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Game 54

May 31, 1998 – Jose Mesa’s Last Save as an Indian

Indians fans have always had a complex relationship with their closers. This is probably true for most teams, but the Jose Mesa era was possibly the purest distillation of closer angst. Mesa’s career 4.36 ERA is the highest of any pitcher with at least 150 saves.

What can we derive from this statistic? Some of that average is from his early days as a starting pitcher. Most of it comes from giving Cleveland fans heartburn by giving up a run or two on his way to recording the save.

The Indians were north of the border, with Chuck Nagy facing Pat Hentgen in Toronto. Carlos Delgado led off the scoring with a two-run home run off Nagy in the bottom of the first.

Bars and vendors facing the playing field have become commonplace throughout the MLB. But In 1998, the Sight Lines restaurant inside the SkyDome was one of the first of its kind. That made it all the more surprising when Jim Thome cranked a home run deep into center field  It not only cleared the wall, but entered the open air bar 60 feet above the playing field, cleared three rows of tables, and came to rest next to the dessert buffet.

View from the Sight Lines Bar

Two batters later, Mark Whiten followed with a solo home run. David Bell and Omar Vizquel would wrap up the inning with RBI singles, bringing the score to 4-2 Indians.

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 5th, Carlos Delgado touched up Nagy once again, with a ground ball that scored Alex Gonzalez.

Manny Ramirez made the score 5-3 in the top of the 8th with a single to short that scored David Justice from third base.

Jose Mesa entered the game in the bottom of the 8th. Earlier in the year he had been essentially replaced in the closer role by Mike Jackson. Mesa retired the heart of the Blue Jays lineup–Jose Canseco, Carlos Delgado, and Mike Stanley–in order on eleven pitches.

The Tribe added three more runs in the top of the ninth. With that added insurance, manager Mike Hargrove sent Mesa back out to close the game. Mesa recorded the final three outs and booked his 104th and last save as an Indian. This figure places him 5th on the current list of franchise leaders.

Due to simmering resentments and faltering confidence, Mesa needed a change of scenery. He was dealt to the Giants in July along with Shawon Dunston and Alvin Morman for Steve Reed and Jacob Cruz.

Mesa would go on to pitch for another nine years and carry on a long-running feud with Omar Vizquel throughout both players journeyman days.  

Baseball Reference Box Score

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Game 49

May 29, 2001 – Jim Thome Passes Belle as Indians All-time Home Run Leader

In 1990, minor-league hitting coach Charlie Manuel would instruct a young Jim Thome to relax and extend his bat toward center field at the beginning of each at bat. That pose is now immortalized as a statue in the plaza beyond center field in downtown Cleveland.

After breaking into the big-leagues full-time in 1994, Jim Thome became a prolific slugger who was sometimes overshadowed on team’s full of power hitters with big personalities.

After Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez had signed elsewhere as free agents, Thome continued on with the Tribe through the 2002 season, bringing continuity and continued production year upon year.  

In the middle of a weekday series with Detroit, Thome was hitting 5th in the lineup when Dave Burba matched up with the Tiger’s Victor Santos at Comerica Park.

Santos struck out Jacob Cruz and Omar Vizquel to start the game. Robbie Alomar tripled, and Santos walked Juan Gonzalez on five pitches. Thome kicked off the scoring with a line drive RBI double down the right field foul line.

The Tigers manufactured two runs off Burba in the bottom of the third, taking the early lead.

Leading off in the top of the fourth, Thome sent an opposite-field home run over the wall in left-center. This was his 243rd career home run, all with the Indians. This put him over Albert Belle as the all-time franchise home run leader.

There was plenty of offense in the game, with several lead changes. Robbie Alomar’s two-run home run off Heath Murray in the top of the 7th would end up being the winning run. The Tribe went on to a 6-4 win on the day.

The next year, Thome would break the single-season home-run mark of 50 also set by Belle in 1995 when he smacked 52 before departing for Philadelphia as a free agent in the off season.

Baseball Reference Box Score

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Game 8

April 10, 1998
Jim Thome Walkoff HR in Home Opener

This is the final Home Opener in our series and one of the latest in Indians history. The Tribe opened the season at a blistering pace, defeating Seattle in the first two games, sweeping a weekend series in Anaheim, and then splitting 1-1 with Oakland before returning to Cleveland on April 10th.

With the near-miss disappointment of the 1997 World Series still stinging, the 1998 campaign began with great hope, and with a 7-1 record heading into the home opener sold-out Jacobs Field was electric.

The 1998 Indians would go on to lead the Central Division wire-to-wire. This is the first and only time in franchise history that the Tribe has been atop the standings for the duration of the season.

Bartolo Colon matched up with Allen Watson in the contest. The Indians got on the board early when Kenny Lofton hit a leadoff double, stole third base, and was driven home by a Shawon Dunston sacrifice fly. Later in the inning, Travis Fryman would double, scoring David Justice.

The Angels scored in the top of the second when, with runners on first and third, Norberto Martin drove a single into right field scoring Jim Edmunds.

Colon began to lose his command in the 5th. He gave up a fly-ball out to Darin Erstad, and consecutive singles to Dave Hollins and Tim Salmon. Jim Edmunds punched a ball between second and short, scoring Hollins. Salmon rounded third and a rare throwing error by Kenny Lofton allowed him to score. Paul Shuey would replace Colon later in the inning.

The game remained locked at 4-4 until the bottom of the 7th inning, when David Justice hit a line drive single into short right field, scoring Omar Vizquel.

In the top of the 9th, Indians reliever Michael Jackson hit Dave Hollins with an 0-2 pitch to lead off the inning. A Jim Edmunds double put Hollins on third. Cecil Fielder grounded one back to the pitcher, catching Jim Edmunds in a P-3B-C-SS-3B rundown. Damon Mashore came in to pinch run for Fielder at 3B and was driven in by Garrett Anderson to tie the game.

Eric Plunk retired the Angels in order in the 10th. In the bottom of the 10th, Jim Thome clubbed a 1-1 pitch onto the home run porch in left field. Thome would go on to be the Indians all-time home run leader with 317, and would finish his Hall of Fame career with an MLB record 13 walk-off home runs (9 with the Indians).


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