The Greatest Summer Ever: Jim Poole
Steve Eby | On 08, Mar 2014
For the next 26 days, 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 #19 Jim Poole.
The Indians knew that 1995 could be a special season before it began. They had a young nucleus of budding superstar hitters and the makings of a solid, veteran starting rotation. They had an idea and a hope that Jose Mesa could make a good closer, but the rest of the bullpen was a big question mark. The bullpen in 1994 was one of the clubs weaker points. Mesa and Eric Plunk were solid middle relievers, but after that there was Boston castoff Jeff Russell, rookie Paul Shuey, aging veteran Steve Farr, and struggling lefthander Derek Lilliquist. No one in this cast seemed like they could help turn the Tribe from “good” into “great”. General Manager John Hart knew that the ‘pen needed a makeover.
Hart got very busy with this bullpen project. He and manager Mike Hargrove inserted rookie converted-starter Julian Tavarez into the backend of the bullpen with Mesa and claimed lefthander Dennis Cook off of waivers from the Chicago White Sox. When the players strike ended, Hart signed veteran lefty Paul Assenmacher away from the White Sox and picked up former Baltimore Oriole Jim Poole to fill out the Tribe ‘pen.
Poole had struggled for most of the 1994 season, but his track record prior to ’94 was solid. His best seasons came in 1991 when he split time with Texas and Baltimore (3-2, 2.36 ERA in 42.0 innings), and in 1993 for the O’s (2-1, 2.15 ERA in 50.1 innings). At only 29 years old, Poole seemed like the perfect candidate for a solid rebound season. On May 7, Poole proved his worth to the Indians in just his fourth appearance for the Tribe, but it was a game for the Indians record books.
The game versus the Minnesota Twins started at 1:05, as most Sunday games do. The historic part came when the game ended at 7:41, making the six hour and 36 minute affair the longest game (time wise) in Indians history.
The starting pitchers that day were Dennis Martinez for the Indians and Kevin Tapani for the Twins. Neither pitcher had their best stuff. Tapani was pulled with two outs in the third inning after allowing six runs (four earned) on six Indian hits. Included in these six hits were RBI singles by Eddie Murray and Carlos Baerga, a three-run homerun by Murray and a solo homer from Manny Ramirez that sent Tapani to the showers.
Martinez also struggled. The Tribe right hander was pulled with one out in the fifth inning having surrendered three runs on eight hits. Twins highlights against “El Presidente” included RBI hits from former Indians Alex Cole and future Indian Scott Leius, and a solo homerun from designated hitter Bernardo Brito which was his only hit of the 1995 season. When both starters were out of the game, the Indians had a 6-3 lead halfway through the game (at least, what is normally halfway).
The Indians tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, when Omar Vizquel led off the frame with a groundball single through the hole between shortstop and third. Baerga followed with a walk, and a double steal put runners at second and third with nobody out. New Twins pitcher Kevin Campbell allowed Albert Belle to line a single to left, scoring Vizquel, but Baerga was thrown out at the plate by another future Indian, Marty Cordova. Belle advanced to second on Cordova’s throw, and he scored three batters later when Ramirez drove him in on a single to left. The Indians lead stood at 8-3.
The Twins were able to battle back in the top of the next inning, when Cole led off the inning with a first-pitch single against Tribe reliever Jason Grimsley, who was working into his third inning of the day. The next batter, future Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, drove Grimsley’s 0-1 pitch over the leftfield wall to cut the lead to 8-5. Cordova followed with a walk and then David McCarty doubled deep down the left field line. After Brito struck out and Leius popped up to Baerga, it seemed as though Grimsley might avoid further damage. Twins catcher Matt Walbeck shut the door on those hopes as he drove in both runs with a double to right. With the score now 8-7, Hargrove put in Tavarez to try and stop the bleeding.
Infielder Pat Meares closed the book on Grimsley when he laced the third pitch from Tavarez back up the middle for a single, scoring Walbeck and tying the game at 8-8.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Indians threatened to score again, loading the bases with one out. Albert Belle was up, but bounced into a 5-4-3 double play, and turned the game back over to the Tribe ‘pen.
