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Game 110

August 5, 2001 – The Impossible Comeback

The 2001 Seattle Mariners were one of the best ballclubs ever assembled. They had a .360 On Base Percentage for the season, and ended up with an MLB record 116 wins. Dave Burba was matched up with Aaron Sele in a late-summer contest that saw a good Indians team facing the juggernaut from the west. Seattle came into the game with a record of 80-30. 

That summer, my high-school girlfriend was hosting an exchange student from Talinn, Estonia. The game was nationally televised, and the wraparound weekend series had been hyped all week. We decided that on Sunday night, we would try to teach the exchange student about baseball. 

Burba pitched a 1-2-3 inning to start the game, but quickly began to unravel in the second. Al Martin and Mike Cameron hit consecutive doubles to score Seattle’s first run of the night. After a fly out by Carlos Guillien, Burba issued a walk to David Bell. With runners on first and second, Tom Lampkin doubled down the right field line to score Cameron. Ichiro drove in Bell and Lampkin with a line drive single to left. The Mariners were up 4-0 very quickly. 

Burba gave up three consecutive singles to load the bases in the top of the third, and manager Charlie Manuel had seen enough. Reliever Mike Bacsik was called from the bullpen to make his first major league appearance. Bacsik would later become a historical footnote for giving up Barry Bond’s 756th home run while pitching for the Nationals. The M’s sent ten batters to the plate against Bacsik and scored eight runs in the frame. The Indians found themselves in a 12-0 hole against the best pitching staff in baseball. 

Down 12 runs, Manuel decided to give some starters a rest–Juan Gonzalez, Robbie Alomar, Ellis Burks, and Travis Fryman all came out of the game after their second at bat. Kenny Lofton later remarked that he, “wanted to stay in the game for some reason. [Maybe] I had a girlfriend there.”

Jim Thome hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth to end the shutout, but Seattle quickly regained their 12-run margin scoring twice in the bottom of the fifth. 

In the bottom of the seventh, Russel Branyan cranked a home run to left center off Aaron Sele to lead off the inning. After retiring Marty Cordova and Will Cordero, Sele began to fade. Backup catcher Einar Diaz singled to center, and then Sele walked both Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel. 

After John Halama was brought in from the Seattle Bullpen, Jolbert Cabrera followed with a two-RBI single that cut the lead to 14-5. 

In the bottom of the eighth, Jim Thome led off with a home run off Halama. Russel Branyan took first when Halama hit him with his first pitch. Marty Cordova followed with a homer that made the deficit 14-8. Omar drove in one additional run in the 8th with a double to right field. 

Rich Rodriguez pitched a 1-2-3 top of the ninth for the Tribe. He used only seven pitches and got the offense–which was now beginning to feel a little spark–back to the plate. 

With two outs and the bases loaded, Einar Diaz singled to left, pushing Eddie Taubensee and Marty Cordova across the plate. The Mariners were forced to bring in their star reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki to attempt to quell the threat. Kenny Lofton took Sasaki’s second pitch through the left side of the infield to re-load the bases.

Vizquel worked Sasaki into a full count. On the eighth pitch of the at bat, Omar hit one sharply over the first base bag. It skipped under backup first baseman Ed Sprague’s glove and out toward the foul pole. Kenny Lofton–showing his characteristic speed, but on aging legs at this point in his career–dug hard to score from first. The bases-clearing triple tied the game at 14. The Tribe had closed the 12 run deficit over the course of just three innings. 

I turned to the exchange student. For about the fifth time in the last hour and said, “That is not usually how this works.” 

Both teams would fail to score in the 10th. The Indians’ controversial recent acquisition, John Rocker, came on to pitch the top of the 11th. Rocker struck out the side against the bottom third of the M’s order. 

Eddie Taubensee Celebrates with Kenny Lofton

After a fly out by Einar Diaz to lead off the bottom half of the frame, Kenny Lofton got aboard with a line drive single to center. Omar singled again to move Lofton into scoring position. This brought Jolbert Cabrera to the plate. Cabrera swung at Jose Paniagua’s first pitch and shattered his bat, sending fragments out to third base and the ball into short left. Lofton raced from second and rounded third. Mark McLemore threw a strike from left field to the plate, but Lofton slid in under the tag to deliver the walkoff victory. 

