September 5, 1992 – Walkoff Win Against the Mariners Prefigures Biggest Matchups of the 90s
The 1992 Indians were 62-73 and in dead last in the American League East. The only team with a worse record were the Mariners at 56-80. Both teams were in the midst of decades-long rebuilding programs. The Indians had not made the playoffs since 1954, and the Mariners had their first winning season in franchise history in 1991–with a record of 83-79.
However, both teams had some rising stars that would later become some of the biggest figures in baseball. This late-season series between two basement dwellers prefigured some of the highest-profile matchups of the mid to late 1990s.
Charlie Nagy was matched up with Randy Johnson for the Saturday afternoon matchup on the lakefront. Randy Johnson was tall, and he could throw a fastball but he was not yet “The Big Unit.” In fact, he led the league in walks in 1990, 1991, and 1992.
Ken Griffey Junior blasted Nagy’s 2-1 pitch deep to right-center to lead off the top of the second with a home run.
Nagy had his sinker working. He got out of both the second and fourth innings on ground ball double-plays.
In the top of the fifth, Mariner’s catcher David Valle sent a line drive onto the home run porch in left to make it 2-0 Mariners.
The Indians jumped ahead in the bottom of the fifth with a two-out bases-loaded single by Carlos Baerga tied the game. Then Albert Belle dropped one in over the third baseman’s head. Albert raced into second base as Felix Fermin and Baerga scored to give the Tribe a 4-2 lead.
After consecutive walks in the sixth, Nagy was replaced by reliever Kevin Wickander. Wickander walked Griffer to load the bases, and then walked Tino Martinez on four pitches to cut the Indians lead to one run. Jay Buhner’s sacrifice fly tied the game 4-4.
Randy Johnson pitched 7 ⅔, struck out eight Indians and walked seven. Jeff Nelson came in to match up with Paul Sorrento and recorded the final out of the eighth. The Indians then faced Russ Swan in the bottom of the ninth. After a Kenny Lofton groundout, Swan walked Felix Fermin. Carlos Baerga slapped a single through the left side of the infield that put the speedy Fermin on third.
Wayne Kirby came on to pinch run for Fermin and Albert Belle came to the plate. Belle punched one past the shortstop and into the outfield. Kirby came home to score the winning run.
Albert was 3 for 5 on the day with 3 RBI and a stolen base. He was coming into his own as one of the AL’s premier hitters. He would go on to lead the league in RBIs in 1993, as well as in 1995 (when he was robbed of the MVP) and 1996.
Late in the 1992 season, Randy Johnson met Nolan Ryan during a series against the Rangers. Ryan suggested a slight change to Randy’s delivery that he credits with giving him greater control. For the next four years, Johnson led the league in strikeouts. He became a fixture in big matchups with the Indians. He was the Mariners on Opening Day starter in 1994 when the Tribe opened up Jacobs Field. He also the visiting starter in Game 3 of the 1995 ALCS.
Both teams matured and came together during the strike-shortened 1994 season, and both achieved long-awaited playoff berths in 1995. Both clubs are still in search of a World Series trophy in this century.