The Greatest Summer Ever: Orel Hershiser
Steve Eby | On 28, Jul 2012
Each week through the 26 weeks of the 2012 regular season, DTTWLN will profile and break down the roster of arguably the most exciting sports team that Cleveland has ever seen; the 1995 Cleveland Indians. The ’95 Tribe won 100 games in a strike-shortened 144 game schedule, won their first Central Division title and made the playoffs and World Series for the first time since 1954. Six players made the American League All-Star team, eight players batted .300 or better, and the pitching staff had the lowest ERA in the American League. The players have been ranked from the most important to the Tribe’s success to the 26th. This week breaks down #10 Orel Hershiser.
Orel Hershiser will forever be remembered in baseball lore as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers and his trademark will be his magical 1988 season. In ’88, Hershiser tossed a record 59 consecutive scoreless innings, won the National League Cy Young Award and a Gold Glove, led the league in wins and won the NLCS and World Series MVP Awards as his Dodgers beat the heavily favored Oakland A’s in the Fall Classic. Baseball lore is correct for remembering “The Bulldog” as a Dodger and for throwing one of the best pitching seasons in history.
In Cleveland, however, fans have their own memories of Hershiser. Orel officially signed on with the Indians as a free agent on April 8, 1995, but in the minds of Cleveland fans, Hershiser became an Indian for life later that year on October 26.
Hershiser had a very good first season with the Tribe. In ’95, Orel won 16 games for the Central Division champs and posted a solid 3.87 ERA. The 16 victories were the most that Hershiser had won since his ’88 season and tied for the third most he had ever won. Hershiser also finished tied with Charles Nagy for the most victories on the club that season. The Indians could not have hoped for more when they signed him.
Throughout his time with the Dodgers, Hershiser became known for being a postseason master. In two playoff trips, Hershiser had accumulated a 4-0 playoff record with one save, four complete games, two shutouts and a sparkling 1.62 ERA. When the ’95 playoffs started, the Indians hoped that Orel would continue his postseason dominance.
Hershiser’s first American League playoff game came on October 4 in game two of the ALDS against Boston. Hershiser dominated the Red Sox, pitching 7 1/3 shutout innings and allowing only four hits in a 4-0 Indians victory. Hershiser’s next two starts came in the ALCS against the Seattle Mariners. Orel won both games, giving up a total of two earned runs in 13 innings of work. His excellent series earned him ALCS MVP honors when the Tribe clinched the pennant in game six. During the postseason, Orel had struck out 22 batters and walked only five.
The game one starter for both the Boston and Seattle series had been Dennis Martinez, but “El Presidente” also started the clinching game six at the Kingdome that sent the Tribe to the World Series. Since Martinez had just pitched and Hershiser was next in line in the rotation — and the hottest pitcher on the team — manager Mike Hargrove started Orel in game one of the Fall Classic. Hershiser pitched well (giving up three runs on three hits in six innings), but Atlanta ace Greg Maddux was slightly better. Atlanta won game one 3-2.
The Braves were victorious again in game two, as Tom Glavine bested Martinez for a 4-3 Atlanta victory. Suddenly, the Indians were in a 0-2 hole. The Tribe fought back to win game three in extra innings, but Atlanta took a commanding 3-1 series lead by beating the Indians in game four. With their backs now against the walls, the Indians turned to Hershiser in game five with their magical season on the line.
Game five of the 1995 World Series was played on October 26 in front of 43,595 fans at Jacobs Field. With games six and seven scheduled in Atlanta, this was last contest that Cleveland would host for the ’95 season. The Tribe and their fans hoped they could milk one more magical moment out of the magical stadium that had become simply known as “The Jake”.
In a rematch of game one, Maddux was scheduled to start the potential clincher for the Braves. That was a tall order for the Indians, as Maddux was coming off of the best season of a career filled with amazing statistics. “Mad Dog” had posted a 19-2 record and an outstanding 1.63 ERA in the regular season. He had thrown 10 complete games and three shutouts, struck out 181 batters and walked only 23. He pitched 209.2 innings that summer and had impeccable command for almost all of them. Maddux was the best pitcher in baseball, but thankfully for the Indians, he was facing the best lineup in the game.
