The Greatest Summer Ever: Alan Embree

Throughout the 2015 season, Did the Tribe Win Last Night will take a look back at the 1995 Cleveland Indians for the 20th anniversary of their fourth pennant winning season. Included will be historic game recaps, headlining stories and a ranking of the team’s most influential players that truly made 1995 The Greatest Summer Ever. Today looks back at player #23 Alan Embree.

Alan Embree started his Major League career as a September call-up in the 1992 season.  At this time, he was a young, left handed starting pitcher who was coming off of a fantastic year in the minor leagues where he won a combined 17 games with a 2.85 ERA for High-A Kinston and Double-A Canton-Akron.  His big league numbers that September were not as impressive, as the 22 year old Embree struggled through his only four Major League starts with an 0-2 record and a 7.00 ERA.  With being so young and successful in the Minor Leagues, however, Embree had the makings of a solid young starting pitcher.

Embree’s left elbow had other plans in mind.  Embree hurt his throwing elbow playing catch before the 1993 spring camp opened, and this injury sidelined him for almost the entire year.  Embree was able to make one start for Canton-Akron in ’93, and was on the shelf for the rest of the season.

Also, 1994 was a season to forget for Embree, as he tried to bounce back from the injury.  He appeared in 30 games for Canton-Akron that season and started 27 of them, but he struggled to a 9-16 record with a 5.50 ERA.  The Indians knew that something had to change with Embree, and they made the best move for Alan Embree’s career when they moved him to the bullpen for the 1995 season.

Getting his first action at the Triple-A level (2 ½ years after making his debut with the Indians), Embree took the Buffalo Bisons bullpen by storm in 1995.  Embree had only a 3-4 record in 30 games for the club, but he had a sparkling 0.89 ERA and recorded 5 saves.  It was time to see if Embree was ready to get big league hitters out, and Embree made his first Major League bullpen appearance in game one of a July 14 doubleheader against the Oakland A’s, the first game after the All-Star break.

Another youngster, Albie Lopez, got the start for the first place Indians that day at Jacobs Field, the first of two starts he made that season.  Lopez and Oakland starter Ariel Prieto were locked in a classic pitcher’s duel.  Through the top of the fifth inning, the only tally on the scoreboard was one Oakland hit, a third inning double down the left field line by A’s second baseman Brent Gates.  Lopez had Oakland off balance and Prieto had gone four perfect innings against the mighty Indians lineup.

Albert Belle led off the Indians fifth with a single to left center which broke up the perfect game.  After a Jim Thome fly out to right field, Belle advanced to second base on a Prieto wild pitch.  Prieto got Manny Ramirez to ground out to third baseman and future Indian Jason Giambi, holding Belle at second.  Paul Sorrento was intentionally walked to set up the force and Oakland’s strategy worked as Tony Pena grounded out to A’s shortstop Mike Bordick.  The score through five innings was still 0-0.

With Lopez cruising through the Oakland lineup, he quickly retired Bordick and right fielder Ernie Young on groundouts to the third baseman Thome in the top of the sixth.  Next up was future Hall of Fame speedster and Oakland leadoff batter Rickey Henderson and he was able to hustle out an infield single with 2 outs off of Lopez. Henderson stole second base and Oakland center fielder Stan Javier was able to work a full count walk.  With Lopez making only his first start of the season and having thrown 79 pitches, manager Mike Hargrove decided that it was time to go to the Indians bullpen, and he called on Embree for the first time since 1992.

Embree was brought in to face Giambi, Oakland’s powerful, left handed number three hitter.  Oakland manager Tony LaRussa countered Hargrove’s move by pinch hitting scrappy right hander Craig Paquette for Giambi to set up the righty/lefty matchup in Oakland’s favor.  Embree quickly fell behind in the count 3-1 and with great speed on second base, the crowd at Jacobs Field was nervous that a single would certainly score Henderson.  Embree was up to the challenge, however, as he retired Paquette on the next pitch when he flew out to right fielder Ruben Amaro.  Embree’s first appearance out of a big league bullpen was a success.

In the bottom half of the sixth, the Tribe hitters made this game especially memorable for Embree.  The number nine hitter, Wayne Kirby, led off the inning with a weak infield single to the first baseman.  Prieto followed that by balking Kirby to second, setting up the Indians with a runner in scoring position for the top of their lineup.  Amaro, who had replaced regular leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton in the second inning due to an injury, put down a perfect sacrifice bunt down the third base line advancing Kirby to third.  Prieto was able to get shortstop Omar Vizquel to fly out to left field, but the out was not deep enough to score the speedy Kirby.  Just when Prieto’s hopes got up that he might pitch himself out of the jam, the Indians crashed them down hard as they did to so many pitchers throughout the 1995 season.  Second baseman Carlos Baerga sent Prieto’s 1-1 pitch back up the middle for an infield single, scoring Kirby, making the score 1-0 Indians, and setting Alan Embree up for his first Major League win.

The Tribe bullpen took it from there.  Julian Tavarez replaced Embree to start the 7th inning and got Oakland out 1-2-3.  Tavarez also held the A’s scoreless in the 8th despite giving up two singles to Bordick and Henderson.  Jose Mesa continued his fabulous season by slamming the door shut in the 9th inning and recording his 22nd save in 22 opportunities.

It had been a long wait for Alan Embree.  After sitting out practically the entire 1993 season and struggling through ’94, there must have been times where it seemed as though his first Major League victory might never happen.  He only faced one batter and he only threw five pitches, but after one game for the Indians in 1995, Alan Embree was 1-0.

Embree pitched well for the Indians throughout the 1995 season.  He recorded his first Major League save on August 21 in Toronto, and had a stretch from August 19 to September 12 where he went ten straight outings without giving up a run.  A rough game against the Red Sox in Cleveland ended that streak and a very rough outing in Minnesota where Embree allowed six runs and recorded only two outs ballooned Embree’s ERA.  The final ERA for his ’95 season was 5.11, but if you take out those two bad outings in September, Embree’s ERA was only 1.50.  This showed Hargrove enough to put the rookie on the postseason roster.

Embree’s first playoff game came in a mop-up role in game four of the ALCS against Seattle, and he had the unfortunate luck of only appearing in four World Series games…all four of the Indians World Series losses to Atlanta.  These losses can hardly be blamed on Embree, however.  Embree finished the postseason with a 0-0 record and a 2.45 ERA.  He allowed only one run in the playoffs, a Javier Lopez RBI double that scored Fred McGriff in the ninth inning of game four.  The run made the score 5-1 Atlanta, and the final score to that game was 5-2 Braves.

After 1995, Alan Embree struggled through the 1996 season splitting time with the Indians and Buffalo.  Embree was traded by the Indians in Spring Training of 1997 in one of the most famous trades in franchise history.  Embree was traded to the Braves along with Kenny Lofton for outfielders David Justice and Marquis Grissom.  Lofton returned to the Indians as a free agent following the ’97 season, but the only other times that Embree pitched in Cleveland was in another uniform.

When Embree pitched his last game in 2009 for the Colorado Rockies, he was 39 years old and had pitched for ten Major League teams.  Embree’s biggest team success came in the 2004 World Series, where he won his only championship as a member of the curse-breaking Boston Red Sox team.  Embree pitched 882 games in his career, 29th most in Major League history.  The first 51 of those games came as a member of the Indians and 23 of those came out of the bullpen during the magical summer of 1995.

Tomorrow:  Alvaro Espinoza

Previous Entries:

#26 Dave Winfield
#25 Mark Clark
#24 Wayne Kirby

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