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Game 123

September 8, 1995 – Indians Clinch a Playoff Berth for First Time in a Generation

The Indians came into this Friday night contest with a hair shy of a .700 winning percentage. They were a whopping 23 ½ games ahead in the Central Division. The Orioles threw Kevin Brown against veteran Orel Hershiser .  

In the bottom of the third, Sandy Alomar took first base on a hit-by-pitch. A Kenny Lofton single into right field advanced him over to third. Alomar scored on a sacrifice fly by Omar Vizquel for the first run of the game. Later in the inning, Eddie Murray drove in Carlos Baerga and Albert Belle with a two-out single over second base that put the Tribe up 3-0. 

Hershiser gave up his first hits of the night in the top of the fourth–consecutive singles by Curtis Goodwin and Rafael Palmero. With runners at the corners, Bobby Bonilla hit a grounder to first which Sorrento scooped up, fired to Vizquel for the force at second and back to Sorrento for the double-play while Goodwin scampered home to cut the lead to 3-1. 

Brown and Hershiser battled through the middle innings, until Harold Baines dropped a double into left field for the Orioles in the top of the seventh. Jeff Huson drove him in with another double and Mike Hargrove made the call to the Bullpen for Paul Assenmacher. 

Assenmacher got the last out of the seventh and the first two of the eighth. Julian Tavarez came in to match up with Bobby Bonilla and recorded the final out of the eighth. 

Jose Mesa came to the mound for the top of the ninth with the one-run lead intact. He retired Cal Ripken on a groundout to short and Harold Baines on a fly ball to right. He put the tying run aboard by issuing a walk to Chris Hoiles. Jeff Huson popped his 0-1 pitch into foul territory beyond third base. Jim Thome caught the fly, and the Indians were headed to the post-season for the first time since 1954. 

Prior to the game, knowing that the clinch was possible, Manager Mike Hargrove made a request of the scoreboard crew. He asked that Garth Brooks “The Dance” be played during the post-game celebration. The Dance was a favorite of former Indians closer Steve Olin who died in a boating accident during Spring Training of 1993. 

Hargrove later said, “I thought it would mean a lot to anyone who was there (at the time of the accident) For those who weren’t there it had no significance, but it was still a good song. It was a tribute to those guys, to their families. It was part of our promise to never forget them. We didn’t tell anyone that we were going to do it. For those who knew, there wasn’t a dry eye to be seen. I saw Charlie Nagy; tears were rolling down his face.”

Of course, the 1995 Indians would later run into the woodchipper that was John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine. Jose Mesa would go from second in the Cy Young voting to an all-time Cleveland villain, and the window of contention would eventually close without a World Series Ring. But for this day, Cleveland was on top of the baseball world. 

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Game 67

June 21, 1999 – Indians Score Walk-Off Run on Wild Pitch by Jose Mesa

Summer had arrived in Cleveland and the Indians were off to a strong start with 45 wins in their first 66 games. The Mariners were in town on this Monday night throwing Jamie Moyer against Bartolo Colon.

Colon and Moyer dueled through the early innings, and the score remained 0-0 until the bottom of the fifth. Alex Ramirez led off the Indians half of the inning with a ground-ball single to center. Jeff Manto executed a sacrifice bunt to move him over to second base, and Enrique Wilson drove Ramirez home with a line drive single to left.

Omar Vizquel led off the bottom of the sixth with a line drive single to center. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and stole third with Alex Ramirez at bat. With two outs on a 2-2 pitch, Ramirez shot a line drive through the hole on the left side of the infield scoring Vizquel and making the score 2-0 Indians.

Bartolo pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning, but began to lose control in the top of the eighth. After striking out Russ Davis on four pitches, he gave up consecutive singles to Dan Wilson and Brian Hunter. He got Alex Rodriguez to pop out after an eight-pitch at bat and then the call was made for Paul Assenmacher to face Ken Griffey Junior.

Junior got the Mariners on the board with a line drive over second base, which scored Dan Wilson. Paul Shuey was brought in to replace Assenmacher. With Edgar Martinez at the plate, Brian Hunter and Junior executed a double steal. With both runners now in scoring position, Edgar looped a single into short right field and made the score 3-2 M’s.

Jeff Fassero came in to pitch for the Mariners, and started off strong. He struck out David Justice and got Ritchie Sexon to ground out weakly back to the mound. He issued a walk to Jim Thome, and then Alex Ramirez battled through an epic at-bat to draw an 11-pitch walk. Robbie Alomar came in to pinch hit for Jeff Manto and loaded the bases with a single. Enrique Wilson drew a six-pitch walk to push Thome across and tie the game 3-3.

The Indians had the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, but Alex Ramirez struck out swinging to send the game into extra frames. The Mariners threatened several times, leaving runners on base in the tops of the tenth,  eleventh, and twelfth.

In the bottom of the eleventh, the Mariners brought on former Indians closer Jose Mesa to pitch to the heart of the Indians order. He faced off against Omar Vizquel to lead off the eleventh. This is one of the few times in his post-Indians career that Mesa did not intentionally throw at Vizquel. The tension of extra inning was evidently enough to set aside their long standing feud.

Mesa retired the Indians side in order in the eleventh, but ran into immediate trouble in the twelfth when Jim Thome led off with a single. Alex Ramirez executed a sacrifice bunt to move Thome into scoring position. Mesa intentionally walked Roberto Alomar to get to Enrique Wilson who singled to left to load the bases.

Mesa had recorded his first save against  the Indians earlier in the year, in Game 26 of 1999, but had not faced this kind of pressure cooker bases loaded situation against his former team. Facing Chris Turner, his pitch sailed inside and got past M’s catcher Dan Wilson. Thome scampered home for the walkoff win.

This was the Indians 9th win in 10 games and their 11th win of the season in their final at-bat.

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Honorable Mention: June 27, 1936 – Roy Weatherly Records Two Triples in His First Major League Game

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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.  

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