked down. Feller later remarked to the Plain Dealer, “My fast ball and curve were nothing to brag about so I was depending on the slider most of the time. The fast one got better as the game moved along and I used it quite a bit in the late innings.”

In the bottom of the eighth, Sam Chapman had a one-out triple. Milt Neilson replaced him as a pinch runner. Luke Easter drove in the winning run with a single to right field which scored Neilson easily.

Feller faced the heart of the Tigers batting order in the top of the ninth. He got Charlie Keller and George Kell to fly out to right and left field, respectively. Vic Wertz was up with the Tigers down to their last out. A month earlier, Wertz broke up Bob Lemon’s bid for a perfect game. Feller struck out Wertz looking to end the game and earn his third no hitter.

Photo: thenationalpastimemuseum.com

As of this entry, there have been 300 no-hitters officially recognized by Major League Baseball. 257 of them are in the time-scope of this Project (since 1901). Three career No-Hitters was the record at that time and brought Feller into rare air with Cy Young and Larry Corcoran (of the 1880s White Stockings). Sandy Koufax recorded his fourth No-No in 1965, and Nolan Ryan surpassed them all, eventually marking his seventh in 1991.

According to Baseball Reference, there have been ten recognized No-Hitters that were not shutouts. Fellers was the second after Dazzy Vance and the Brooklyn Robins No-Hit the Phillies but Phillies first basemen Chicken Hawks scored an unearned run via an E7 and a sacrifice fly in Game 134 of 1925.

The most recent victims of the No-Hit non-shutout are the Indians themselves. Irvin Santana of the Angels No-Hit the Tribe in Game 102 of the 2011 campaign However, Eziquiel Carrera reached on an E6, stole second, advanced to third on an Asdrubal Cabrera groundout, and scored on a wild pitch.

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Game 66

July 3, 1939 – Three Triples by Ben Chapman

The Indians were in Michigan with Bob Feller on the mound facing Detroit’s Archie McKain. In the bottom of the first, Chapman walked, but was ultimately left stranded at third.

With the score still tied 0-0, Chapman led off the top of the fourth with a triple. Hal Trosky grounded out to McKain, but the speedy Chapman was able to score.

Feller was cruising through the Tiger’s lineup, and the score was still 1-0 when Chapman came up with two outs in the top of the 6th. He tripled again, but was stranded on third by a Hal Trosky groundout.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Tigers tied it up with a solo homer by Hall of Famer and former Indian Earl Averill–who played two years in Detroit in the twilight of his career.

Skeeter Webb led off the Indians half of the eighth with a fly out to center. Bob Feller got on base with a single and was moved over by a Rollie Helmsley hit. Bruce Campbell rocked a three-run home run to make it a 4-1 game. Chapman followed with his third triple of the day. Trosky grounded out to first, and Chapman was held at third. He was stranded again when Jeff Heath was called out on strikes.

Roy Cullenbine pinch hit for Archie McKain in the bottom of the eighth and led off the Inning with a home run, cutting the Indians lead to 4-2. Feller closed out the game for a final stat line of 2 runs on 5 hits, 4 walks, and two strikeouts.

Since 1920, 29 players have hit three triples in a game. The feat was somewhat more common before World War I when massive outfields were common–roughly once or twice a year In some early cases, spectators were seated in the outfield when the grandstands were over-full. The ground rules dictated that balls hit into spectator areas were awarded three bases.

Five Indians have had a three-triple game, but only Campbell’s occurred in what most would consider the modern era of hitting. The others were Elmer Flick in Game 68 of 1902, Bill Bradley on Game 82 of 1903, Nap Lajoie in Game 66 of 1904, and Shoeless Joe Jackson in Game 65 of 1912. Although many of the massive outfields were still around in 1939, Campbell’s three triples were not heavily assisted by odd dimensions. Briggs Field (later known as Tiger Stadium) would be recognizable to today’s hitters.

If you have heard of Ben Chapman before, it is likely as part of Jackie Robinson’s story. As manager of the Phillies in 1947, he heaped racist vitriol on Robinson from the dugout and encouraged his players to do the same. This was not a one-off performance. In 1934, nearly  15,000 New Yorkers signed a petition requesting Yankees fire Chapman because of his anti-Semitic remarks.

Despite that dark history, this game must be acknowledged as one of the preeminent feats of hitting and baserunning in Indians history.

The latest player to hit three triples in a game was Denard Span for the Twins against the Tigers on June 29, 2010. For comparison, there had been eighty 3+ home run games between Al Bumbry’s three-triple game in 1973 and Span’s 2010 effort.

