Tag: Cleveland Indians

Terry Francona Pushing All the Right Buttons Again as Indians Regain WS Lead

Terry Francona walked to the mound, and Chicago Cubs fans around the world thought the Cleveland Indians manager was doing them a favor.

Some favor.

Josh Tomlin was cruising Friday at Wrigley Field, two outs into the fifth inning of a scoreless game. The Cubs had two hits, both singles. Tomlin had thrown just 58 pitches.

“He was dealing,” my cousin texted me from London, where it was just past 3 a.m. “I can’t believe they pulled him.”

They did, or rather he did. Francona pulled Tomlin and brought in Andrew Miller.

If a less experienced or less respected manager makes that move, he’s setting himself up to be ripped for years to come. When Francona does it, he’s setting himself up to win a crucial World Series game.


The guy has managed 11 of these games, and he’s won 10 of them. He would never say he has it figured out, but he sure does have a sense of what move to make and when.

“Perfectly managed game,” Pete Rose said on the Fox postgame show.

Later on that same show, Indians outfielder Coco Crisp called Francona “a comedian,” explaining how he keeps the clubhouse loose. That helps, but it also helps that he has just the right feel for when a game and a series require urgency.

He felt it Friday in Game 3, understanding that an Indians win would push the team ahead two games to one and set up ace Corey Kluber to potentially give them a commanding lead in Saturday night’s Game 4. Francona seemed to realize early on that this could be a low-scoring game, and he seemed to manage it early on to try to get a 1-0 win in nine innings.

He was out of position players by the end, and he had run through the best part of his bullpen. Extra innings would have been tough, but when Cody Allen struck out Javier Baez to end it, the Indians didn’t need extra innings.

Tomlin was dealing, but Francona didn’t want him to face pinch hitter Miguel Montero with the go-ahead run on second base. He was going to let Miller keep the game scoreless through the fifth, sixth and maybe even the seventh, giving his hitters more chance to get a lead.

He risked his team not scoring, and he risked Miller throwing so many pitches he wouldn’t be available or wouldn’t be effective Saturday. Instead, he got a seventh-inning run when Coco Crisp (batting for Miller) drove in pinch runner Michael Martinez with a one-out single. He got four outs from Miller on just 17 pitches, ensuring he’ll be at full strength again Saturday.

He needed nine more outs from Bryan Shaw and Allen, and he got those too.

He had his 1-0 win in nine innings. It was the first 1-0 win in a World Series game in 11 years and just the fifth in the last 30 years.

Indians fan will remember one of those well. It was the clinching Game 6 in 1995, 1-0 Atlanta Braves over the Indians.

That night in Atlanta, Indians manager Mike Hargrove pulled his starter two outs into the fifth inning of a scoreless game. The difference that night was that starter Dennis Martinez had already allowed nine baserunners on four hits and five walks.

Few knew it at the time, but Martinez almost didn’t start that game.

“When Dennis was warming up, he goes, ‘Mark, I don’t know if I can make it; my arm’s killing me,'” pitching coach Mark Wiley told me this month, when I was working on Bleacher Report’s story on the Indians of the 1990s. “Dennis went out there, but he had absolutely nothing.”

Hargrove had little choice but to go to the bullpen. In the sixth inning, reliever Jim Poole gave up a David Justice home run for the game’s only run.

Until Friday, Martinez was the only starter in World Series history to go 4.2 innings without allowing a run, according to research through Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index.

Now there are two, and this time it turned out a lot better for the Indians.

It turned out perfectly in a perfectly managed game during a perfectly managed month. Francona’s Indians are the first team ever with five shutouts in a single postseason.

Kluber started three of the five shutouts. In the other two, Francona pulled his starting pitcher in the fifth inning. He did it with rookie Ryan Merritt in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays and again with the more experienced Tomlin Friday night.

“Fine with me,” Tomlin told MLB Network. “Perfect scenario.”   

He understood, and now everyone does.

Terry Francona has this managing-in-October thing figured out.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Roberto Perez Becomes 5th Catcher with Multi-Homer Game in World Series

When Cleveland Indians catcher Roberto Perez clubbed his second home run of the night—off Chicago Cubs pitcher Hector Rondonduring the eighth inning of Tuesday’s Game 1 of the World Series, he became just the fifth catcher with a multi-homer game in the Fall Classic, per MLB Stat of the Day.

The backstop amassed four RBI in the game on the two shots, accounting for two-thirds of the run production for the Indians. In the process of doing so, he entered rare territory, joining Yogi Berra, Gene Tenace, Johnny Bench and Gary Carter as the only catchers with multi-homer games in the World Series.

Interestingly enough, Perez isn’t known as much of a power hitter. His multi-homer performance Tuesday was his first at any professional level, and Perez had collected just three home runs over 153 at-bats during the 2016 regular season, per ESPN Stats & Info.

