The Top 20 Moments in Jacobs Field History: Albert Belle Takes Lee Smith Deep
Vince Guerrieri | On 12, Apr 2014
The 2014 season will mark 20 years of baseball at Progressive (ie Jacobs) Field. It’s been a relatively short history (although with the stadium building boom in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Progressive Field is the 13th oldest facility in the majors). Did the Tribe Win Last Night has compiled a list of the 20 most memorable moments in the field’s history. We’ll count them down for 20 consecutive Saturdays.
It had been a long time since two first-place teams played a game in July in Cleveland. But in 1995, that’s what happened when the Angels came to town.
California had last made the American League playoffs in 1986, winning the AL West before blowing a three games to one lead to the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. But in 1995, the Angels weren’t doing quite as well as the Indians, who were running away with the American League Central Division, but they were leading the West.
The Angels won the first game of a two-game series, and July 18 featured a battle of the Marks: Mark Langston for California, and Mark Clark for Cleveland. Tony Phillips hit a solo homer off Clark in the third to put the Angels on the board, and Clark gave up a two-run home run to Jim Edmonds in the fifth to stake California to a 3-0 lead.
The Indians tied the game in the bottom of the fifth with a fusillade of singles, but they promptly gave it back in the sixth when rookie Garret Anderson hit a two-run home run off Clark.
It came down to the bottom of the ninth. The Angels called on closer Lee Smith, who had 22 saves and had only given up two leads – one on a grand slam a few weeks earlier to the Athletics’ Mark McGwire.
Wayne Kirby dribbled a hit through the infield off Smith to get on first. Pinch-hitter Jim Thome struck out. Omar Vizquel then laced a liner just above the glove of Gary DiSarcina, and Kirby advanced to third. With runners at the corners, Smith walked Baerga to load the bases, and up stepped Albert Belle.
Smith got ahead of Belle, 1 and 2, before hanging a slider. And Belle made him pay, launching his 16th home run of the season, over the fence in straightaway center field.
Belle caught fire after that, hitting an additional 34 home runs to become the first Indians player to hit 50 home runs in a season – which he did in a strike-shortened 144-game schedule.
The Angels withstood the loss, and by August had a 10-game lead in the American League West. But two nine-game losing streaks sent the team into a tailspin, and in what Nate Silver (in his days before predicting presidential elections) called the greatest collapse ever, had to win on the final day of the season just to finish in a tie with the Seattle Mariners. The next day, the two teams played a tiebreaker game in Seattle. The Mariners won to advance to the playoffs; Randy Johnson got the win.
Mark Langston was tagged with the loss.