Baseball Reference Box Score    

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Game 13

April 29, 1952 – Al Rosen 3 Home Runs, Jim Fridley 6 for 6

Only 7,858 fans came out to Shibe Park to see their woeful Athletics on a Tuesday afternoon. The As had dropped seven of their first eight games to start off the 1952 season. Facing Bob Feller likely did not inspire too much confidence in the anemic A’s offense coming into the game.

Shibe Park – 1950s

The Indians offense, on the other hand, posted some stat lines that would remain unchallenged for the next half-century.

The Indians sent ten men to the plate in the top of the first inning, notching five runs on six hits including the first by Fridley– a two-run single.

Al Rosen led off the top of the second with his first home run of the day, followed shortly by a Fridley single. Fridley scored on a Bob Kennedy double.

In the top of the 3rd, Al Rosen hit hit second home run, a three run shot off of Harry Byrd, who had been sent in to relieve the scuffling Alex Kellner for the A’s. The final out of the inning came with Fridley at the plate when Dale Mitchell was caught stealing.

Leading off the top of the 4th, Fridley recorded his third hit: a single to third base. Followed by another single to left field in the top of the 5th.

In the eighth inning, Fridley once again singled to left field. He was driven home by a three-run home run of the bat of backup catcher Berdie Tibbetts. With two outs and runners on first and second Al Rosen hit his third home run of the day. Jim Fridley came up again as the 11th batter of the inning. He singled again to left field for his fifth hit of the day.

Although Bob Feller gave up seven earned runs on eighteen hits, clearly the Indians offense more than picked him up. The Tribe recorded 25 hits on the way to posting 21 runs. The teams combined for one of the more outlandish stat lines in history: 30 runs, 43 hits, and 7 errors.

Fifty-seven years later, Shin-Soo Choo would match Rosen’s four hits and seven RBI in a 15-3 win over the same Athletics (now in Oakland) in Game 81 of the 2009 season. Only sixty-nine MLBers have recorded six hits in a nine-inning game, including 6 Indians.

Fridley’s six-hit performance has only been replicated twice by Indians in years since: by Jorge Orta in Game 56 of 1980 and Omar Vizquel in Game 133 of 2004, although Omar’s 6 hits came in seven at-bats.

Baseball Reference Box Score

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Game 1

April 16, 1940 – Bob Feller’s Opening Day No-Hitter

The 1940 season began on a chilly day on the south side of Chicago. The bats were not expected to be hot with a high temperature of 48 degrees, and blustery winds off Lake Michigan held the crowd down to just about 14,000. Few of those 14,000 fans could have predicted that they would witness a piece of baseball history that has yet to be replicated.

In his fourth season in the League and second year as the Indians’ Opening Day starter, Bob Feller was maturing into full dominance. Having come to the Major Leagues directly from high school at age 17 in 1936, Feller’s fastball was the stuff of legend. In the absence of radar gun technology, Feller once raced his fastball against a motorcycle in Chicago’s Lincoln Park at the request of the MLB Commissioner.

Game 1 of the 1940 season would only further Feller’s legendary status. The second inning began with Feller striking out the talented Luke Appling looking. Chicago RF Taffy Wright reached on an error by Roy Weatherly. Feller recorded another strikeout, but after walks, the bases were loaded. Feller struck out rookie Bob Kennedy to quell the threat.

The Indians lone run came on an RBI triple from Rollie Helmsley in the top of the 4th. After settling in from some early walks, Feller was in the groove. He retired 20-straight Sox en route to his greatest test of the game.

With two outs in the 9th, Future Hall of Famer Luke Appling battled Feller for a 10-pitch at bat, fouling off four pitches with two strikes and finally drawing a walk. Taffy Wright smashed a hard-hit ball to the right side of the infield. Rookie second baseman Ray Mack made a diving stop narrowly threw out Wright at first to seal the game and complete the first and still only Opening Day no-hitter.

“I think I’ve thrown faster several times,” Feller said following the game. “Of course, the wind behind me helped make me faster. But I couldn’t seem to throw a curve very well.”

Randy Johnson was perhaps the closest to matching this feat–against the Indians at the very first Home Opener at Jacob’s Field. Feller was in the press box at that game, pacing the aisles and urging the team to get a hit. Feller was visibly relieved when Sandy Alomar poked a single between first and second base in the bottom of the 8th to keep his 54 year-old feat unique in the history of the game.

Honorable Mention: April 4, 1994 – First game at Jacob’s Field. Wayne Kirby walkoff hit in 11th

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