He returned to his light-hitting way in Wednesday’s Game 2 defeat, recording one walk and three outs in four plate appearances.

Prior to the trade deadline, Cleveland felt the need to address the catcher position, which was considered a point of weakness. The team worked out a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy just prior to the Aug. 1 trade deadline, but he vetoed the trade and was ultimately dealt to another playoff contender in the Texas Rangers.

While Perez didn’t make much of an impact for Cleveland in the regular season or during the first two rounds of the playoffs offensively, his presence was surely felt in a 6-0 Cleveland win that gave the Indians a 1-0 series lead.

He’s also caught every game of the postseason thus far, including a record-tying four shutouts. Should the team manage to record another shutout during the World Series, Cleveland would become the first squad ever with five in a single postseason.

With Yan Gomes set to rejoin the club next season, the catcher position is in pretty good hands. While Perez is on a one-year deal, he’s still under team control through 2021. Although the Tribe didn’t get Lucroy, Cleveland fans are probably happy just where they are.

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Indians Face 1st October Challenge with Tied World Series Headed to Chicago

A question for the Cleveland Indians: You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?

Actually, it’s understandable if they thought winning their first World Series since 1948 would be that easy. After all, the Indians encountered little resistance in winning seven of eight games against the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays to get to the World Series. When they won Game 1 on Tuesday, they put themselves on a path that usually leads to victory.

But that path has hit a bump, and the territory immediately beyond is rougher than any the Indians have encountered this October.

The Chicago Cubs are on the board. After going silent at the hands of Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in a 6-0 loss in Game 1, the Cubs broke out their bats against Trevor Bauer and the supporting cast of Cleveland’s pitching staff in Game 2 and let Jake Arrieta and their bullpen do the rest.

It took over four hours, but the Cubs left Progressive Field on Wednesday with a 5-1 win that tied the series.

The series resumes with Game 3 at Wrigley Field at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. That gives the Indians a day to assess their standing.

It could be worse. Per ESPN Stats & Info, teams that have won the first game in the World Series have gone on to win the whole thing 24 times in the last 28 series.

But things could also be better. The latest odds at FanGraphs and FiveThirtyEight give the Cubs a 61-62 percent chance to win the series. Looking at how things are shaping up heading back to Chicago, that seems accurate.

After the Indians raised hell in Game 1, Game 2 was a reminder of why the Cubs won 103 games in the regular season. In particular, they made a statement with an offensive attack so relentless that even Tribe manager Terry Francona knows it probably should have produced more than five runs.

“Yeah, we gave up nine hits, eight walks, two errors, and we only gave up five runs,” he said in his postgame presser, via MLB.com. “We’re probably pretty fortunate because there was traffic all night. For us to win, we generally need to play a clean game, and we didn’t do that.”

It didn’t help that Arrieta gave the Tribe little room for error when he had the ball. After Jon Lester struggled in Game 1, Arrieta proved how absurd it is that he’s not the No. 1 starter in Chicago’s rotation by taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning before yielding to Mike Montgomery and Aroldis Chapman.

The one run the Indians scored in Game 2 came home on a wild pitch. This is after two runs came home in Game 1 on an infield trickler and a hit-by-pitch. So outside of Roberto Perez’s two home runs in Game 1, Cleveland’s offense has been generally ineffective in this series.

Offense won’t get easier to find after the move to the National League theater of this conflict. The loss of the designated hitter takes away Francona’s usual spot for Carlos Santana. That will limit one of Cleveland’s best hitters to a pinch-hitting role.

In theory, the trade-off will be the newly revived Kyle Schwarber being moved to Chicago’s bench. But per Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, Cubs skipper Joe Maddon hasn’t ruled out testing Schwarber’s surgically repaired left knee with outfield duty:

This could create even more pressure for Cleveland’s pitchers. Josh Tomlin isn’t incapable of answering the call in Game 3, but he could need help from Miller and Allen. If he needs a lot of help from them, that could compromise their availability for Games 4 and 5 on Saturday and Sunday.

Oh, and any strong run-prevention effort could be for naught anyway in Game 3. Kyle Hendricks could see to that. 

He looked every bit like the pitcher who led baseball with a 2.13 ERA the last time he took the ball in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, facing the minimum number of batters through 7.1 innings. Cue some hard-hitting analysis: He’s really good.

Regardless of what happens in Game 3, Francona will then be playing not one, not two, but three wild cards with his starting rotation. He announced ahead of Game 2 that Kluber will start on three days’ rest in Game 4. While it’s not yet official, that would mean Bauer on short rest in Game 5 and, if necessary, Tomlin on short rest in Game 6.

