Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we chronicle the career of relief pitcher, Jim Poole.
Left-handed relief pitcher Jim Poole pitched 363 regular season innings over an eleven year major league career, but one postseason inning–and at bat–will always link him to Cleveland Indians history.
Poole, who broke into the major leagues in 1990 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, pitched from 1991-94 with the Baltimore Orioles, before signing with the Indians prior to the 1995 season. He was a left-handed relief pitcher, often facing only a left-handed batter or two per outing, then leaving the game. Indians manager Mike Hargrove was known for specializing in his bullpen matchups.
It was Hargrove’s attention to match-ups that summoned Poole from the Tribe’s bullpen in the bottom of the fifth inning of Game 6 of the 1995 World Series against the Atlanta Braves. The Indians trailed in the series, three games to two and needed to win to force a deciding Game 7. Poole relieved Dennis Martinez with two runners on and two out of a scoreless contest to face left-handed hitting, slugger Fred McGriff. He struck McGriff out on three pitches to end the inning. With the pitcher’s spot due up second, Poole’s evening was thought to be done after only one hitter.
However, Tony Pena led off the top of the sixth inning with a single to center. In a sure sacrifice situation, Hargrove decided to send Poole to the plate to sacrifice bunt Pena to scoring position. He had never made a major league plate appearance to date. After missing the first two pitches, Poole popped out to catcher Javy Lopez and did not advance Pena to second base.
After a fielder’s choice by Kenny Lofton and pop out by Omar Vizquel, the inning ended. Poole took the mound again in the bottom of the sixth inning to face left-handed hitting, right fielder, David Justice. On a 1-1 pitch Justice hit a solo home run into the right field seats giving the Braves a 1-0 lead. Poole would work the rest of the sixth, but the Justice home run would serve to be the only run of the game and give the 1995 World Series trophy to the Braves.
Poole pitched in 1996 with the Tribe until he was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Mark Carreon. He made appearances for the Indians again in 1998 and 1999, before retiring from baseball at the end of the 2000 season. Poole appeared in 431 games, pitching 363 innings, recording a 22-12 record and 4.31 ERA, but his home run allowed to Justice was the most memorable pitch of his career.
In the spring of 1997 Justice would be traded to the Indians, where later Hargrove would admit if he had it to do over, he would not have sent Poole up to bunt or left him in the game to face Justice because the slugger was a strong hitter against lefties.
Photo: MLB Photo File