The Greatest Summer Ever: Dennis Martinez

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 #6 Dennis Martinez.

In 1976, Baltimore pitcher Wayne Garland won 20 games out of nowhere for the Orioles, and the Indians made their first big free agent splash that offseason by offering Garland a 10-year contract worth $2.3 million.  This contract was over 12 times the money that Garland had made the previous season.  The Tribe’s big splash turned out to be a big crash as injuries and bad pitching made Garland last only five years in Cleveland, winning just 28 games total, and losing a league high 19 in 1977.

In 1987, the Indians signed another player from the Orioles, catcher Rick Dempsey.  Dempsey won a World Series MVP award with Baltimore in 1983 and was coming off three seasons where he averaged a dozen homeruns.  Less than a year after signing Dempsey, the Tribe released him when he batted a disappointing .177 with one homerun.

On December 2, 1993, the Indians ignored their terrible track record and signed two more former Orioles; first baseman Eddie Murray and starting pitcher Dennis Martinez.  These former O’s didn’t turn out to be quite as brutal as the previous two.

“We had said all along that we were going to try to develop our core players and when we felt like we had a chance to contend, we would try to trade for or sign a couple big time free agents that would help us to get over the top and contend,” Indians manager Mike Hargrove said.  “We did that when we signed Dennis Martinez and Eddie Murray.”

Murray proved that he had a lot of good baseball left in him during the 1994 and ‘95 seasons, as his veteran presence and knack for timely hitting helped turn the Tribe lineup full of potential into a Tribe lineup full of results.  Martinez also proved that he had plenty of gas left in his 39 year old tank.

Martinez started his career with the Orioles from 1976-1986, but was signed by the Indians away from the Montreal Expos after seven outstanding seasons in Canada.  In 1991, Martinez had the best year of his career as he led the National League in ERA, complete games, shutouts and threw a perfect game in Los Angeles against the Dodgers (and Eddie Murray, ironically) on July 28.  The following two years, Martinez won 16 and 15 games and had a combined ERA around 3.00.  The Indians, on the other hand, were coming off a 1993 season where their starting pitching staff needed a makeover in the worst way.

The Indians best pitcher, Charles Nagy, was injured for most of the ’93 season.  Jose Mesa was the only starter for the ’93 Tribe that made over 30 starts for the club, and only Mesa, Tom Kramer and Mark Clark threw over 100 innings on the season.  14 different pitchers started at least five games for the Tribe that summer and none were long term solutions.  Needless to say, the Indians and their fans welcomed Martinez with open arms.  “What Dennis brought to our staff was professionalism when he pitched,” Hargrove said.

In ’94, Tribe fans saw just what made “El Presidente” so special.  Martinez pitched differently than all of the other pitchers on the Indians staff.  He pitched with guile; throwing from many different arm angles and hiding the ball from opposing hitters very well.  He had four excellent pitches, the best of which was a nasty curveball that had a very tight bite to it.  He also had an approach on the mound that was a breath of fresh air on the young Indians staff.

“Dennis Martinez would never give in to any hitter,” Hargrove said.  “I think that sometimes young pitchers are so afraid of walking hitters that they’ll eventually give in and throw a strike out over the middle of the plate.  Those balls get hit really hard and Dennis didn’t ever do that.  Dennis never wanted (catcher Sandy Alomar) setting up on the plate; he had him setting up three to four inches off of the plate.  Dennis would try to hit that (target) and as a hitter, you’re probably going to swing at it and you’re not going to hit it very hard.  Dennis was very good at that.”

With his veteran approach, Martinez won 11 games with a 3.52 ERA in the strike shortened ’94 campaign, and was the Opening Day starter for the first ever game at Jacobs Field.  Entering 1995, expectations were high for the Indians and their 40 year old ace.  Both the Tribe and Martinez exceeded these expectations by storming out of the gate with some pretty impressive numbers.