Francona didn’t have much choice, of course. It was either this or a plan involving some combination of Ryan Merritt and Danny Salazar in Game 4. Francona isn’t wrong to want to restart the rotation of his best guys instead.

Still, you just never know with starters on short rest.

Even Kluber didn’t look as sharp on short rest in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. He may not be any sharper in Game 4 of the World Series. Meanwhile, less sharp versions of Bauer (who’s wild to begin with) and Tomlin (who has hittable stuff) would not bode well for Cleveland in Games 5 and 6.

And once again, you worry about the bullpen equation with Kluber, Bauer and Tomlin on short rest.

Good work from the starters would allow Miller and Allen to continue cleaning up. They each have a 0.00 ERA this postseason. Not-so-good work from the starters would put the ball in the court of Cleveland’s other relievers. They have a 4.21 ERA this postseason.

If there’s a reason for optimism in all this, it could be that Cleveland’s loss in Game 2 was a case of a bad matchup.

It seemed the Indians couldn’t do anything with Arrieta not because he was at his best, but because he was unpredictable. His stuff and his location were all over the place, making him effectively wild. The Indians have done better against traditional strike-throwers this October, aggressively attacking and punishing guys like Rick Porcello, David Price, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ and, most recently, Lester.

As bad as it looks on paper, their matchup against Hendricks and his pinpoint command in Game 3 thus could turn out to be just what the Indians need to get back on track. They’ll face another strike-thrower in John Lackey in Game 4, and then things will turn back over to Lester for Game 5.

Speaking on a more general level, there’s also that nagging suspicion that the Indians are perfect for the underdog role they now find themselves in.

They play a scrappy, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style of baseball that’s reminiscent of the Kansas City Royals. It’s proven to be a handful even for supposed superteams. And while they’re not always available, their biggest weapons—looking at you, Kluber, Miller and Allen—haven’t yet misfired when they’ve been used.

They’re facing their first big test of the postseason, all right. That doesn’t mean they can’t still ace it.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Rob Manfred to Discuss Chief Wahoo Logo with Indians During Offseason

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said Wednesday he plans on reassessing whether the Cleveland Indians‘ Chief Wahoo logo should continue having a place in the sport.      

“I’ve talked to Mr. [Paul] Dolan about this issue,” Manfred told reporters. “We’ve agreed away from the World Series at an appropriate time we will have a conversation about this. I want to understand fully what his view is, and we’ll go from there. At this point, in this context, I’m just not prepared to say more.”

Some have condemned the mascot as being racially insensitive to Native Americans. Before Cleveland faced the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, a Native American activist in Canada petitioned a court to block the use of the Cleveland Indians name and Chief Wahoo logo.

“It’s quite obviously a derogatory, cartoonish representation of an indigenous person,” Michael Swinwood, a lawyer for the man who brought the suit, told the Associated Press’ Rob Gillies. “The whole concept of how it demeans native people is essentially his concern.”

Manfred provided more of his thoughts on the matter:

I know that that particular logo is offensive to some people, and all of us at Major League Baseball understand why. Logos are, however, primarily a local matter. The local club makes decisions about its logos. Fans get attached to logos. They become part of a team’s history. So it’s not easy as coming to the conclusion and realizing that the logo is offensive to some segment.

The Chief Wahoo logo has long been a source of controversy. In 2014, the team switched to the blocked “C” as its primary logo, but players voted to wear caps and uniforms donning the Chief Wahoo logo throughout the 2016 postseason.           


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Corey Kluber Announced as Indians’ Game 4 Starter for 2016 World Series vs. Cubs

Fresh off his historic start in Game 1 of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber has gotten the nod from manager Terry Francona to start Game 4 on Saturday, Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller reported Wednesday.

Francona also added that Kluber will go for Game 7 if necessary, via Matt Snyder of CBS Sports. 

Kluber helped the Indians take a 1-0 series lead by striking out nine batters over six innings without allowing a run Tuesday.

His performance was headlined by a dominant start as he became the first pitcher in World Series history to strike out eight batters in the first three innings, via the Fox telecast: 

He also set an Indians World Series record for strikeouts in an entire game, surpassing Orel Hershiser in Game 1 of the 1995 series against the Atlanta Braves and Jaret Wright in Game 7 of the 1997 Fall Classic against the Florida Marlins, both of whom fanned seven. 

More importantly, Kluber threw just 88 pitches on the night, which could go a long way with just three days of rest. 

The 30-year-old has only started a game on three days’ rest once in his career, and it came earlier in the postseason. After throwing 100 pitches in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays, Kluber returned for Game 4 and went five innings, allowing two runs on four hits as the Indians lost 5-1. 

