The Greatest Summer Ever: Ken Hill

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 #20 Ken Hill.

The core of recent Indians teams have been built off of trades that were made for young talent.  Justin Masterson, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, Michael Brantley and Chris Perez all came from teams that were looking for the last piece to their puzzles and to help their push to the postseason.  All of these players had very limited or no experience in the Major Leagues before being traded to the Tribe.  If you look over the last 20 years, you will find that the Indians have arguably had as much or more success as any other team when it comes to trading big league talent for young prospects.  On the other hand, when it comes to trading prospects for big league talent mid-season, the Indians hauls over the past 20 years are not as stellar.

Ubaldo Jimenez was a major leaguer that the Tribe traded for in 2011, as was Kenny Lofton in 2007.  Both players were impactful and helped the Tribe on their way to two different postseasons.  Bob Wickman was traded for midseason in 2000, and he ended up being the franchises all time saves leader.  After those three players, however, the names get a little ugly.  For years the Tribe used their young talent to bring in guys midseason like John Rocker, Steve Woodard, Jason Bere, Joey Cora, Harold Baines, David Weathers, Jeff Juden, John Smiley, Kent Merker, Jose Vizcaino, Jeff Kent and Jeff Russell.  Some of these players had success in other places, but none were great players while playing on the shores of Lake Erie and the Indians would probably love to take a mulligan on most of them.  The list of bad deadline trades goes on and on, but there was one trade that the Indians would make over and over again, as it was one that certainly helped contribute to the magical 1995 season.

With the trading deadline approaching in 1995, the Indians needed very little help.  They boasted the best record in baseball and everyone in Cleveland had Indian fever.  If there was one area of the team where the rich could get richer, however, it was the starting pitching.  Dennis Martinez, Charles Nagy and Orel Hershiser were veterans in the middle of very good seasons.  Chad Ogea was a rookie who was having a good year and was coming into his own a little bit.  After those names, the Indians had little.  Mark Clark was in the midst of a season-long pitching slump, and the other starter from the Opening Day rotation, Bud Black, was released.  The Indians needed a fifth starter, and on July 27, they got a gem from the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ken Hill was traded to the Indians in exchange for Pepe McNeal, David Bell, and Rick Heiserman.  McNeal never made it to the Major Leagues, Heiserman only pitched in three MLB games in his career, and Bell became a solid third baseman but was never a star.  Overall, it was nothing too bad to give up for an All-Star and for the rest of the season Hill was rock solid on the Tribe’s pitching staff.

The Indians won 10 out of 12 games that Hill pitched that summer.  Eleven of these games were games that Hill started, as Hill came out of the bullpen during the last game of the season where the Indians blew out the Kansas City Royals 17-7.  Overall, Hill went 4-1 with a 3.98 ERA for the Tribe in the 1995 regular season.

When they made the trade for Hill midseason, the Indians had basically clinched the Central Division.  They had one month in mind when they made that trade, and Hill certainly did not disappoint in October.  Hill’s biggest contribution to the Indians came in game four of the American League Championship Series in Cleveland against the Seattle Mariners.

Entering game four, the unthinkable was happening as the juggernaut Indians were trailing in the series two games to one.  Seattle rookie Bob Wolcott had bested Indian ace Dennis Martinez in game one, and Mariner Jay Buhner had blasted a three-run bomb off of Indian Eric Plunk in extra innings of game three that gave Seattle the victory.  The Indians needed a strong start from their newest member of the team, and Hill responded brilliantly.

Hill was matched up against the Mariners solid right hander Andy Benes in game four.  It didn’t take Hill long to show that he had his “good stuff,” as he set down the Mariners 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning, including a strikeout of one of baseball’s best players, Ken Griffey Jr.  The Tribe offense also showed its “good stuff” in the bottom of the inning.

Lofton led off the Indians day as he so often did, flicking his wrists and lacing a single to leftfield.  Kenny showed off his speed next, stealing second base and advancing to third when catcher Dan Wilson’s throw went into centerfield.  Second hitter Omar Vizquel drew a walk, and Lofton scored when Carlos Baerga grounded out to the second baseman, which also moved Vizquel to second.  Eddie Murray batted cleanup that day, in place of an injured Albert Belle.  Murray picked up the slack right then as he crushed a two-run homer into the right-centerfield seats.  The Indians handed the early 3-0 lead over to Hill.

Hill had a bit of trouble settling back in after being handed the lead, but he worked in and out of Mariner threats over the next three innings.  In the top of the second, Edgar Martinez led off the inning with an infield single to third baseman Jim Thome.  Hill got the next batter, Tino Martinez, to strike out swinging, but Jay Buhner was able to work a walk and put runners at first and second with only one out.  Hill buckled down and struck out third baseman Mike Blowers and retired Luis Sojo on a pop-fly to right field.

The Indians chipped in another run in the bottom of the second, when Lofton hit a sacrifice fly to score catcher Tony Pena.  Hill now had a 4-0 lead going into the third.  The Mariners, again, made it interesting.  Wilson led off the inning with a pop-out to first baseman Paul Sorrento and then speedy Vince Coleman worked a full count walk.  Cora, the future Indian, grounded weakly to Sorrento, moving Coleman to second.  With first base open, Hill pitched around Griffey and walked him on four pitches.  A double steal followed, putting runners at second and third for Edgar Martinez.  Hill was able to avoid disaster for the second inning in a row when Edgar grounded out to second base.

The Tribe offense added two more runs in the bottom half when Jim Thome launched a two-run homer into the bleachers in left field.  Hill now had a comfortable 6-0 lead to start the fourth.

The Mariners fought back again against Hill when Tino Martinez laced the first pitch of the inning back up the middle for a leadoff single.  The next batter, Buhner, followed by driving Hill’s 2-2 pitch into left field for a double and put runners at second and third with nobody out.  It was do-or-die time for Seattle and Hill made sure that the Mariners could no longer breathe.  Hill responded to the Mariner threat by striking out Blowers and Sojo looking and getting Wilson to groundout to Sorrento.  It took any wind that was left out of the Mariners sails, possibly for the rest of the series.

Hill shut down the M’s in the fifth, sixth and seventh before turning the game over to Jim Poole and the Tribe bullpen.  Poole and rookie Chad Ogea shut down the Mariners in the eighth and ninth innings, finishing off the 7-0 Indian victory.  The Indians seventh run scored on a Vizquel double with one out in the sixth.  The win tied the series up at 2-2, and the Indians never looked back again, winning the following two games and taking the series.

Hill started game four of the World Series and pitched decent, but not decent enough as he was hit with the loss after allowing three runs in six and one third innings.   He also made a relief appearance in game six, allowing a single to future Indian Marquis Grissom, the only batter Hill faced.

For the postseason, Ken Hill had a 2-1 record with a 1.84 ERA.  He was a free agent that offseason and signed with the Texas Rangers for the 1996 season.  Hill made it back to the postseason with Texas in ’96, pitching one game in a losing effort as the Rangers were swept by the New York Yankees in the first round.  Hill pitched the following few seasons with the Rangers, Anaheim Angels, Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Devil Rays before retiring in 2001.  For his career, Hill won 117 games with a solid 4.06 ERA.  His only two postseason wins came for the Indians in 1995, solidifying his place as one of the best midseason trades in franchise history.

Tomorrow:  Jim Poole

Previous Entries:

#26 Dave Winfield
#25 Mark Clark
#24 Wayne Kirby
#23 Alan Embree
#22 Alvaro Espinoza
#21 Herbert Perry


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