Eighteen Crazy Nights—Looking back at the 1997 Cleveland Indians
Each week during the 2012-13 offseason DTTWLN will take a look back at the 1997 Cleveland Indians season—specifically the 18 thrilling games of the postseason as the Indians made an improbable run to game seven of the World Series.
PART SEVENTEEN: WORLD SERIES GAME 2—IT’S PRONOUNCED “OH-JAY”
By Steve Eby
Twice in the 1997 playoffs the Indians had lost Game One of a series, and twice they had come back to win Game Two. If they were going to make it three in a row, however, they certainly had their work cut out for them.
The Indians were set to face right handed ace Kevin Brown in the second matchup of the World Series, and they could only counter with Chad Ogea…a pitcher left out of the playoff starting rotation originally.
Brown was in the prime of a fantastic career, was at the end of an All-Star season, and was only a year removed from a season where he finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Ogea, meanwhile, struggled to a 8-9 record with a 4.99 ERA during the regular season and had lost his only two starts of the playoffs. Ogea was only known nationally for having a funny last name that nobody was really sure how to pronounce and for giving up a grand slam to the first batter he faced in the postseason in his lone ALDS relief appearance against the Yankees.
“I wish that homer would just go away,” Ogea said in a Jack Curry article from the New York Times. “That’s all in the past. That’s water under the bridge.”
It was beneficial for the Indians that Ogea had a short memory. His teammates would need to have one as well, as the Indians looked to bounce back from a poor showing in Game One where they dropped the opening game of a playoff series for the sixth straight time. Just like they did in Game One, the Tribe offense struck quickly to take an early lead.
Brown started the game out well for the Marlins by striking out leadoff hitter Bip Roberts, but did not keep it up as Omar Vizquel laced a line drive double into right field. Vizquel was stranded temporarily when Manny Ramirez grounded out to Edgar Renteria at shortstop, but scored when David Justice roped a single into right field for an RBI and a 1-0 Tribe lead. The first inning RBI single was Justice’s second in as many games.
The Marlins answered right back in the bottom half. Ogea struck out Devon White to start the game, but then allowed a single to Renteria. He then hit Gary Sheffield with a pitch and got Bobby Bonilla to fly out to Marquis Grissom in centerfield. Jeff Conine followed with the second clutch hit of the game, as he pushed a single into center to score Renteria and tie the game at 1-1. From there, both pitchers dug in and went to work.
Brown got his fantastic sinkerball working as the next eight outs that the Indians made were because of regular groundouts or double play grounders. Ogea also carried his weight, setting down the Fish in order in the second, then working out of a third inning jam. The score remained tied heading into the bottom of the fourth, where a familiar hero made the play of the game.
Moises Alou led off the inning by blasting a double over the head of Grissom in center for what looked to be the start of a Florida rally. The following batter, Charles Johnson, then followed with a mighty swing—but poor contact. Johnson hit the ball right off of the handle of the bat and the ball flubbed down the third base line, just in front of the home plate area. Sandy Alomar, who had been heroic with his bat all season and postseason long, instinctively scooped up the ball and fired down to third where Alou was trying to get a bit greedy. Matt Williams caught Alomar’s laser and tagged Alou for the first out of the inning. The heads-up play by the Tribe catcher deflated the Marlins rally and served as an adrenaline shot for the Indians.
Williams led off the top of the fifth by blooping a single into right field to bring up Jim Thome. Thome struck out, but was followed by an Alomar single that moved Williams to second. Grissom then stepped up, on a 13 game World Series hitting streak.
Grissom pushed his streak to 14, as he grounded a base hit through the left side as Williams came around to score and Alomar stopped at second. The Indians now held a 2-1 lead with only one out and Ogea coming to the plate.
Ogea showed bunt even before Brown rocked into his motion and laid down a perfect sacrifice in front of the plate. Brown fielded it and threw Ogea out at first, but Chad had done his job.
“Chad laid down a very good bunt, and that was a key,” Indians Manager Mike Hargrove said in a Jason Reid article from the Los Angeles Times. “But I’d still rather see a designated hitter come up and hit a home run.” Grover didn’t get his homerun, but what the next batter, Roberts, did give him was the biggest hit of the game.
Roberts smacked Brown’s 0-1 pitch back up the middle for a base hit, scoring both Alomar and Grissom. The Indians now held a 4-1 lead against the mighty right handed ace—and Brown was starting to labor.
Brown walked Vizquel next to move Roberts into scoring position and brought up Ramirez. Manny squared on Brown’s 2-1 offering and smoked it into centerfield. The ball, unfortunately, was hit too hard and carried into White’s glove for the third out.