But given the way the powerful Cubs offense had such difficulty getting to Kluber, it’s only natural that Francona and the Indians will want to roll out their ace as much as possible in the World Series. After all, this was a Cubs team that had scored 23 runs in the final three games of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers

What makes Kluber so difficult is his deception on the mound. With the same windup and release point for each of his pitches, it’s all but a guessing game for batters to try to decipher whether his pitch will stay true like a fastball or perform a last-second, severe break like his devastating cutter. 

It makes Games 2 and 3 that much more important for the Cubs now that the ace they couldn’t touch is looming in Game 4. 


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

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Corey Kluber Sets World Series Record with 8 Strikeouts Through 3 Innings

Cleveland Indians starter Corey Kluber was as good as ever in his Game 1 start in the World Series.

The ace shut down the Chicago Cubs the first time through the order, accumulating eight strikeouts in the first three innings. According to Buster Olney of ESPN.com, he became the first to accomplish this feat in the World Series.

Per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, this is also the Indians’ record for strikeouts in a World Series game.

Kluber finished the game with nine strikeouts in six shutout innings, allowing just four hits and no walks. He exited with Cleveland holding a 3-0 lead and the team eventually won 6-0.

C.J. Nitkowski of Fox Sports 1 discussed the pitch that has helped him out in the early going:

This type of effort is nothing new for Kluber, who has been outstanding all postseason long. In three playoff starts over the first two rounds, the right-hander had a 2-1 record and a 0.98 ERA. He also had 20 strikeouts in 18.1 innings.

It is a continuation of his success during the regular season, which saw his first All-Star appearance thanks to 18 wins and a 3.14 ERA. He won the Cy Young Award in 2014 during a year where he posted his career-best 2.44 ERA.

Cleveland’s postseason strikeout record is 12 by Charles Nagy in 1996, per ESPN Stats & Info. The most Kluber has had in 2016 is 11, which came on Aug. 31 against the Minnesota Twins.

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Indians’ Andrew Miller Ties All-Time Record for Strikeouts in an LCS

Cleveland Indians reliever Andrew Miller tossed 2.2 scoreless frames against the Toronto Blue Jays in Wednesday’s series-clinching Game 5, striking out one to give him a record-tying 14 in a League Championship Series, per MLB Stat of the Day.

His effort during the series played a major role in Cleveland’s victories and earned him MVP honors. Although Miller has been one of the more dominant pitchers in baseball over the last couple seasons, it took a long time for him to get there.

Miller began his major league career in 2006 with the Detroit Tigers and was on four different teams from 2007 to 2014. He began his career as a starting pitcher with the Tigers, the Florida Marlins and for one season with the Boston Red Sox.

The southpaw didn’t fare well in that role and made the permanent transition to the bullpen 2012. The move turned out to be a good one, as he managed to post a respectable 3.35 ERA in his first season out of the ‘pen. He’s only improved since then, posting four straight seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA and his best campaign in 2016.

Miller started the season with the New York Yankees, owning a 1.39 ERA over 70 appearances with the team before they dealt him to Cleveland prior to the trade deadline. His mark with the Indians during the regular season was 1.55, but that remains in elite status.

He’s been even more impressive in the postseason, having pitched 11.2 scoreless frames while striking out 21 and allowing just seven baserunners. While Cody Allen remains the team’s closer, Miller will be a key member of the team’s bullpen in getting it to the ninth inning as the Indians search for their first World Series victory since 1948.

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Indians May Need Corey Kluber’s Best Madison Bumgarner Imitation in World Series

The Cleveland Indians don’t need Corey Kluber to be anyone other than himself.

He’s one of MLB‘s top-shelf arms, after all—a Cy Young Award winner in 2014, an All-Star in 2016 and a stud throughout this postseason. He’ll take the ball in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday with the faith of a title-starved city behind him.

Still, if Kluber could be Kluber with a dusting of Madison Bumgarner, the Tribe wouldn’t protest.

We’re using Bumgarner as shorthand for a starting pitcher who slings a team over his back and carries it across the October finish line. It’s what MadBum did in 2014 for the San Francisco Giants. And it may be what the Indians ask of Kluber, per ESPN The Magazine‘s Buster Olney:

The calculus could change if Cleveland wins the first two games at Progressive Field and wrests control of the series.

Assuming that doesn’t happen, however, manager Terry Francona will think twice before digging deep into his depleted rotation against a dangerous Chicago Cubs lineup.

Before we explore that, let’s recount what Kluber has accomplished this October.

Through 18.1 innings spread over three starts, the 30-year-old right-hander owns a 0.98 ERA with 20 strikeouts and has held opposing hitters to a .197 average.

He won his first two starts, in Game 2 of a division series against the Boston Red Sox and Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays, logging 13.1 shutout innings with 13 strikeouts.