After the game, Lofton was beyond enthusiastic, “I can’t explain it. It was unbelievable. I’ve never been in a game like that in my life. My voice is gone from hollering so much. It was fun. Wow.”

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Honorable Mention: August 26, 1995 – Eddie Murray Steals Home

At age 39, Eddie Murray was one of the grizzled veterans on the 1995 squad. I was with my father fishing for perch. We were bobbing at anchor next to the 5-mile crib with the Saturday day game on the radio. When Eddie Murray broke from third and stole home off of Tiger’s pitcher Mike Moore I asked my dad if it was a joke. It seemed unlikely, but was the real outcome of a wild fifth inning. 

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Game 90

July 14, 2002 – Bill Selby’s Grand Slam Off Mariano Rivera

A sellout crowd packed Jacobs Field for the Sunday finale of this weekend series with the Yankees. Chuck Finley took the hill for the Tribe against the Yankees Mike Mussina. The Indians trailed almost immediately, as the Yankees manufactured four runs off five singles in the top of the first. 

Mussina retired the first nine Indians he faced, while the Bombers tacked on an additional run in the top of the third via a Jason Giambi double and two in the fourth to make it a 7-0 ballgame. 

The Indians began to climb back into things in the bottom of the sixth when Jim Thome homered after singles by Omar Vizquel and Ellis Burks. 

Ramiro Mendoza replaced Mussina in the bottom of the 7th. Omar Vizquel drove in third baseman John McDonald with an RBI double. Both bullpens continued to pitch effectively, and the bottom of the ninth began with the score Yankees 7, Indians 4. 

New York brought their legendary reliever Mariano Rivera in to close the game. Rivera had already recorded 215 of his eventual career 652 saves coming into the 2002 season. In the previous season, he gave up only five home runs in 71 appearances. So, Joe Torre and the Yankees felt that the game was in more than capable hands. 

The Indians comeback kindled quickly. John McDonald led off the bottom of the ninth with a line drive single to right. Backup catcher Eddie Perez knocked a single into right, advancing McDonald to third. Einar Diaz came into pinch run for Perez while Chris MacGruder stepped to the plate. MacGruder grounded to short, and Diaz was forced out at second. McDonald scored on the play, bringing the score to 7-5.

Omar Vizquel then singled to right, advancing MacGruder to third. With runners at the corners, Ellis Burks hit a line drive to deep left field. It dropped in for a double that plated MacGruder and put Omar on third. With the winning run now at second, Mariano intentionally walked Jim Thome to load the bases and set up an inning-ending double play. Travis Fryman struck out swinging on three straight pitches, leaving the Indians down to their last out. 

Career utility man Bell Selby stepped in. He pulled Rivera’s fifth pitch deep down the right field line. It was called a foul ball, but many insist that a puff of chalk was visible. A double into the corner would have easily won the game, but Selby trotted back to the batter’s box to face a 2-2 pitch from the game’s most prolific closer.

He later told a Plain Dealer interviewer, “When they talk about somebody dying or coming close to death, they talk about how your whole life flashes before your eyes. I can remember by the time I got halfway to first and realized it went foul, on the walk back, so many things went through my mind… I remember walking back, going, ‘That was my pitch. No, no, no. Clear your thoughts. Just relax. You’ve proven to yourself now you can get to the ball. Stay relaxed and breathe a little bit.’”

On some advice from hitting coach Eddie Murray, Selby choked up on the bat and dug in again. He sent Rivera’s pitch hooking near the right field foul pole. It cleared the right field wall and dropped into the bullpen, unleashing pure joy from the sellout crowd.  The Indians scored 10 unanswered runs to come back and tie the weekend series.

In a later interview Mariano stated, ”It was where I wanted it.  It was there. He hit my best pitch. I can’t get upset at that.” This was the first grand slam that Rivera had allowed in his seven year career. He would not give up another until 2010.  

