Today In Tribe History: September 8, 1995, Tribe Clinches Central Division
By Vince Guerrieri
On September 8, 1995 – 16 years ago today – 41 years of wandering through the desert ended for the Cleveland Indians, and their fans.
In 1954, the Indians set an American League record with 111 wins, making them the favorites in the World Series that year against the New York Giants. But the Giants swept the Indians in four games, and after that, the Tribe descended into mediocrity – or worse.
But the stars started to align in the early 1990s. With shrewd trades for Carlos Baerga and Sandy Alomar (who came to Cleveland for slugger Joe Carter from San Diego) and Kenny Lofton (who was dealt for Eddie Taubensee in one of the great baseball steals of all time), drafting of young talent like Jim Thome, Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez, and a few key free agent signings, like pitchers Dennis Martinez and Orel Hershiser and first baseman/designated hitter Eddie Murray, the Indians were starting to put together a good team.
And in 1994, the Tribe left the decaying, cavernous Cleveland Municipal Stadium for new, shiny Jacobs Field. Everything started to come together. The Indians were in second place in the American League Central on Aug. 12, one game back of the Chicago White Sox. That year, a wild card was implemented in each league, and the Indians were in the lead for it at that point, as well as leading in most offensive categories in the American League. But the players went on strike, and the season ended without any playoffs or a World Series.
A deal was brokered between players and owners, and the 1995 season started a little late, on April 27 for the Indians. All told, 18 games were lost, but the Tribe went on a tear.
The lineup was fearsome, featuring Lofton, shortstop Omar Vizquel, Belle, Murray, Ramirez, Thome, Baerga, Alomar and Paul Sorrento. It seemed like no lead was safe against them. And behind the starting pitching of Hershiser, Martinez, Charlie Nagy, Chad Ogea and midseason acquisition Ken Hill, they had enough pitchers to hold a lead. But their best pitcher that year was closer Jose Mesa, who finished second in Cy Young voting, and set a record with 38 consecutive saves on the way to a 46-save season.
Sept. 8, 1995, was the Indians’ 123rd game of the season. They had built up a 22.5-game lead over the second-place Kansas City Royals. That night was also the 2,132nd consecutive game of Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken. The Birds’ ironman had broken Lou Gehrig’s record two nights earlier in Baltimore. Hershiser got the start for the Indians, against Kevin Brown for the Orioles.
In the bottom of the third inning, with one out, Brown hit Alomar with a pitch. Alomar moved to third on a single by Lofton. Vizquel hit a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Alomar. Baerga then singled, putting runners at the corners, and Belle walked to load the bases. Eddie Murray singled to score Lofton and Baerga, staking Hershiser to a 3-0 lead.
In the fourth, Bobby Bonilla hit into a double play for Baltimore, scoring Curtis Goodwin, and in the seventh, Jeff Huson doubled off Hershiser to score Harold Baines, cutting the lead to 3-2.
And in the top of the ninth, the bullpen door swung open and out came Jose Mesa to close out the game. He got Ripken to ground out to Vizquel. Baines flied out to Wayne Kirby in right field, and Chris Hoiles drew a walk, and was lifted for pinch-runner Jeffrey Hammonds.
Up stepped Huson, with the tying run at first. On the second pitch he saw from Mesa, he hit a pop foul to third base. Thome reached up and snagged the ball. The Indians won, and clinched their first division title ever – and their first trip to the postseason since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president.