Indians Hosting an Unfamiliar Home Opener Foe

Despite the long histories of the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees organizations, the two teams have not opened many seasons against one another on the shores of Lake Erie.

In fact, with 112 home openers under its belt, the city of Cleveland has seen the Yankees occupy the opposing dugout just five total times to open their park. It was not until the Indians’ 75th anniversary season that New York came to town to open the home of the Tribe for the first time.

Seventeen years have passed since their last such visit. This year will end the drought as Ubaldo Jimenez and Hiroki Kuroda are scheduled to face off on Monday afternoon as the revamped Indians lineup looks to capitalize on a Yankees roster depleted of many of its most productive and veteran ball players.

The last time the Yankees opened the Indians home schedule, Derek Jeter was a rookie.

April 2nd, 1996

The Indians were opening the season at home after making their first World Series appearance since 1954. “El Presidente”, Dennis Martinez, was on the mound for Cleveland, taking on David Cone.

The Yankees scored first in the top of the third, when a Mariano Duncan liner to right field was followed by an RBI double down the left field line by Paul O’Neill. He would drive in a pair on the night with his three-hit performance.

In the top of the fifth, Jeter, in his 16th career game in the major leagues and playing in his first Opening Day, sent a 2-0 pitch from Martinez deep to left field for his first of 255 career home runs. It was Jeter’s lone hit in four at bats on the night and was coupled with two strikeouts, but it marked the beginning of an AL Rookie of the Year campaign by the young 22-year-old.

The Yankees put the game away in the top of the eighth. Reliever Alan Embree replaced Martinez to start the frame and struck out Duncan swinging. O’Neill and Ruben Sierra would reach base and, one out later, crossed home plate as Bernie Williams homered to left.

The Indians only run on the night came in the bottom of the eighth after future Indians closer Bob Wickman gave up a leadoff single to Kenny Lofton. He stole second and third bases before scoring on a groundout by Carlos Baerga. The Yankees added a pair of runs in the top of the ninth off of lefty Paul Assenmacher to give the game its 7-1 final score.

Current Yankees manager and former catcher Joe Girardi was 1-for-3 in the game with a single and stolen base. Winning pitcher Cone is a color commentator on the Yankees’ YES Network.

April 5th, 1993

Up and coming Indians starting pitcher Charles Nagy took the mound against left-hander Jimmy Key as the two clubs played the final Opening Day game in the long history of Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

The day was a somber event for the city of Cleveland and the 73,290 in attendance as the team remembered the memories of relievers Steve Olin and Tim Crews, who were killed just weeks earlier in a tragic boating accident during Spring Training. The crowd was the second-largest all-time in the history of the American League, trailing the Indians’ own record of 74,420 against the Detroit Tigers in 1973.

Key had a day to remember on the mound, working eight innings of three-hit ball, allowing just one earned run and striking out three for the win. Nagy, on the other hand, was hit hard over five and two-thirds innings, giving up seven earned runs on eleven hits.

Nagy gave up a solo home run leading off the second inning to Yankees clean up hitter Danny Tartabull. A sacrifice fly in the bottom of the third by Sandy Alomar would tie the game briefly at one, but New York reclaimed the lead with a Pat Kelly RBI double in the fifth and expanded the lead in the sixth to 5-1 on a Matt Nokes three-run home run. Reliever Kevin Wickander would allow two more to cross the plate after Nagy left with the bases loaded. Kelly added a two-run home run in the seventh off of Dennis Cook to finish the scoring at 9-1.

The Indians had just three base runners on the game – Reggie Jefferson, Carlos Martinez, and Glenallen Hill. Jefferson was dealt after the season for long time fan favorite, Omar Vizquel, one of the final additions to the glory years Indians teams of the mid- and late-1990’s.

April 19th, 1990

The Indians ushered in the 1990 season at Yankee Stadium on April 12th. The Yankees came to Cleveland and returned the favor a week later.

A pitchers’ duel took place on the shores of Lake Erie and the Indians walked away with a 1-0 victory. Starting pitcher Greg Swindell pitched six and one-third innings, allowing just three hits and a walk while striking out five. He left with the lead, handing the ball to reliever Cecilio Guante, who gave up just one hit in an inning and two-thirds. Doug Jones earned his third save of the young season with the final inning of relief.

