Indians honor AL pennant-winning 1995 team

CLEVELAND (AP) Twenty years later, the 1995 Cleveland Indians are regarded as one of the most memorable teams in franchise history – even if they fell short of delivering a World Series title.

Several members of that American League pennant-winning team, including Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton and manager Mike Hargrove, were in town Friday to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the achievement. The Indians beat Boston and Seattle in the AL playoffs before losing the World Series to Atlanta in six games.

The Indians thrilled fans with comeback wins on what seemed to be a daily basis and captured the franchise’s first pennant since 1954. Cleveland finished 100-44 and won the AL Central by 30 games, clinching the division on Sept. 8, in a strike-shortened season. That season’s team began a sellout streak that reached 455 consecutive games.

”There were so many great memories,” Thome said. ”We had a special team with a lot of talented players. The ballpark was packed every night and we fed off our fans.”

The Indians featured a high-powered offense that included Thome, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Carlos Baerga, along with Lofton’s speed on the bases and in center field and the defensive wizardry of shortstop Omar Vizquel. Dennis Martinez, Orel Hershiser and Charles Nagy anchored the rotation, while Jose Mesa emerged as one of the game’s best closers that season.

”Cleveland had waited a long time,” Lofton said. ”We got a new stadium (in 1994). We felt something special was going to happen. It all came together that season. We always felt like we were going to win. We never felt like we were out of a game.”

Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and Dave Winfield were on the team while Thome, whose statue stands outside the ballpark, and Vizquel could also be headed to Cooperstown someday.

Hargrove played for the Indians from 1979-85 and became manager in 1991. He still remembers the impact of the ’95 team.

”I talked to a fan a couple of years before that who told me he went to games in 1954 with his dad when the Indians won the pennant and how he hoped there would be a day he could see a team like that with his son,” Hargrove said. ”The night we clinched the division I thought, `I hope that guy is here with his son.”’