What are your five favorite Indians moments?
Like most of you, I'm surprised by how well the Cleveland Indians are playing in 2011. With the Indians getting several players returning from injury and a few roster additions, I expected them to end up better than they did in 2010. But this? This is beyond anybody's expectations.
Watching this team show some of the magic I remember so well has made me nostalgic. So as we look back at the 30th anniversary of Len Barker's perfect game, I decided to pick my five favorite games in Indians history.
If you have any favorite memories to add, let us know. Share them in the comments, or email me.
No. 5: Duane Kuiper did what?
Aug. 29, 1977 — Indians 9, White Sox 2
This was the first baseball game that I can recall attending. My dad loved taking us to Indians games, and I'm sure he took us to games before this. I was 8 years old for this one, and the memories from this game are vivid.
The game itself had little meaning. A second-place team taking on a fifth-place team in late August brought little tension with it. Only 6,236 people were in attendance (in a stadium that could fit 80,000).
Those fans were treated to two feats that would never happen again.
With one out in the first inning, Indians second baseman Duane Kuiper smacked a fly ball that barely cleared the wall in right field. It was Kuiper's first home run of his career, and his last.
Two batters later, first baseman Andre Thornton hit a ball into the corner that bounced away from the left fielder. Thornton, who was never known to have any speed, took advantage of the bad bounce for an inside-the-park home run.
Thornton finished his career with 253 home runs; 252 of them went over a wall somewhere. For the record, 100 percent of Kuiper's home runs went over a wall.
Last year, I met Thornton at a restaurant in Canton and told him I saw his inside-the-park home run. He asked me if I remembered what else happened in that game. The fact that his first comment about that game was asking about Kuiper's big moment speaks volumes about the man that "Thunder" Thornton is.
No. 4: Pure perfection
May 15, 1981 — Indians 3, Blue Jays 0
Only 7,290 people attended this game, but about 150,000 people claim they were there. To be fair, when Joe Tait and Bruce Drennan are calling the game, you feel like you're at the ballpark. So blame Tait and Drennan.
Watching those last three innings on Channel 43 were magical. I'll never forget the image of Rick Manning leaping in the air after he caught the final out. Living rooms across northeast Ohio were probably experiencing the same thing mine did — families celebrating and hugging each other.
The Indians were not a good team. We needed something to be proud of, and Len Barker gave it to us.
For a better description of the game, I defer to my friend Hal McCoy. Read his story about May 15, 1981 here.
No. 3: "Lofton around third; he will score!"
Oct. 17, 1995 — ALCS, Game 6 — Indians 4, Mariners 0
The Indians had dominated the American League throughout the 1995 season but struggled with the Seattle Mariners in the AL Championship series. They dropped two of the first three games, which ensured they would have to win on the road to reach the World Series.
In '95, home-field advantage was not determined by which team had the best record, so Seattle hosted Games 1 and 2 and was the site of Game 6. It would have hosted Game 7, too, if the Indians didn't get the job done in Game 6.
The Indians won Games 4 and 5 at home to take a 3-2 series lead, but they were headed back west to face M's ace Randy Johnson. Johnson was in the prime of a career in which he won 303 games, won five Cy Young Awards, threw two no-hitters (including a perfect game) and made 10 All-Star teams.
But the Indians took him down in his own building, 4-0 to advance to the World Series.
Cleveland sent crafty veteran Dennis Martinez to the mound, and he allowed only four hits and a walk in seven innings of work. In only one inning did more than one Mariners batter reach base, and Martinez got out of that inning with a strikeout of Tino Martinez.
Meanwhile, the Indians slowly chipped away at Johnson. A two-base error in the fifth inning put Alvaro Espinoza in scoring position, and Kenny Lofton cashed in with a single to left field.
Lofton wasn't finished with his heroics.
In the eighth inning, Tony Pena led off with a double to give Cleveland a chance at an insurance run. Lofton laid down a bunt down the third-base line. Then he turned on the jets and beat the throw from Johnson.
Lofton stole second base on the next pitch, and the Mariners were clearly rattled. A passed ball allowed pinch-runner Ruben Amaro to score from third base, and Lofton never slowed down. He came racing in behind Amaro. By the time Seattle saw him coming, he was in under the slow tag of Johnson, covering the plate.
Carlos Baerga finished off Johnson with a solo home run, and the Indians were on their way to their first World Series in 41 years.
No. 2: Comeback of a lifetime
Aug. 5, 2001 — Indians 15, Mariners 14 (11 innings)
Jacobs Field was sold out as the Indians hosted the Seattle Mariners in early August. Both teams were battling for playoff position, and the M's were the best team in baseball at the time. Their lofty 80-30 record was on full display as they blew open the game early against starter Dave Burba.
