By Vince Guerrieri
On Aug. 5, 2001, 10 years ago today, the Indians were playing a nationally-televised Sunday night game on ESPN. They had their work cut out for them, playing a Seattle Mariners team that would go on to win 116 games in the regular season, tying a major league record.
And of course, the Indians laid an egg. Tribe starter Dave Burba gave up seven runs in two innings and change, and was replaced by reliever Mike Bacsick, who gave up five more runs in an eight-run third inning. After three, the Mariners were leading by two touchdowns, 12-0. Jim Thome hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning to make it 12-2, but the Mariners added two more in the fifth to go up 14-2.
This one seemed all over but the crying. Televisions changed channels everywhere. Fans – paid attendance that night was 42,994 – filed out of Jacobs Field. Both managers – Charlie Manuel for the Indians and Lou Piniella for the Mariners – started pulling their starters to rest them in what would surely turn out to be a blowout.
Only it didn’t.
The Indians led off the bottom of the seventh with a solo home run by Russell Branyan to make it 14-3. Seattle starter Aaron Sele retired the next two batters before Einar Diaz singled. After giving up back-to-back walks to Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel, Sele was lifted for reliever John Halama, who promptly gave up a two-run single to Jolbert Cabrera, making it 14-5. Eddie Taubensee ended the inning with a flyout.
The Indians led off the eighth with another solo home run, this one by Thome, his second of the night. The score was 14-6 now. Halama hit Branyan with a pitch, and then gave up a home run to Marty Cordova, making it 14-8. Wil Cordero grounded out, but Halama gave up back-to-back singles to Diaz and Lofton. Norm Charlton took the mound in relief of Halama, and gave up a double to Omar Vizquel, scoring Diaz. Lofton also tried to score, but was cut down at the plate, and Cabrera went down swinging to end the inning, but the Tribe was now down 14-9.
In the bottom of the ninth, Taubensee singled to center, but Thome flied out and Branyan struck out swinging. The Indians were still down five runs, and down to their last out. Cordova doubled, and Taubensee advanced to third, and the Mariners brought in All-Star reliever Jeff Nelson, who was in the middle of a great year where he would hold batters to a .136 batting average and .199 slugging percentage.
But this time, Nelson walked Cordero on a full count to load the bases. Diaz singled, and Taubensee and Cordova scored to make it 14-11. The tying run would come to the plate, in the form of Kenny Lofton. The Mariners lifted Nelson for Kazuhiro Sasaki. Lofton singled to load the bases.
The Tribe was down five runs at the beginning of the frame, and now the potential winning run came to the plate. Vizquel tripled down the right field line, clearing the bases. It was now a tie game at 14, and Vizquel was 90 feet away from scoring the winning run.
Cabrera grounded out to third to end the inning. It was going to extras. The Tribe stranded the winning run in scoring position in the tenth, but after coming back from a 12-run deficit, Cleveland fans – not the most optimistic people in the world – were starting to think that the Indians couldn’t possibly lose. And then they remembered they were Cleveland fans, so it was still more than just a possibility.
Indians pitcher John Rocker blew through the Mariners in the top of the 11th, and Tribe hitters would face Jose Paniagua in the bottom of the inning. He got Diaz to pop out, but Lofton singled. VIzquel singled to move Lofton into scoring position with one out, and Cabrera dropped a base hit into left field. Lofton, the speedster, came around and scored. Four hours and 11 minutes after the game started, it was over. The Indians had clawed back from 12 runs down – the first time a team had done that since 1925 – to beat the Mariners.
“If this doesn’t pick us up, nothing will,” Manuel said after the game.
The win put the Tribe a half-game back of the defending Central champion Twins. Two days later, they were tied for first. A day after that, the Indians took a lead in the division. Two weeks after the Indians came back to beat the Mariners, they were leading the Central by 4.5 games, and ended up winning the division by six games, with a record of 91-71. Their first round opponent? The Mariners.
The Mariners tied the 1906 Cubs for wins in a season, with 116. They were the prohibitive favorite, but the Indians took them to five games before losing. The Mariners went on to lose the American League Championship Series to the Yankees, who would go on to lose the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Indians tied a major league record by coming back from a 12-run deficit, the third time that had happened.
“This was really exciting,” Thome said after the game.
And a reminder why you should never, EVER leave a baseball game early.