In the most important game of the season, Hershiser started out on fire. Orel got the first two batters of the game, future Indian Marquis Grissom and veteran Luis Polonia, to ground out right back to him for two quick outs. Rookie Chipper Jones, who had become quite a thorn in the Indians’ side, followed the two outs with a double into left field. Not able to afford giving up an early run, “The Bulldog” struck out “The Crime Dog,” Fred McGriff, on a full count. Jacobs Field went crazy as Hershiser pitched out of the early jam. If the Indians could respond with a run or two, they would steal all the momentum from Atlanta.
Kenny Lofton led off the bottom of the first by blooping a ball into short right-center field. Another future Indian, David Justice, raced over and made the catch on the run for the first out. Tribe shortstop Omar Vizquel followed Lofton in the order and was able to work a five-pitch walk off Maddux. Carlos Baerga followed by tapping a weak grounder to second baseman Mark Lemke. He was thrown out at first, but Vizquel moved to second. Albert Belle, coming off a franchise record 50 home run season, strode to the plate.
Belle wasted no time welcoming Maddux to Jacobs Field, lining a ball deep into the right-field corner. Vizquel was sure to score on the hit anyway, but the low liner snuck just over the yellow line and landed in Atlanta’s bullpen for a two-run home run. Belle had hit a bomb the night before in game four off Atlanta starter Steve Avery that landed in almost the exact same spot. The Indians had an early 2-0 lead and all of the momentum of the game, and Maddux knew it.
The next batter up to the plate was future Hall of Famer and Indians DH Eddie Murray. Murray, looking to start another two-out rally, dug in to face Maddux’s first pitch. Maddux did everything he could to steal the momentum back for the Braves, throwing the first pitch of the at-bat right at Murray’s head. The 39-year-old Murray ducked backward and the ball just missed hitting the baseball legend in the face. The crowd erupted in boos. Murray glared at Maddux and wagged his finger in disapproval. Eddie took a menacing step toward the mound and before he could take a second, the Indians dugout and bullpen had poured onto the field to get the back of their teammate. Atlanta’s benches immediately followed, praying that nobody would lay a finger on their star. Ironically, it was Hershiser who pulled Maddux aside and had a few words for the young pitcher.
Maddux claimed he was just trying to back Murray off the plate and jam him, but Hershiser reminded him that he had much better control than that, and that he didn’t need to throw at the head of a man who had just got his 3000th hit a few months earlier. Maddux shrugged and went back to the pitching mound.
No punches were thrown in the scuffle, it lit a fire under Hershiser and the Indians. Orel shut down the Braves 1-2-3 for the next two innings, but Maddux nearly matched him. The only blemish for Maddux was a two out single by Vizquel in the third, but Omar was stranded there when the inning ended.
Leading off the top of the fourth, the Braves finally broke through against Hershiser when Polonia hit a home run to deep right field, cutting the Indians’ lead in half. Hershiser was able to settle in, however, and retired the next three batters to end the inning.
After Maddux set down the Indians in order again, Hershiser ran into trouble for the first time in the playoffs. Ryan Klesko led off the top of the fifth inning by lining a sharp single into right field. The next batter, Lemke, followed Klesko by grounding a ball right back to Hershiser. Orel fielded the grounder and spun to throw Klesko out at second but the throw pulled Vizquel off the bag — an error. The following hitter, Charlie O’Brien, laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt that moved the tying and go-ahead runs into scoring position. After an intentional walk to pinch hitter Dwight Smith, Grissom hit a perfectly placed little dribbler between Hershiser and third baseman Jim Thome. Orel fielded the ball but could not make a play at any base. Game five of the World Series was tied 2-2. Hershiser escaped the inning without any further damage, however, getting Polonia to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.
Maddux and Hershiser exchanged scoreless innings over the next six outs and the score remained tied into the bottom of the sixth. Vizquel led off the inning by grounding out to short. Baerga followed by hitting a double into right, putting the go-ahead run at second. Maddux intentionally walked Belle and then got Murray to line out to right. Murray’s fly out was deep enough, however, to move Baerga to third. The next batter up was Thome, and Jimmy fell behind in the count 1-2. After fouling a pitch off, Thome grounded a single back up the middle to score Baerga and move Belle to third. The Indians now led 3-2. Manny Ramirez did not let Maddux settle in after Thome broke the tie. He scorched a line-drive single into right field on the first pitch. Belle scored and the Indians took a 4-2 lead into the late innings. In a 1995 article by Mike Lupica for the New York Daily News, Hershiser was quoted as saying, “I thought to myself, ‘They’ve given me a two-run lead on Greg Maddux. I’ve got to win this game now.’ ”
With Hershiser locked in on the mound and the Tribe six outs from the franchise’s biggest win since 1948, Orel made one of the greatest plays in his career. Atlanta’s backup shortstop, Mike Mordecai, led off the eighth with a single into left. The next batter, Grissom, got ahead in the count 1-0 before he squared up on Hershiser’s next pitch.