Four runs in the second inning were followed by eight runs in the third, and the Cleveland crowd was quiet, if not restless. Heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, Seattle led 14-2.
The fans who stayed were treated to a feat not seen in three-quarters of a century.
Cleveland scored three runs in the seventh inning on three hits to trim the deficit to nine runs at 14-5.
In the eighth inning, Jim Thome led off with a home run. Russell Branyan was hit by a pitch before Marty Cordova hit a two-run shot. Omar Vizquel added an RBI double later in the inning to make the score 14-9 after eight innings.
Indians faithful sensed life when Eddie Taubensee singled to lead off the ninth inning, but that was dashed when Seattle quickly recorded two outs.
Cordova doubled to put runners on second and third, and Wil Cordero walked to load the bases. Einar Diaz singled to drive in two runs and make the score 14-11, bringing the tying run to the plate.
Seattle had seen enough and summoned closer Kazuhiro Sasaki. Sasaki quickly allowed a single by Kenny Lofton to load the bases and bring up Vizquel.
Vizquel withstood an eight-pitch at-bat before slapping a ball the opposite way, just skipping it over first base. The fans still in attendance went into a frenzy as the ball rolled all the way into the corner, and the speedy Lofton motored around the bases to tie the game 14-14.
The Indians had scored five runs in the ninth, all with two outs. Two innings later, three straight singles completed the 15-14 victory for Cleveland.
It marked only the third time in baseball history that a team won after trailing by 12 runs, and it was the first time in 76 years.
No. 1: Albert Belle's bat
Oct. 3, 1995 — ALDS, Game 1 — Indians 5, Red Sox 4 (13 innings)
It was the first playoff game that any Indians fan had seen in four decades, and the Tribe was not about to let it go to waste.
Cleveland had won 100 games in a shortened season and was the favorite to advance to the World Series. But MVP Mo Vaughn and the Boston Red Sox were not going to go quietly in the AL Divisional Series.
Roger Clemens was the Sox starting pitcher, facing Dennis Martinez. Runs would be at a premium with these two aces, and the Red Sox got off to the early lead when John Valentin hit a two-run HR in the top of the third.
Clemens stayed strong, only allowing two hits through his first 5.2 innings. But with two gone in the sixth, Omar Vizquel drew a walk and Carlos Baerga singled him to third. Albert Belle followed up with a double to deep center field, tying the game at 2-2. Eddie Murray singled to right, and the Indians had their first lead.
Boston tied the game in the eighth on a home run by Luis Alicea, and the 3-3 score held up as we went to extra innings.
With one out in the 11th inning, Tim Naehring gave Boston the lead again with a home run onto the left field porch. But the Indians didn't rack up 27 wins in their final at-bat for nothing.
Belle led off the bottom of the 11th inning and worked the count during his seven-pitch at-bat against Rick Aguilera. That seventh pitch was a fat one, and Belle crushed it over the fans on the home-run porch to tie the game at 4-4.
Then it got hostile.
Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy ordered Belle's bat to be examined by the umpires, and it was confiscated. As Belle approached home plate on his trip around the bases, he noticed the bat being removed and grew angry. From the dugout, TV cameras captured Belle pointing to his flexed bicep and shouting at Kennedy.
The bat was supposed to be sent to the Cleveland Clinic for X-ray examination, but there was no X-ray available for such use at that late of an hour. So it stayed at Jacobs Field and was eventually cracked open. No cork was discovered, but the bat that Belle had used throughout the second half of the season was destroyed.
Meanwhile, the game reached the 13th inning. Zane Smith hung a fastball over the plate for Pena, the Indians' catcher. Pena sent the 3-0 pitch over the wall in center field and raced around the bases with his arms raised high over his head. The 44,218 screaming fans celebrated as the game finally came to a conclusion at 1:45 a.m.
The Indians were not at all pleased with Kennedy's confiscation of Belle's bat, and of the American League's decision to break it. They took their frustration out on the Red Sox, sweeping Boston in a best-of-five series.
• Albert Belle hits a grand slam off Lee Smith to beat Anaheim.
• Manny Ramirez hits a ball so far, Dennis Eckersley can only say "wow."
• Ricky Vaughn strikes out Clu Haywood to win a one-game playoff against the Yankees.
• Tony Fernandez hits an 11th-inning home run to beat Baltimore 1-0 and get into the 1997 Series.
• Joba Chamberlain is attacked by midges, and Travis Hafner wins Game 2 of the 2007 ALDS