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.
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.