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The year the Cleveland Indians finally returned to the playoffs

The Cleveland Indians finally returned to the playoffs in 1995. After waiting 41 years fans had to wait until after 2 a.m. to see what happened next.

In 1994, the Cleveland Indians were in a three-horse American League Central race with the Chicago White Sox and the Kansas City Royals. In the absence of any changes, the three teams would have started the 1995 season on equal footing.

Oh, but there were changes.

What I did on my winter vacation, by the Chicago White Sox

On December 14, 1994, the White Sox sent 1994 ace Jack McDowell to the New York Yankees for Lyle Mouton.

The White Sox had three young starters behind McDowell: 24-year-olds Wilson Alvarez and Alex Fernandez and 23-year-old Jason Bere.

That’s nice, but there is a problem when you trade your ace starting pitcher: You have given up talent at each spot in your rotation. Number two guy now becomes ace. Number three becomes number two. Etc. And each of them will match up against tougher pitchers than before (unless of course they match up against another team that was stupid enough to get rid of their ace. Which brings us to:

What I did on my winter vacation, by the Kansas City Royals

On April 5, the Royals traded outfielder Brian McRae to the Cubs for three guys who never amounted to much.

One day later, feeling the need to get three more guys who wouldn’t amount to much, the Royals traded their ace starting pitcher, David Cone, to the Blue Jays.

Both the Royals and White Sox were down an ace. And both teams had fairly lousy bullpens. The Royals had a good closer (Jeff Montgomery) but getting to him would prove to be difficult. The White Sox had a good situational lefty in 1994 (Paul Assenmacher) but he moved on.

Which brings us to:

What I did on my winter vacation, by the Cleveland Indians

On April 8, the Indians signed Orel Hershiser to a free agent contract. He represented a significant upgrade over Jack Morris. For one thing, Hershiser didn’t leave the team between starts to tend to his wheat farm in Montana. 

On April 10, the Indians signed Assenmacher.

At the start of the season, the rest of the AL Central was weaker, and the Indians were stronger.

On May 14, the Indians took over first place for good.

By the end of June they were up by nine games. I’m thinking “Could this really happen? After all these years am I going to see the Tribe in the playoffs?”

By the end of July the Indians were up by 17. And 21.5 by the end of August. On September 8, the Tribe clinched the division. The playoffs were happening!

The first playoff game of my life

The Indians drew the AL East champion Boston Red Sox in the playoffs. Frankly the idea of losing to the Red Sox never occurred to me.

I turned on my radio to listen live.

Wait. Radio?

Yeah, because of two factors that we would find unbelievable 23 years later.

  1. ALDS games were played simultaneously, and my cable network didn’t have a channel for every game, and
  2. The Reds were in the playoffs.

I lived in Cincinnati, so I was treated to the Reds series. Whoopie.

Boston got out to a 2-0 lead in the third on a John Valentin home run.

The Indians pulled even with a two-run double by Albert Belle in the bottom of the sixth. Eddie Murray then plated Belle with a single to give the Indians the lead.

Luis Alicea pulled the Red Sox even in the eighth with a home run off Julian Taverez. Alicea was probably the least likely person to hit a home run in this game – having hit a grand total of six in the regular season (and that was his career high).

The game stayed 3-3 until the 10th inning, when Tim Naehring hit an 0-2 offering from Jim Poole to over the big wall in left.

Were the Indians done? Of course not. Albert Belle hit a home run to left.

And now for a legendary moment in Indians’ history

At this point, Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy asks the umpire to check Belle’s bat. Belle then famously looks at Kennedy and points to his rather large bicep as the source of the home run.

Back to the game and another even more legendary moment in Indians’ history

Zane Smith opens the 13th inning for Boston by retiring Manny Ramirez on a ground-out and Herbert Perry on a fly-out. He then falls behind 3-0 on Tony Pena. Pena was the second least likely person to hit a home run in this game, having only five in part-time duty.

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Next: A look at the Tribe rotation for the ALDS

Zane figures “I can groove a fastball for a strike.” Except Pena isn’t taking. Home run – Indians win.

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