The Greatest Summer Ever: Charles Nagy

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 #11 Charles Nagy.

The Indians drafted starting pitcher Charles Nagy in the first round of the 1988 amateur draft.  He was the 17th overall pick and the Indians had hopes that the former UConn Huskie and Olympian would turn out to be a consistent, front of the rotation starter.

Nagy started showing the Tribe just what he was made of during his official rookie year in 1991.  He won 10 games as a rookie for an Indians team that only won 57, giving Nagy a win in almost one fifth of the team’s victories that season.  For his efforts, Nagy finished eighth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.

Nagy’s encore in 1992 was even better.  Nagy represented the Indians in the ’92 All Star Game along with Carlos Baerga and Sandy Alomar, and Nagy shined by throwing a 1-2-3 seventh inning, getting a base hit to lead off the top of the eighth and coming around to score a run when future teammate Travis Fryman drove him in with a single.  Nagy finished his outstanding year with a 17-10 record, a 2.96 ERA and 10 complete games.  The Indians hoped that Nagy had turned into the ace the rotation was lacking.

In 1993, however, Nagy’s development took a step backwards.  In a May 15 start in Milwaukee, Nagy was pulled from the game after retiring only two batters.  Nagy was complaining about shoulder pain and it turned out that he had a torn labrum in his throwing arm.  The injury required surgery and Nagy was sidelined until the end of the season.  Nagy did manage to get healthy enough to start the final game of the season and lasted only three innings in the final game ever at Cleveland Municipal Stadium; a loss to the Chicago White Sox.

The 1994 season was a nice rebound year for Nagy, as he won 10 games and did not miss a start for the Tribe.  In ’95, Nagy’s old form was back and he only got stronger as the year progressed.  For the second year in a row, he made all of his scheduled starts. Nagy’s best game of the season came on Sept. 13 in Cleveland against the New York Yankees.

The game was scheduled to start at Jacobs Field at 7:05 that Wednesday evening, but rain delayed the first pitch until 8:52.  The Indians were in need of a win that night, as they were on the brink of being swept by the Yankees after losing the previous two games 4-0 and 9-2.  A victory would not be easy, however, as the Yankees were red-hot, winning their previous six games. New York would start the reigning Cy Young Award winner David Cone, who went to the Bronx after a July trade with Toronto.  The Tribe countered with Nagy, who had been pitching consistently well all season.

Fortunately for the Indians, Cone was not sharp that evening — but Nagy was as crisp as ever.  Nagy’s only real struggle that night came in the first when he walked Bernie Williams with one out and then walked Mike Stanley with two outs, giving the Yankees runners at first and second base.  Amid a chorus of boos and taunts from the fans, Darryl Strawberry, who had just come off a drug suspension, struck out swinging to end the inning.  After striking out Strawberry, Nagy showed what kind of groove he was in that night.  He set down seven Yankees in a row until the leadoff batter in the fourth inning, Paul O’Neill, grounded a single back up the middle to break up the no-hit bid.  Nagy had both his strikeout pitch and legendary sinkerball working, as eight of the first nine outs were retired on either groundouts or K’s.  The Tribe offense, meanwhile, was taking it to Cone.

The Indians struck early off of Cone by scoring a pair of runs in the first inning.  Center fielder Kenny Lofton led off the inning with a walk and proceeded to steal second and third base by the time Omar Vizquel worked the count to 2-1.  Flustered by Lofton’s speed, Cone threw another ball, making the count 3-1, and then grooved a fastball right down the middle.  Batting from the left side of the plate, the switch hitting Vizquel turned on the ball and drove it down the right field line for a double, scoring Lofton to give the Tribe a 1-0 lead.  Jim Thome, who was getting a rare start in the third spot in the lineup, grounded out to first baseman Don Mattingly, moving Vizquel to third.  Two batters later, Manny Ramirez drove Omar home with a single.

Those two runs were more than enough for Nagy.  Former Indian Dion James led off the fifth inning with a single, but was quickly retired when Nagy got future Indian Tony Fernandez to ground the ball back to the mound for a 1-6-3 double play.  A fly out — just the second ball that the Yankees had hit in the air — ended the inning and Nagy was cruising.

In the bottom of the fifth, Albert Belle continued his red-hot second half, crushing Cone’s 1-1, one-out pitch into the right-center-field seats.  It was his 37th long-ball of the year and it kick-started the hottest stretch of home run hitting in Indians franchise history.  It was Albert’s first home run in a week, as he had not homered since Sept. 6 off of Milwaukee’s Brian Givens.  Albert’s next week, however, was legendary.  With the solo shot off of Cone included, Belle blasted eight home runs over the next week, including two bombs against Boston on the 15th, two against Chicago on the 18th and another three against the White Sox on the 19th.  Before the month had ended, Albert Belle had blasted 17 home runs, tying Babe Ruth’s 1927 record for home runs in September.

Given a 3-0 lead after Belle’s homerun, Nagy continued his dominance of the Bronx Bombers.  He shut the Yanks down again in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, with the only blip on the radar being a two-out double in the seventh by Yankee legend Don Mattingly.  Outside of “Donnie Baseball’s” two-bagger, New York had not had a runner reach base since James was erased on the double play in the fifth.