He absorbed his lone loss in Game 4 of the ALCS, yielding four hits, two walks and two earned runs in five innings. That start came on short rest, so you could argue it’s a cautionary tale.

It’s not as if Kluber was a gas can, however. He struck out seven and flashed the array of weapons—a power sinker, cutter and sweeping breaking ball—that make him one of MLB’s least comfortable at-bats.

Kluber has eclipsed 200 innings in each of the last three seasons. Durability is listed under the “special skills” section on his resume.

He’s also got that intangible quality—call it grit, call it moxie, call it what you will. It’s what Bumgarner exudes at his scowling, otherworldly best.

“Corey’s a tremendous competitor,” Indians closer Cody Allen said after Game 1 of the ALCS, per MLB.com’s Jane Lee. “It never looks like the game’s speeding up on him or it’s getting out of control, and that’s the sign of a true ace.”

After that win, the New York Post‘s Ken Davidoff conjured the Bumgarner comp, so we’re not pulling this from the speculative ether.

OK, now a few words about the rest of the Indians’ starting rotation.

Josh Tomlin has been a revelation, going 2-0 with a 2.53 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 10.2 innings. Trevor Bauer, however, is a question mark as he recovers from a drone-induced finger injury. Rookie Ryan Merritt is the lone lefty in the mix, but he’s made only two big league starts in his nascent career.

All-Star Danny Salazar is an intriguing X-factor. He hasn’t pitched since going down on Sept. 9 with a forearm strain, though, and can hardly be counted on.

That’s a lot of ifs and maybes. Kluber is a safe bet. Fortunately for the Indians, he’s got backup.

Allen and setup man Andrew Miller have combined for 19.1 innings of 10-hit, no-run ball with 33 strikeouts. In essence, they’ve made every Indians playoff game a five- or six-inning affair. If the Tribe have a lead late, forget about it.

Kluber, then, won’t necessarily have to flirt with complete games. Five or six strong frames may be all the Indians require with Miller and Allen waiting to finish the kill.

In that sense, Kluber could channel a combination of 2014 Bumgarner and the 2014 Kansas City Royals, the club Bumgarner vanquished that year in the Fall Classic.

The ’14 Royals, you’ll recall, had a shutdown bullpen headlined by Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera that ruthlessly shortened contests. Add a thoroughbred No. 1 starter to that squad, and it probably would have won it all, as it went on to do in 2015.

Kluber should focus on being Kluber, comparisons and distractions aside. He’ll have his hands full against the Cubbies, who lead all postseason qualifiers with 48 runs scored.

If he’s looking for someone to emulate, however, he could do worse than MadBum.

Or, to put it another way, he couldn’t do much better.


All statistics accurate as of Monday and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Jason Kipnis Injury: Updates on Indians Star’s Ankle and Return

Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis suffered an ankle injury while celebrating his team’s American League Championship Series victory. However, he has been cleared to return.

Continue for updates.

Kipnis Active vs. Cubs

Tuesday, Oct. 25

The Indians announced that Kipnis is in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s game.

Image of Kipnis’ Injury Revealed

Tuesday, Oct. 25

Francona Comments on Kipnis’ Injury

Monday, Oct. 24

According to the Associated Press (h/t Sports Illustrated), Indians manager Terry Francona said Kipnis rolled his ankle while embracing Francisco Lindor as the team celebrated its ALCS victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

The manager described the setback as a low ankle sprain.

Kipnis Has Been Essential Piece in Indians Lineup

Kipnis went through a brief down period in May, when his on-base percentage was just .306, but he bounced back with an .876 OPS in June and looked more like the hitter who was named to the All-Star Game in 2015. He finished the season with 23 home runs, 82 RBI and an .811 OPS.

The Indians have needed Kipnis’ production in the No. 2 spot in their lineup behind Carlos Santana as the primary leadoff guy and to help set the table for Lindor and Mike Napoli in the heart of the order.

Cleveland is fortunate to have the versatile Jose Ramirez, who had a breakout offensive season with a .363 on-base percentage and is capable of playing multiple positions in the infield, including second base.

However, the loss of Kipnis would have been devastating because of his importance to the lineup and underrated defense. FanGraphs‘ defensive value metric ranks Cleveland’s second baseman as the third-best defender at the position behind Boston‘s Dustin Pedroia and Detroit‘s Ian Kinsler.

The Indians need their full assortment of hitters in the World Series to support a rotation that features Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin. Kipnis is a key reason for Cleveland’s success in 2016.

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The Cleveland Indians’ Star-Studded ’90s MLB Dynasty That Never Was

Thirteen-year MLB pitcher Brian Anderson grew up in Northeast Ohio, living the history and living the heartache.

