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Game 71

July 16, 1995 – Manny Ramirez “Wow!” Home Run off Dennis Eckersley

The red-hot Indians were trying to complete a four-game weekend sweep of the A’s in mid-July of 1995. The Tribe were already running away with the Central Division, and every game seemed to have a new hero.

Oakland threw Todd Stottlemyre against “El Presidente” Dennis Martinez. Eckersley began his career in Cleveland as a hard-throwing starter. He threw a no-hitter for the Tribe in Game 41 of 1977. In 1987, he signed with his hometown Oakland A’s and became the most dominant closer of the era.

Rickey Henderson led off this Sunday afternoon game with a home run on the third pitch from Martinez. Four batters later, Geronimo Berroa took Martinez deep to left-center to put the A’s ahead 3-0.

In the bottom of the second, Tony Pena cut the lead to 3-1 when he grounded out to third with runners at the corners.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Indians loaded the bases on Stottlemyre, but Wayne Kirby ended the inning with a flyball out. Likewise, the A’s loaded the bases in the top of the 7th. Martinez was able to work out of the jam when Stan Javier grounded out to short.

The As went to their bullpen in the bottom of the 7th, bringing in Mark Acre to replace Stottlemyre. Following a Carlos Baerga single, Albert Belle rocked a two-run home run to deep left-center, tying the game at 3.

The A’s loaded the bases again in the eighth, but once again failed to score. Julian Tavarez and Todd Van Poppel pitched scoreless ninth innings, for their respective clubs and send the game to extra frames.

The bullpens continued to battle, until the top of the twelfth when Stan Javier scored Ricky Henderson on a sacrifice fly off of Alan Embree.

The Indians came to bat in the bottom of the 12th with pressure mounting. The A’s brought in Eckersley to slam the door. Carlos Baerga singled to left on Eck’s second pitch. Albert Belle and Jim Thome then popped out consecutively. The speedy Kenny Lofton came in to pinch run for Baerga and stole second.

With Lofton on second, Manny Ramirez stepped back in and fouled off a handful of Eckersley fastballs. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat Manny connected with one of those Eckersley fastballs in a big way. The two-run home run landed more than half way up the left field bleachers. As Manny rounded the bases, a TV camera caught the moment when Eckersley turned to see the ball leave the park and mouth “WOW!”

Interestingly, Eckersley is credited with coining the phrase I have used so often in this project “walkoff home run.” He initially used the term to describe the home run he gave up to Kirk Gibson in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

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Game 41

May 30, 1977 – Dennis Eckersley’s Memorial Day No Hitter

On Memorial Day 1977, the Angels were in town and Cleveland had a young, brash pitcher on the mound. Dennis Eckersley was matched up with Angels ace Frank Tanana.

Cleveland Plain Dealer Collection

Eckersley issued one walk, with two outs in the top of the first to first baseman Tony Solaita.

In the bottom of the first, Duane Kuiper hit a fly ball to center field. Gil Flores attempted a shoestring catch, but narrowly missed the ball. The hit rolled all the way to the outfield wall and Kuiper was aboard with a triple. Right fielder Jim Norris executed a suicide squeeze to bring Kuiper home. This first-inning run is the only support Eck would need.

Mowing through the Angels lineup, Eckersley struck out twelve. The only other Angels baserunner was Bobby Bonds. He struck out to lead off the eighth, but strike three eluded Tribe catcher Ray Fosse. Bonds made it safely to first base, and it was ruled a wild pitch. Bonds was then neutralized on a ground ball double play by Don Baylor.

Tommy Smith, a good friend of our family and an old teammate of my father shared a story with me about his experience of this game:

“We had started the day finishing up in third place in the 2U Cleveland Umpires Tournament. Our last game concluded about 1PM. Four of us, along with three of the wives decided to grab a bite to eat at the local tavern and make plans for the rest of the evening. Our intention was to go see the young phenom Dennis Eckersley pitch on a beautiful evening.

This is where our plans hit a snag. One–and only one–of the wives decided she had seen enough baseball and softball in the last three days and was not going to go see another game that evening. So, we asked what she wanted to do.

She wanted us all to go see a movie. We let her have her way and went to see “It’s Alive”, one of the worst movies I believe I have ever seen in my life. We walked out of the theater about 9:15 PM, got in our cars and turned on the game as we headed out to dinner.

It was the top of the 8th inning, and Eckersley had not given up a hit. A no-no, and we were missing it! We got to the restaurant in the top of the 9th and the ladies walked in while the four guys stayed near the car to hear the end of the game.

Leading of the top of the ninth for the Halos was Bobby Grich. He struck out for the second time of the evening and was Eck’s 11th strikeout victim. Next was pinch hitter Willie Aiken, so lifted a short fly ball to left for out number two.

Everyone in the crowd was up on their feet as Gil Flores came to the plate. We turned the car radio up as loud as it would go, and none of us said a word, hoping not to jinx the moment. Strike one was called and Flores was not happy. Ball one came and the crowd was anxious. The third pitch was fouled back and now the count was 1 – 2. You could hear a pin drop in the stadium–and in the parking lot–as the next pitch was delivered.

Swing and a miss! Strike three! And Dennis Eckersley was now a part of baseball history. The four of us looked at each other and couldn’t utter a word. Baseball history in our own back yard and we had missed it in favor of “It’s Alive.” A game that goes down in Indians history…sure would have been nice to have been there.”

Eckersley would go on to strike out over 191 batters in the 1977 season, leading the league with a 3.54 strikeout to walk ratio. He will appear again in this project, later in his career pitching for his hometown Oakland As in Game 71.  

Baseball Reference Box Score

Many thanks to Tommy Smith. I have lightly edited his comments to me for clarity.

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