This iconic Indians moment was one of 11 career home runs for Selby, who played in 122 games across parts of five MLB seasons. 

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Game 88

July 19, 1982 – Toby Harrah Walkoff Gets Tribe Back to .500

After three seasons with the Tribe, Toby Harrah was not pleased with the direction the Indians were taking. He did not mince words. “I am tired of playing .500 ball or being the spoiler. It has been the same every year and I’m sick of it. We need a more balanced bullpen… We need a team that doesn’t have 12 designated hitters and 6 first basemen. All of this is management’s fault.”

In mid-July of 1982, the Indians were once again in 6th place in the AL East, ahead of only the Blue Jays. The day before, the Indians celebrated a rare walkoff win on a pinch hit RBI triple by Bill Nahrodny. 

On this Monday evening in July a sparse crowd of under 12,000 was scattered around Municipal Stadium to see the Indians take on the Oakland A’s. Steve McCatty started for the A’s while the Tribe sent Lary Sorenson to the mound. 

Indians’ second baseman Larry Milbourne bookended the previous night’s performance with a leadoff triple in the bottom of the first. He was driven home by a Toby Harrah groundout to get the Tribe on the Board 1-0. 

The A’s tied things up in the top of the third when Ricky Henderson walked with two outs, stole second, and was driven home by a Dwayne Murphy single to center field. A two run homer by Jeff Newman put Oakland ahead 3-1. 

Von Hayes doubled to right to lead off the bottom of the fourth. After fly-outs by Rick Manning and Ron Hassey, Carmello Castillo drove Hayes in with a single past the shortstop, cutting the A’s lead to one run. 

The teams continued to battle through the middle innings, with Oakland notching another run on a Jeff Burroughs homer to lead off the top of the 6th. Von Hayes had another leadoff hit in the Indians half of the sixth, and scored again on a Ron Hassey single to right. 

In the bottom of the ninth, the Indians would find themselves down one run with one out and the bases loaded. Larry Milbourne lofted a sacrifice fly to right. Rick Manning tagged up to score the tying run. 

Down to their final out, Toby Harrah stepped to the plate and smacked a sharp one to third base. A’s third baseman Wayne Gross lofted the throw to first, which would likely have put Harrah out and sent the game to extra innings. Instead, Jack Perconte hustled home to give the Tribe their second walkoff win in as many nights and put the team back at .500 with a 44 and 44 record for the season.

Harrah would go on to play all 162 games of the 1982 season for the Indians, and have the best hitting season of his career. He finished the year batting .304 with.183 hits, 25 home runs, and 100 runs scored. However, the Indians would finish 78-84 and once again 6th in the AL East. 

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Game 51

June 10, 1959Rocky Colavito 4 Home Run Game

Rocky Colavito came in to Game 51 of the 1959 campaign in a 3 for 28 slump. The beloved slugger was looking to get right and keep the Indians alive in the standings, as they were currently in a three-way pennant chase with the Yankees and White Sox.

Associated Press Photo

The Indians offense jumped on the Orioles’ Jerry Walker early. After retiring the first two batters, Walker gave up a single to Tito Francona and then walked Colavito. Indians left fielder Minnie Minoso drove a three-run home run to deep left field.

Baltimore manufactured one run in the bottom of the first off a Gus Triandos sacrifice fly, but the Indians countered with a solo home run by Billy Martin in the top of the second. In the bottom of the second, the Orioles pulled within one run after Al Pilarcik recorded a two-RBI single with two outs.

In the top of the third, Colavito saw his second plate appearance and chased Walker from the game with a two-run home run.

Two innings later he took Arnie Portocarrero deep for a solo home run to extend the Indians lead to 7-3.

In the top of the 6th, Francona doubled in Woodie Held and then was driven in by Colavito’s third home run of the game.

The Orioles continued to hang around, bouncing Bell from the game with a four-run 7th inning, including a bases-clearing double by Billy Klaus.

In the top of the 9th, Colavito crushed an inside fastball from Ernie Johnson and sent his fourth home run of the night over the right field wall, becoming only the 8th MLBer to date to hit four home runs in a game. The Baltimore crowd honored him with a standing ovation.