The local sports teams never won, and the losses could be excruciating. He was a 15-year-old kid watching what Clevelanders will always call The Fumble, the Earnest Byner fumble that cost the Cleveland Browns a chance at the Super Bowl in 1988.

“I was kicked out of the living room because my mom didn’t want my negativity,” Anderson said. “When it was over, through my tears, I told her, ‘I will play on the first Cleveland team that wins a championship.'”

Nine-and-a-half years later, it was coming true. The Cleveland Indians were in the 1997 World Series, Anderson was on the team, and the morning of Game 7 he reminded his mother of his long-ago promise.

“This is happening,” he said. “We’re going to win the World Series tonight.”

They didn’t win. They haven’t won. Since that night in Miami, when Jose Mesa couldn’t hold a ninth-inning lead and Edgar Renteria’s 11th-inning single off Charles Nagy made the Florida Marlins champions, the Indians haven’t been back to the World Series.

Not until now.

They begin the 2016 World Series Tuesday night at home, carrying a title drought that has reached 68 years. It shouldn’t have, but it has.

It should have ended two decades ago, when the Indians were among the best teams baseball has seen. They averaged 94 wins a year and nearly six runs a game over a five-year span. They had 44 players who made All-Star teams at some point in their career.

Three of them are already in the Hall of Fame (Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield and Roberto Alomar), at least two more will likely get there (Omar Vizquel and Jim Thome), and at least two were headed there but got sidetracked by health or other issues (Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez).

They had future managers (Dave Roberts, John Farrell, Bud Black and Torey Lovullo), others who could be managers (Vizquel and Sandy Alomar) and a future general manager (Ruben Amaro). The front office spun off executives who would make it big elsewhere (Dan O’Dowd, Josh Byrnes, Paul DePodesta, Ben Cherington and Neal Huntington), and the coaching staff spun off future managers (Buddy Bell and Charlie Manuel).

They sold out 455 consecutive games, a major league record later eclipsed by the Boston Red Sox. They had such a following on the road that security people would usher them through the back door of hotels, like a rock band or a president. They had a celebratory parade after a World Series they lost.

They had big numbers and big personalities.

“That was magical,” Vizquel said. “It was amazing. Every time you came to the park, it was electrifying.”

The Indians of the late ’90s had everything—everything except the ring you get when you win it all.

“It doesn’t take anything away from what we did,” Vizquel said. “But it left a deep pain inside.”


That pain has never left. Even as the players, coaches and executives from those teams prepare to root for the Indians to win this World Series, they can’t bear to watch the last one they competed in.

“When the outcome changes, I’ll watch it,” Sandy Alomar said. “I’ve watched it seven times, and the outcome never changes. I’m really proud of what we accomplished, but you’re going to be scarred forever.”

Mike Hargrove, the manager then and an Indians adviser now, feels the same way.

“Why would I want to see it?” he said. “I lived it. A fan asked me in spring training the next year how long it took me to get over that game. I said as soon as it happens, I’ll let you know. Just a few weeks ago, someone came up to me and asked the same thing. I said as soon as it happens, I’ll let you know.”

To a man, they feel they should have won, at least in ’97 and maybe in other years too. To a man, they look back and believe they were as good as any team they met, including the New York Yankees teams that won four World Series in the span where the Indians won none.

“I loved those guys,” said John Hart, the Indians general manager who later ran the Texas Rangers and now is president of baseball operations of the Atlanta Braves. “I wish I had a team like that all the time. I still do feel the scar of ’97, but I am at peace.”


To fully understand what the 1990s Indians were, you have to remember what the franchise and the city were like before they came around.

The franchise had gone 41 years without playing in the postseason, and from 1969-93 the Indians won more than 81 games in a season just once—84 during the 1986 season. Most years, they didn’t come close to that.

“In 39 of those years, they were out of the race by the Fourth of July,” longtime Indians announcer Tom Hamilton said, exaggerating only slightly.

They played in a cavernous, mostly empty rat-infested stadium, in a city known for a polluted river that once caught fire. The city and the stadium were alternately derided as the Mistake by the Lake.

It all changed in the mid-1990s. Jacobs Field opened in 1994, a beautiful ballpark in a city finally showing life. The NFL’s Browns departed for Baltimore a year later, leaving a rabid fanbase to embrace the rapidly improving Indians.

They had a winning team, one that embodied everything Cleveland wanted to be.

“They knew they were good, they weren’t afraid to tell you they were good and then they’d go out and prove it,” Hamilton said. “I think that’s why Cleveland loved that team. It was the first time Cleveland was the big bad bully.”


Even in 1992 and 1993, the Indians spoke among themselves about walking and talking and running the bases like champions. When they did start winning, it didn’t take long for other teams to resent the talk and the look.