The Indians added more insurance to their lead in the sixth.  After Cone retired both Alvaro Espinoza and Paul Sorrento to start the inning, catcher Tony Pena started the two out rally by grounding a single back up the middle.  Lofton followed by lacing a double into right, which moved Pena to third and set up an opportunity for Vizquel to come through again in the clutch.  Omar wasted no time by grounding a ball through the hole between shortstop and third, scoring Pena easily.  Lofton, who was probably the fastest player in the league, raced behind Pena and touched home safely before James’ throw.  Vizquel went to second on the throw to the plate and the Indians had a very comfortable five run lead.

Even though Nagy had already thrown 101 pitches, manager Mike Hargrove stuck with him to pitch the ninth.  Yankee center fielder Williams led off and was able to work the count to 3-1 before he grounded out to Vizquel at short, the 14th groundout Nagy got on the day.  O’Neill followed by hitting arguably the hardest ball of the day for the Yankees, but it was all for nothing — Belle caught the ball on the warning track.  With two outs, Nagy dug in to face catcher Mike Stanley and worked the count to 2-2.  After Stanley fouled off the first 2-2 pitch, Nagy got him to swing and miss at the second try to end the game.  Stanley was Nagy’s fifth strikeout of his masterpiece — without a doubt his best game of 1995.

How dominant was Nagy in that game?  Well, in 2004, The Plain Dealer made a list of Jacobs Field Top 10’s for the 10-year anniversary of the ballpark.  Nagy’s performance against the Yankees that day was ranked as the second-best pitching performance at Jacobs Field by an Indians pitcher for the entire first 10 seasons the Jake existed.  The only game by an Indian that ranked higher was when Bartolo Colon threw a four-hitter against the Yankees in game three of the 1998 ALCS.  The gem that Nagy pitched was his second complete game of the season and his only shutout.  Nagy had not pitched a complete game shutout since Aug. 8, 1992, when he blanked the Orioles at Camden Yards.  The victory was Charlie’s 14th on the year (best on the team) and his fourth in four starts.

Nagy’s solid season did not end there, however.  He was able to notch another victory in September and won the Tribe’s last game of the season.  The 17-7 win on Oct. 1 was Nagy’s 16th of the year and the Indians’ 100th.   Nagy finished the season with a 16-6 record, a 4.55 ERA, a team-high 139 strikeouts, and finished sixth in the American League Cy Young Award voting.

Nagy also did a nice job in the postseason for the Indians.  He earned the victory in the deciding game three of the ALDS over Boston, throwing seven innings of four-hit baseball and allowing only one run.  Nagy pitched even better in his next start, game three of the ALCS, throwing eight innings and allowing one earned run — but the Tribe lost the game 5-2 in extra innings.  Nagy completed the “game three trifecta” by starting the third game against Atlanta in the World Series.  His numbers in that game were less impressive — seven innings and five runs — but the Indians fought to win the game in extra innings to avoid going down three games to none.

Nagy’s 16 wins on the season were just the beginning of an outstanding stretch of pitching for him.  From 1995–1999, Nagy won at least 15 games each season for the Indians.  That feat was only matched by Atlanta’s Greg Maddux, a pitcher who is destined for the Hall of Fame.  The best season of Nagy’s career came in 1996, when he had a record of 17-5 with a 3.41 ERA.  His great season earned him a start in the All-Star game that summer, having been named the starter by Hargrove.  His numbers in ’96 also placed Nagy fourth in the Cy Young voting that summer, the highest he ever placed.  Nagy also made the All-Star squad as a member of the Indians in 1999.

Charles Nagy pitched for the Indians through the 2002 season.  His last three seasons in Cleveland were riddled with injuries and Nagy never made more than 19 starts in any of those seasons.  His lowest ERA in that stretch came in 2001, when it was still 6.40.  In the other two seasons Nagy’s ERA was up over 8.00.

His best playing days behind him, the Indians granted Nagy free agency on Oct. 28, 2002.  Less than two months later, Nagy signed as a free agent with the San Diego Padres, officially ending his 13-season playing career with Cleveland.  Nagy pitched five games out of the Padres bullpen before he was released by San Diego and retired on June 6, 2003.

Nagy’s relationship with the Indians was never strained, however.  Nagy was hired in 2004 by the Indians to be a special assistant to baseball operations.  He held that job through 2005, then turned to coaching.  His coaching career began in 2006 as the pitching coach for the Angels AAA affiliate, the Salt Lake Bees.  Nagy coached in Salt Lake through the 2007 season, then came back to the Indians organization and became the pitching coach for the Columbus Clippers in 2010.  In 2011, Arizona manager Kirk Gibson hired Nagy to be the pitching coach for the Diamondbacks.  After his tenure in Arizona, Nagy rejoined the Indians to work with the Tribe as a pitching instructor again in 2014.

Tomorrow:  Orel Hershiser

Previous Entries:

#26 Dave Winfield
#25 Mark Clark
#24 Wayne Kirby
#23 Alan Embree
#22 Alvaro Espinoza
#21 Herbert Perry
#20 Ken Hill
#19 Jim Poole
#18 Chad Ogea
#17 Sandy Alomar
#16 Tony Pena
#15 Eric Plunk
#14 Paul Sorrento
#13 Paul Assenmacher
#12 Omar Vizquel

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