Paul Assenmacher started the top of the eighth for the Tribe and retired the only batter he faced. In typical Hargrove-fashion, Hargrove went to the right hander, Plunk, to face the righties in the middle of the Twins lineup. Plunk got Puckett to fly out, but gave up a solo homerun to Cordova with two outs. The Twins had climbed all the way back from the five run deficit to take a 9-8 lead.
In the bottom of the eighth, Murray answered by blasting his second homerun of the day, a solo shot, on the first Dave Stevens pitch of the inning and tying the game back up at 9-9. This would prove to be the last run that either team would score for hours and be a turning point in a game that was only just getting started.
Plunk set down the Twins in order in the ninth and Stevens shut out the Indians that inning as well. The 10th inning was a bit more eventful when Plunk allowed a single, stolen base and walk, but Mesa relieved and shut the door on the Twins rally. Stevens also allowed two Indians to reach in the 10th, but Twins closer Rick Aguilera relieved and retired Tribe catcher Jesse Levis to end the threat.
Both Mesa and Aguilera threw 1-2-3 innings in the eleventh, but Mesa ran into a bit of trouble in the 12th. Walbeck led off the inning with a double, putting the Indians behind the eight-ball to begin with. Meares bunted pinch runner Jerald Clark to third, putting the go-ahead run 90 feet away from scoring with only one out. Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch grounded to Vizquel, who was playing in, and Omar threw Clark out at the plate, preserving the tie. Mesa got the next batter, Cole, to ground out to Baerga and end the inning.
The Indians went quietly in the bottom of the 12th, but the Twins threatened off of Mesa again in the 13th by loading the bases. Mesa was able to work out of the jam once again, keeping the score tied. The Indians were able to get a man to third base in the bottom half, but failed to score again. This sent the game into the 14th inning, and Hargrove turned the game over to Poole.
Poole was flat out nasty that day. He struck out the side in order in the 14th, and allowed only a two out walk in the 15th. A single and an error allowed the Twins to threaten with runners at second and third with no outs in the 16th, but Baerga threw Leius out at the plate on a fielder’s choice the next batter. Poole promptly responded by getting out of the jam by getting Knoblauch to bounce into a 5-4-3 double play.
The Twins ninth pitcher that day, Mark Guthrie, set down the Indians in the bottom half of the 16th, and Poole was able to retire the Twins 1-2-3 in the top of the 17th. This set the stage for the Tribe to try and win the game again in the bottom half.
Ramirez led off the inning with a line drive single to right-center. After Alvero Espinoza struck out, Ramirez was able to steal second base, giving Levis a chance to win the game. Levis grounded weakly to third, but beat out the throw for an infield single, moving the winning run to third. With only one out and the speedy Kenny Lofton at the plate, the Twins drew the infield in to try and force Ramirez at the plate. Lofton responded by lining a single straight back up the middle, giving the Indians a 10-9 win almost seven hours after they started. Lofton was quoted after the game in Russell Schnider’s book, The Glorious Indian Summer of 1995 as saying, “I was so tired I didn’t even want to run to first base.”
Poole got his first victory as an Indian that day by pitching four innings, allowing only one hit, one walk and striking out three. Between the two teams there were 17 pitchers used, and Poole pitched the best by far.
Poole’s success continued throughout the regular season. He finished the season with a 3-3 record and a solid 3.75 ERA. Poole’s solid ’95 season with the Tribe will forever be stained, however. It was Poole who took the loss in game six of the World Series, giving the championship to Atlanta. Poole came in relief of Martinez with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning and struck out Fred McGriff. In the bottom of the sixth, however, Poole allowed leadoff batter and future Indian David Justice to blast a 1-1 pitch over the right field fence and give the Braves a 1-0 lead. The one run lead stood up for the rest of the game and ended the Indians magical season.
Jim Poole started the 1996 season with Cleveland and was pitching well before he was traded on July 9 to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Mark Carreon. Turning into a bit of a journeyman, Poole made two more quick stops with Cleveland in 1998 and 1999, as well as stops in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Montreal. Poole re-signed with the Indians in June of 2000 but did not pitch for them and he retired as a member of the Tribe.
Since retiring, Poole has turned his attention to teaching baseball to youth. Jim is the pitching coach at Johns Creek High School in Georgia and is also a baseball instructor for a sports center in the area. Jim lives with his wife, Kim, and they have three children.
Tomorrow: Chad Ogea