“I think the team was despised by everyone else in the game,” said O’Dowd, the assistant general manager. “No one likes a bully. But it was so much fun from my standpoint.”

“Other teams may not have liked us,” Hargrove said. “But I guarantee you a lot of those guys wanted to play for us.”

Bob Tewksbury, then pitching for the Rangers, said something about the Indians lacking discipline. A few days later when it came time to take the team picture, the Indians took one the regular way and another with players in every stage of dress and undress.

Hargrove has both versions on his office wall.

“They talk about those Oakland A’s teams of the 1970s that fought among each other and went out and won,” Hargrove said. “I think our team was a little like that. It was their world up until about 6:30, and then it was mine. They were grown men, and they acted like grown men—most of the time.”

When they didn’t, Hargrove took care of it in his own way.

Sometimes, he did it with humor, like the time the clubhouse manager told him Belle was breaking too many dinner plates.

“Get paper plates,” Hargrove responded.

Sometimes it took more.

“John Hart paid me the ultimate compliment when he said, ‘Mike Hargrove had the ability to walk into a clubhouse in total chaos and 15 minutes later have everyone singing ‘Kumbaya,'” Hargrove said.

“I don’t think Grover ever gets the credit he deserves,” said Buddy Bell, Hargrove‘s bench coach in 1994-95. “There were some egos in that clubhouse. But those guys came to play every night.”

They were better defensively than many people remember, and they weren’t just power hitters. In 1999, the year the Indians became the first team in 50 years to score 1,000 runs, they led the league in stolen bases and sacrifice bunts.

They could create runs, but they could also bludgeon their opponents. From 1995-99, the Indians won a major league-high 62 games by at least eight runs.

“It wasn’t even the varsity against the JV,” said Bell, who was 7-24 against the Indians in his two-plus seasons managing the Detroit Tigers. “It was the varsity against the junior high.”


There were big egos and big names—”lots of energy, lots of testosterone,” as Bell puts it—but two of them stand out.

There was Belle, the intense competitor who scared even his own teammates. And there was Ramirez, the kid who could really hit but was just as liable to leave teammates shaking their heads.

Both were high draft picks, Belle in 1987 and Ramirez four years later. Belle got into trouble in college at LSU and also in the minor leagues with the Indians, twice disappearing during games.

“[General manager] Hank Peters called me in and said we’ve got to release Albert,” O’Dowd said, remembering the fallout from one incident. “I said, ‘Hank, we can’t do that. He’s the only prospect in the system.'”

They kept him, they knew him, and when he snapped they learned to deal with it.

“I remember one time we had a new guy on the team,” said Mark Wiley, the pitching coach. “Albert struck out, and when he went down the tunnel [to the clubhouse] there was an explosion. He threw bats through walls. The new guy looked stunned and said, ‘What’s that?’ The other guys said, ‘That’s just Albert.’ And they went back to watching the game.”

They saw quite a show. Belle’s numbers in 1995 were ridiculous: 52 doubles and 50 home runs in a lockout-shortened season that ran just 144 games. Even more ridiculous: He didn’t win the Most Valuable Player award that year, finishing second to Boston’s Mo Vaughn.

“I’m convinced Mo Vaughn won the MVP because he had a better personality,” Amaro said. “I mean, c’mon.”

Belle was a force, a physical force.

“Albert was our Lawrence Taylor, the linebacker who destroys the quarterback,” O’Dowd said.

Too often, he would destroy other things, and his personality landed him in trouble. Hart remembers spending much of the 1995 World Series answering questions about Belle’s pregame confrontation with NBC reporter Hannah Storm, a tirade that MLB eventually punished with a $50,000 fine. Teammates would look on in wonder, but many would keep their distance.

“The one guy who could say something to him without getting his brains beat in was Kenny Lofton,” Amaro said. “The rest of us were scared of him.”

That’s not completely true. A few others describe warm relationships with Belle and say he could be a different person altogether away from the park.

“I played golf with Albert, and the only person throwing a club was me,” Hamilton said.

Belle batted cleanup for the 1995 Indians, in a lineup so deep that Ramirez regularly batted seventh (and still drove in 107 runs). Two years later, after Belle left for the Chicago White Sox via free agency, Ramirez was batting third or fourth.

Ramirez would eventually leave as a free agent too. He would have disciplinary issues of his own.

His issues in Cleveland were more innocent, more amusing. He was the “Baby Bull,” the kid who showed up in the big leagues just after his 21st birthday seemingly born to hit. He worked at it and studied it and was as good at it as anyone.

“Best hitter I’ve ever seen, bar none,” said Hart, who has been in professional baseball since 1982. “I’ll tell you where he had a Ph.D. He had a Ph.D. from MIT in the batter’s box.”