Colavito later recounted an exchange with Herb Score before heading to the on-deck circle prior to that at bat: “My roomie Herb Score is sitting on a ledge. I’m getting my bat, and he says ‘C’mon, roomie, don’t fool around and hit number four.’ I said ‘Roomie, I’m 3 for 28. If I get a single I’ll be tickled to death. He said ‘(BS) go up there and do it.’ I said ‘Yeah, right,’ and went on deck.”

It would be forty-three years before another American League hitter repeated the feat–Mike Cameron did it for the Mariners in 2002. Eighteen hitters have had four-home run games to date, the most recent was J. D. Martinez for the Diamondbacks in 2017.

After the 1959 season, GM Frank “Trader” Lane dealt Colavito to the Tigers. The Indians then went 33 seasons without finishing the season within 11 games of first place.

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Honorable Mention: June 27, 2003 Omar Steals Home

Honorable Mention: May 27, 2018 – 5-run comeback in 9th, Alonso tying HR in 13th, Allen winning HR in 14th

I took my 2-year old son to this Sunday afternoon game. He tapped out after about 7 innings and fell asleep on the bus ride home. I fell asleep on the couch in the 11th, and woke up to Tom Hamilton calling Greg Allen’s walkoff home run.

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Game 48

May 28, 1989 – Joe Carter Walkoff Bunt

The Indians came into this Sunday afternoon game on a five game losing streak, and trying to avoid a sweep by the Orioles. Pitcher Greg Swindell later remarked to the media, “Everybody was feeling the pressure of the losing streak. The players were ducking their heads. They were walking on the field instead of running. I wanted to pump this team up.”

On Swindell’s suggestion the Indians even switched bat boys in an attempt to break the losing streak. Matt Rowland, who usually the Indians’ bats, was told to put on the visiting uniform. Mark Haas, who normally serves in the visiting dugout was directed to wear an Indians uniform.

Despite the superstitions, Orioles’ Bob Milacki was nearly unhittable through the first eight innings. In 8 ⅓ innings, Milacki struck out six and gave up only two walks and two hits.

Likewise Swindell, who was used to putting the struggling Indians on his back (as discussed in Game 45) walked four, and held the Orioles hitless through six innings.. He worked efficiently, retiring the Orioles in order in the first, second, fourth, and fifth innings. After 27 batters, he had used only 117 pitches, but the Tribe had provided zero support.

Felix Fermin drew a walk off Milacki to lead off the bottom of the ninth. When Milacki got behind 2-0 to Indians left fielder Oddibe McDowell, Baltimore made a move to the bullpen. Mark Williamson came into the game in relief and McDowell moved Fermin over to second with a sacrifice bunt. Fermin reached third on a infield ground-out by Jerry Brown.

The powerful Joe Carter stepped to the plate with two outs. Manager Doc Edwards relayed a signal to the third base coach. Indians’ manager Doc Edwards signaled to third base coach Jim Davenport to relay the message to Carter.

In a post-game interview he said, “It was not an order to bunt. It was a signal to look at the third baseman and use his own judgment. Joe was definitely bunting on his own, but we all knew he was going to do it.”

Carter laid down a perfect bunt down the third base line. Fermin scored the winning run, and the Indians ended the losing streak on a 40-foot bunt off the bat of their most prolific power hitter.

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Game 35

May 23, 1970 – Jack Heidemann Walkoff in the 13th vs Yankees

One of the best things about baseball is that sometimes the most unremarkable teams and the least likely players end up being heroes for a day.

The 1970 Indians were one of the most forgettable teams in Tribe history, finishing 5th in the AL East with a record of 76 and 86. Sam McDowell and Ray Fosse are probably the only 1970 teammates with name recognition beyond the most loyal fans.

Just over 6,800 tickets were sold for the Saturday afternoon contest with the Yankees on the lakefront. The fans who actually attended got to see plenty of baseball, though. The Indians matched up starter Rich Hand (no relation to current Tribe reliever Brad) with the Yankees Gary Waslewski.