The Indians run would cross the plate thanks to the second passed ball of the game charged to Yankees catcher Rick Cerone. Indians third baseman Tom Brookens went all the way to third on a line drive to left for a triple. The first pitch to the next batter up, Candy Maldonado, was mishandled by the Yankee backstop, allowing Brookens to score from third for the unearned run and the difference in the game.

Two future Indians players, Alvaro Espinoza (double) and Dave Winfield (single), and a current major league manager, Don Mattingly (double), were responsible for the Yankees offense on the game.

April 13th, 1985

The Indians dropped their fourth straight to start the season on their way to a 60-102 record in 1985. Future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven got the start for the Indians and gave up 13 hits and five earned runs in six innings. Three relievers combined to limit New York to just one more hit and run, as Bob Meacham doubled, moved to third on a sacrifice, and scored on a passed ball in the eighth.

The Yankees’ Ron Guidry was quite the opposite, working seven innings and allowing just two runs, one earned, on six hits. He earned the win in the 6-3 final.

The Yankees jumped on Blyleven in the first. Willie Randolph drew a one-out walk. Mattingly doubled him home and scored himself on a two-out double by Don Baylor.

Down 3-0, the Indians got a pair of sacrifice flies from Pat Tabler and Mike Hargrove to cut the deficit to 3-2, but Winfield hit a sac fly of his own to push the lead back to 4-2. Another sacrifice fly from Mattingly two innings later and a passed ball in the eighth ended the Yankees’ scoring. Every starter except Winfield had at least one hit for the Yankees in the game. Mattingly and Ken Griffey Sr. had two hits each.

Julio Franco paced the Indians with three singles in four at bats on the ball game. Future Indians manager Hargrove and slugger Joe Carter each doubled in the loss.

April 8th, 1975

The first head-to-head home opener for the Indians and Yankees went the way of Cleveland. More important than the game itself was the accomplishment of player-manager Frank Robinson, who won his managerial debut 5-3 while becoming the first African-American manager in baseball history.

Robinson may have stolen the stage on that day, but starting pitcher Gaylord Perry did his part to contribute to the victory. Perry went the distance for the Tribe, holding the Yankees to three runs despite giving up nine hits.

Robinson batted second in the Indians lineup as the team’s designated hitter and drove the first pitch of his at bat out of the park for a home run. While the Yankees would take a 3-1 lead in the top of the next inning, the Indians slowly chipped away with another run on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second and a home run from Boog Powell in the bottom of the fourth to tie it. An RBI double by Powell and an RBI single by Jack Brohamer in the bottom of the sixth gave Cleveland the lead that would stand.

The Indians have a record of 58-54 (.523) in home openers, although they are looking to end a current four-game losing streak. They will try to prevent climbing another loss closer to tying the team’s all-time record for consecutive Opening Day losses with six, set between 1906 and 1911.

Cleveland has won as many as five straight home openers in the past, starting with their World Championship season of 1920 through the 1924 season. Bob Feller’s four Opening Day wins at home set the current standard for the organization.

With the help of an era of much larger baseball stadiums, the Indians established the three largest Opening Day crowds in baseball history. A record crowd of 74,420 attended the 1973 home opener against the visiting Tigers. Seventy-three thousand two hundred and ninety appeared at the final opener at Municipal Stadium in 1993. The opener in 1948 drew 73,163 fans to watch the Indians defeat the St. Louis Browns, 4-0, on their way to their last World Series title.

Fans coming out to Progressive Field Monday for the sixth home opener between the Indians and Yankees can look forward to several changes around the ball park that took place over the blustery winter months.

The Collection Auto Club will make its official season debut. Section 151 behind home plate has been renovated to host groups at the end of the section. The Social Suite has relocated along with other suites, and a new Family Social Suite will be opening. New prices on ball park fare, including $4 12-ounce beers, $3 daily hot dogs, and $2 soda refills, will add to the experience.

This season’s opener at Progressive Field sold out in 6 minutes. It will mark the 20th consecutive sellout to open the ball park for the season. Last season’s 43,190 fans endured a chilly and lengthy 16-inning game that broke the previous record of 15 for the longest Opening Day game in baseball history.

The pageantry and excitement for Monday afternoon’s home opener can only be trumped by the hope and uncertainty surrounding the revamped Indians roster and its more successful, established leadership within the dugout. Their tough early schedule not withstanding, if the Indians can survive the month of April in the mix in the Central, it should not be the last of the loud and uproarious crowds to fill the seats at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Photo: Joshua Gunter / Cleveland Plain Dealer

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