He would do funny things, like asking two Indians beat writers if he could borrow $60,000 to buy a motorcycle or walking through the clubhouse, grabbing teammates’ clothes and putting them on. He once carried a broken bat up to the plate and hit a home run with it.

“I asked him why he used it if he knew it was broken,” said Sheldon Ocker, who covered the Indians for the Akron Beacon-Journal. “He said, ‘I liked that bat.'”

Other times, Ramirez would amaze his teammates by hitting a home run with one bat, then discarding it and choosing another one for his next at-bat.

“It was like raising a kid,” said Manuel, the Indians hitting coach.

It was, and the Indians were like a family—a wild and also wildly talented family.

They had Murray, the older brother who could keep everyone in line with just a look and a finger wave. They had Thome, the cousin everyone likes (“Arguably the nicest guy on the planet,” Matt Williams said). They had Carlos Baerga, the mischievous younger brother who kept everyone loose.

“We had so many guys who had things a perfect ballplayer should have,” Vizquel said. “If you won or if you lost, you were always happy.”


For the most part, the Indians won.

They were American League Central champions five consecutive years. They beat Randy Johnson in Game 6 to go to the 1995 World Series and survived draining playoff series with the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles to get back to the World Series in 1997.

The ’95 team lost to the Atlanta Braves in six games, batting just .179 as a team against a Braves pitching staff that matched up with them particularly well. The ’97 team had that ninth-inning lead against the Marlins, but the Indians will always believe they should have had a bigger lead with all their hard-hit balls early in the game.

They’ll always wonder if they could have done more with a true No. 1 starting pitcher. They had Orel Hershiser and Dennis Martinez at the end of their careers, and Bartolo Colon just at the beginning of his. CC Sabathia, who would go on to win the Indians’ first Cy Young since 1972, was drafted in 1998 but didn’t debut in the big leagues until 2001.

“We had really good pitchers, but we didn’t have a big monster,” said Wiley, the pitching coach.

They tried. The Indians lost out to the Toronto Blue Jays when they pursued Roger Clemens as a free agent after 1996. They made offers for Pedro Martinez when he went from the Montreal Expos to the Boston Red Sox in a trade a year later. The Expos wanted both Colon and Jaret Wright (who had just started Game 7 of the World Series), and as Hart said, “I just couldn’t do it.”

The following summer, they went right to the July deadline trying to get Johnson from the Mariners but again balked at the asking price (Colon, Brian Giles and one other player).


They still should have won. They were still just two outs away on that Sunday night in South Florida 19 years ago this week, when Craig Counsell’s sacrifice fly off Mesa tied the game and Renteria’s 11th-inning single won it.

Sandy Alomar was catching that night. Soaked in sweat from the Florida heat, he went to the clubhouse late in the game to change jerseys.

“They had the trophy there and the plastic over the lockers,” he said. “I was so disappointed to see that. The game’s not over yet.”

Hamilton had gone to the clubhouse to prepare for postgame interviews, while his partner Herb Score called the ninth-inning play-by-play.

“They were wheeling in the stage, and I turned to [PR man Bob DiBiasio] and I said, ‘Bobby, this doesn’t feel right.’ He said they do this every year. They have to. I’ll tell you one thing, that plastic comes down a lot quicker than it goes up.”

It was all set. Indians starter Chad Ogea was going to be the unlikeliest of World Series MVPs for his two wins over Kevin Brown. The wait for a championship was going to end at 49 years.

Then came the sacrifice fly. The trophy was wheeled out of the clubhouse, right in front of the Cleveland television reporters waiting to cover the celebration.

“There was a sinking pit in my stomach,” said Matt Underwood, an Ohio native who then worked at Cleveland’s Channel 5 and is now the Indians’ television voice.

Hart had grudgingly left his seat in the stadium, summoned downstairs to join owner Dick Jacobs for the trophy presentation. He and Jacobs watched the ninth inning in the bowels of Pro Player Stadium, staying right there until the Renteria single that ended their best chance at a championship.

“You talk about a bad hour,” Hart said. “But when we lost, Dick just shook my hand and said, ‘Another great year.’ We went in the clubhouse and watched the players walk in. They were all in tears. Dick shook everyone’s hand and thanked them. I did too.”

The run of great years would continue, but those Indians would never win a World Series. Most of them would move on, to retirement or to other teams, but they would always hope another group of Indians could finish what they never could.

“Even to this day, I want Cleveland to win,” Manuel said last week. “I like the coaching staff there, but I want them to win for Cleveland. I want it for the city. I always thought we should have won 2-3 World Series. It’s absolutely unreal that we didn’t win a World Series.”

They didn’t win in 1995 or 1997, and the Indians lost in the playoffs in 2001, 2007 and 2013. For 19 years after 1997, the franchise never did make it to another World Series.

Not until now.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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