Ogea continued to roll in the bottom of the fifth, setting down the Marlins scoreless with the aid of an inning ending 5-4-3 double play. The Indians then put an exclamation point on Game Two in the top of the sixth.
Justice led off the inning by working the count full and then drawing a walk off of Brown, who was clearly tiring. Brown forced Williams to bounce into a fielder’s choice and then got Thome to fly out to the warning track in right bringing Alomar to the plate with two down.
Alomar got ahead in the count 2-0 before he obliterated an inside Brown fastball. The ball took about two seconds to leave the yard, as Sandy had hit a rocket down the left field line that probably never got more than 20 feet off the ground. The Indians now had a commanding 6-1 lead and Brown was pulled after the inning.
Ogea, however, kept cruising. He shut down the Marlins in the sixth and was aided in doing so in the seventh, as Mike Jackson came in to get the third out of the inning. Ogea left with a 6-1 Cleveland lead and had pitched 6.2 brilliant innings in his World Series debut.
“I knew coming out of the bullpen I was throwing the ball well,” Ogea said in the Reid article. “I was a little hyper in the beginning after the national anthem, so I just took a deep breath and told myself to calm down.
“I got out of a lot of jams tonight. There were runners all over the bases but our team stepped it up.”
The modest Ogea was the one who actually stepped it up. Chad threw first pitch strikes to 17 of the 28 batters that he faced and mixed up Florida hitters all evening. He was fantastic and gave the Indians the boost that they needed in the series.
Jackson stayed in the ballgame and pitched a scoreless eighth inning, sandwiched between two scoreless innings by Marlin reliever Antonio Alfonseca. When Jose Mesa was done working his scoreless ninth inning, the Indians had evened up the series at 1-1.
The bullpen and Alomar were fantastic, but all anyone could speak of was the performance of Ogea—whose name could now be pronounced correctly and was known for more than just Paul O’Neill’s grand slam.
“I wasn’t thinking about that stuff tonight, for sure,” Ogea said in the Curry article. “Good thing I won tonight because that kind of erases it.” It certainly erased that memory for Cleveland fans, Ogea’s teammates, and his appreciative skipper.
“When Chad is on his game and locating his fastball well and his changeup and curveball, when Chad can do what he did tonight for us, he can be very effective,” Hargrove said. “We’re very appreciative of the fact that he pitched as well as he did, but it’s not surprising. He has that kind of ability.”
“Chad is out there trying to pitch,” his teammate Williams said. “He’s not standing out there thinking about the hype of Kevin Brown. The key thing is, he just had to make his pitches and he did that tonight.”
Neither Ogea nor the Indian hitters seemed to be fazed by facing Brown, who never seemed quite right during the game.
“It seemed like Brownie kept searching for his right release point,” Marlin Manager Jim Leyland said in the Reid article. “He just couldn’t seem to find it. But you have to credit Chad Ogea, he changed speeds and mixed pitches. He pitched outstanding.”
“We can hit,” Justice said. “Kevin [Brown] is human like everyone else.”
The Game Two victory sent the Indians and Marlins north to Cleveland, where Old Man Winter had already shown his ugly face. The 78° Miami temperature at the start of Game Two would soon just be a warm memory, as temperatures in Cleveland were expected to be in the 30s for Game Three. The win also ensured a shot at history for Grissom, whose three hits raised his World Series batting average to .441—the highest in Series history among players with 50 or more at bats.
Grissom’s 14 game World Series hit streak was now the second longest in history behind Hank Bauer’s record of 17. The Tribe victory cemented at least three more games in the series; just enough for Grissom to get a chance to tie the mark.
“I’m so into the game I’m not worried about no record,” Grissom said in a Claire Smith article from the New York Times. “I’m not worried about nothing but winning right now.”
His extraordinary numbers in his three Fall Classic appearances (the first two were with Atlanta in 1995-96) were drawing comparisons to Reggie Jackson—the former Yankee known as Mr. October.
“No,” Grissom said to the Los Angeles times. “I don’t want to take that from Reggie Jackson. I don’t consider myself a big-game player. I’m just having fun, enjoying myself. It’s the World Series, where we all want to be. Why panic?”
Tribe General Manager John Hart—the man who traded for Grissom less than seven months prior—disagreed. “He’s a big-game, big-time player,” Hart said in the LA Times article. “We knew that when we traded for him.”
What neither Hart nor anybody else could have known, however, was the offensive barrage, cold weather and sloppy play that was headed their way as the series shifted to Cleveland.