Grissom scorched a line drive right back up the middle and Hershiser alertly reached back across his body and snared the missile. Mordecai was caught in no-man’s-land off of first base and Orel fired a dart over to first baseman Herbert Perry to complete the line-drive double play. Hershiser, knowing that this was the last batter that he would face in 1995, struck Polonia out. Jacobs Field erupted with cheers. “The Bulldog” snarled as he walked off the mound with his fist clenched down at his side and barked out “Take that! Take that!”
With the momentum clearly in the third-base dugout, the Indians looked to add some insurance in the bottom of the eighth. With two outs and Maddux out of the game, Thome climbed into the box to face Atlanta rookie reliever Brad Clontz. Clontz and Thome battled and battled each other for seven pitches. The count was full. Having had enough throwing to Thome, Clontz grooved a fastball right down the middle.
Thome unloaded on the pitch, sending a towering blast into dead center field. Thome, Clontz and everybody in the world knew it was gone the moment Jimmy swung. Thome took one step toward first base and backhand flipped his bat so far that it nearly landed in the Atlanta dugout. The ball landed deep in the picnic plaza where Heritage Park now stands. Thome circled the bases as the crowd went crazy, knowing he had just hit a titanic homerun when his team needed him the most — a World Series elimination game. With the Tribe leading 5-2 heading into the ninth, Hargrove turned to his record-setting closer, Jose Mesa to close out the Braves.
In Cleveland sports, nothing is easy. It certainly wasn’t easy for Mesa that game, either. Jose got Jones to fly out to start the inning, but gave up a double to McGriff with one out. A Justice groundout moved McGriff to third, but the Indians were just one out away from victory with a three run lead. The next batter up was Klesko. Mesa got ahead in the count 0-2. Jose then made a cardinal sin for a pitcher by throwing a hittable strike on 0-2 and Klesko tattooed it into the right field bullpen. With the tying run now at the plate, Mesa dug deep and struck Lemke out looking to end the ballgame. The Indians had a 5-4 victory and were headed back to Georgia trailing three games to two in the series.
This game proved to be not only Hershiser’s last win of the season, but the Indians’ last win as well. Glavine stifled the Tribe hitters in game six of the series, allowing only one hit (a single by catcher Tony Pena) in a 1-0 Atlanta victory. Jim Poole, in relief of Martinez, gave up a home run to Justice in the sixth inning for the only run of the game.
Hershiser pitched the following two seasons for the Indians, including his final World Series appearance in 1997. Hershiser signed with the San Francisco Giants following the ’97 season, then resigned with the Indians to try to make the team in 1999. The Indians, however, released their old Bulldog before the end of spring training. Hershiser signed a one year contract with the New York Mets for the ’99 season. In 2000, Hershiser resigned and finished his playing career with the Dodgers. He retired in June of that year.
Orel Hershiser retired with a 204-150 career record and a 3.48 ERA. Even more impressive were his final postseason stats. For his playoff career, Hershiser pitched in 22 games and 132 innings. He had an 8-3 record with a 2.59 ERA. He won one World Series and appeared in three.
Since retiring, Hershiser has worked as the pitching coach for the Texas Rangers and has since become an analyst for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and Sunday Night Baseball. In 2006, Hershiser started playing poker competitively and is a professional poker player at PokerStars.net.
Next Week: Julian Tavarez
#26 Dave Winfield
#25 Mark Clark
#24 Wayne Kirby
#23 Alan Embree
#22 Alvaro Espinoza
#21 Herbert Perry
#20 Ken Hill
#19 Jim Poole
#18 Chad Ogea
#17 Sandy Alomar
#16 Tony Pena
#15 Eric Plunk
#14 Paul Sorrento
#13 Paul Assenmacher
#12 Omar Vizquel
#11 Charles Nagy
Photo: Jerry Reuss