Hand would scatter two runs on five hits over the first six innings. Waslewski lasted only four innings, giving up two runs on four hits, including a two-run home run by left fielder Duke Sims in the bottom of the 4th. Pete Ward pinch hit for Waslewski in the top of the 5th and then was replaced by Ron Klimkowski on the mound.

The Yankees took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the 7th on an RBI single by Frank Tepedino. The Tribe answered in the bottom of the 8th when Duke Sims teed off again, this time with a solo home run.

In extra innings, Indians reliever Phil Hennigan was brilliant, retiring 9 out of 10 Yankees in the 11th, 12th, and 13th. In the bottom of the 13th, Duke Sims trotted to first after being hit by a pitch. Backup third baseman Larry Brown sent Duke to third on a ground-rule double.

With runners on first and third, the Yankees brought in reliever Jack Aker and intentionally walked the dangerous rookie Ray Fosse (who would go on to win the Gold Glove for 1970 and hit .307 with 18 HR).

Stepping in for his 6th plate appearance of the day, shortstop Jack Heidemann’s only hit of the day was the game winner. He poked a single to left field, scoring Sims and sending the Tribe home victorious.

Thirty-four players saw action in this extra-inning contest, which took nearly four hours to play.

The next day, Tony Horton would hit three home runs in the second-half of a twi-night double header the next day (Game 37), but the Indians would lose 7-8.

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Game 34

June 4, 1995 – Paul Sorrento Completes 9-run Comeback

The Blue Jays (still considered the defending Champions, since there were no playoffs in 1994) were wrapping up a weekend series in Cleveland. The pitching match up did not set up favorably, with reigning Cy Young winner David Cone pitching for the Jays against Jason Grimsley. Grimsley was making his second start of the year in the fifth starter role recently vacated by Mark Clark.

Grimsley got off to a dismal start by walking the first three batters he faced. Joe Carter then plated two runs with a single to left field and John Olerud knocked in another. Roberto Alomar bunted to advance the runners, and was followed by a three-run home run by Shawn Green. Grimsley walked Ed Sprague while Chad Ogea was getting warm in the bullpen.

Sprague scored on a Devon White sacrifice fly before Ogea was able to right the ship. At the end of the first, the Tribe found themselves in a 7-0 hole.

Cone mowed through the Indians, facing only seven batters in the first two innings, and the Jays added an insurance run on a sacrifice hit by Devon White in the top of the third.

The Tribe began the long climb back in the bottom of the third, when Omar Vizquel scored Wayne Kirby on a two-out single to left field. Ogea found his footing and retired the Jays in order in both the 4th and 5th innings.

Eddie Murray cut the lead to three with a two-run home run in the bottom of the 5th. After Albert Belle singled in backup catcher Eddie Tucker (in his 17 game cup of coffee with the Tribe) David Cone’s day was done.

Jay’s reliever Tony Castillo held on to the 8-6 lead until the bottom of the 9th. After Carlos Baerga was thrown out attempting to bunt, Castillo was pulled for Darren Hall. Albert Belle dropped a single into short center field, starting the late night rally. Eddie Murray singled to right, advancing Belle to third. Alvaro Espinoza was brought in to pinch-run for Murray. Espinoza was forced out at second when Jim Thome grounded out to short. However, Belle scored on the groundout, cutting the Jay’s lead to one.

Paul Sorrento rocked the first pitch he faced to right field. The breeze was blowing in, and appeared to knock it down a bit. However, it cleared the right field wall and set off the first walkoff celebration of the 1995 season.

In a post-game interview, Sorrento commented on the homer,

“The wind was blowing in. I got a good pitch and I just killed it.  “I thought I may have celebrated too early because it barely went out—it was only like the first or second row. …I just remember thinking, ‘Please go out, because I’m going to look like an idiot if it doesn’t.’ It ended up just capping off a great team win. We never gave up.”

Sorrento’s contributions to the 1995 World Series run are often overlooked. Over the first six weeks of the season he slashed  .303/.394/.775. Over 104 appearances, he hit .235 with 25 home runs for the season providing solid protection for the likes of Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez hitting in the 5 and 6 holes.

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