The Indians entered the All-Star break with a 46-21 record which was the best in baseball.  Martinez certainly did his share, pitching his way to a perfect 8-0 record with a 2.47 ERA heading into the Midsummer Classic.  Martinez was picked by the Yankees and American League All-Star team manager Buck Showalter to be one of six Indians to represent the AL squad, but Martinez was snubbed from starting the game in favor of Seattle fireballer Randy Johnson, despite Martinez’s better statistics.  Martinez entered the game in the fifth and pitched two innings allowing only a solo homerun to future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio.  The National League ended up winning the game by a score of 3-2.

After the break, Martinez started pitching in games that counted again with a solid effort but received a no-decision on July 16.  The home team Indians defeated the Oakland A’s that day in extra innings on the strength of Manny Ramirez’s famous “Wow!” homerun off of former Indian Dennis Eckersley.  Five days later, Martinez put his perfect record back on the line against the A’s, this time in Oakland.

It was a cool and windy Friday night on July 21 by the San Francisco Bay.  The A’s put their hopes of beating Martinez and the first place Tribe in the hands of their best pitcher, former Blue Jay Todd Stottlemyre.  Somewhat of an All-Star snub, Stottlemyre entered the game with an 8-2 record and a solid 3.72 ERA.

Stottlemyre started the game against the Indians with a 1-2-3 top of the first, but Martinez ran into a bit of a jam in the bottom half.  After striking out Scott Brosius to start the ball game, Martinez allowed back to back hits to Jason Giambi and future Indian Geronimo Berroa.  It could have been much worse, however, but Martinez got help from his right fielder Ramirez when he gunned Berroa out trying to stretch his single into a double.  Giambi was stranded at third when Martinez struck out former Indian Mike Aldrete to end the inning.

The Tribe grabbed the lead in the top of the second inning when Tribe cleanup batter Albert Belle blasted a solo homerun to lead off the inning, Belle’s 17th homer of the season.  Both pitchers kept the score at 1-0 Indians until the top of the fourth inning.

Tribe second baseman Carlos Baerga led off the fourth by lining a drive off of Stottlemyre’s body that ricocheted over to Giambi at third base.  Giambi was able to field the ball cleanly and fire a strike over to first to retire Baerga by a step.  Perhaps a bit shaken up after getting hit by a ball, Stottlemyre fell behind the next batter, Belle, 2-0 before allowing Albert to scorch a base hit through the right side for a single.  The Oakland starter immediately followed Belle’s single by throwing a wild pitch which moved the base runner to second.  The next batter, Jim Thome, tapped a slow groundball to second and beat it out for an infield hit and the Indians had runners at the corners with one out.  Ramirez followed by blasting a 3-0 pitch from Stottlemyre for a three run homerun and a 4-0 Indian lead.

Oakland was able to get a run closer in the bottom half of the inning when the A’s opened the inning with back to back hits from Berroa and Aldrete.  Second baseman Brent Gates drove Berroa home with a sacrifice fly and the Tribe’s lead was cut to 4-1.  Martinez was able to settle in and minimize the damage when he retired Terry Steinbach and Stan Javier to end the Athletics rally.

The Indians answered the Oakland run in each of the next two innings.  Catcher Tony Pena blasted the first pitch of the fifth inning into the seats for a solo homerun and made the score 5-1.  The Tribe got another insurance run in the sixth when Thome got his second infield single of the game and Stottlemyre threw his second wild pitch of the contest to move him to second.  Thome scored the Indians sixth run when Herbert Perry drove him home with a single.

Martinez, meanwhile was efficient and outstanding on the mound for the Tribe.  After surrendering the Gates’ sacrifice fly in the fourth, “El Presidente” took control of the Oakland hitters.  Martinez allowed a single and a walk in the fifth inning, a double in the eighth and nothing else the rest of the day to the A’s.  Dennis shut the Oakland hitters down in order in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings, ending the game himself when Mike Bordick tapped a grounder back to the mound for the Athletics final out.  The complete game was Martinez’s second of the season, the other coming in an 11-0 shutout of the Orioles on June 13.

With the complete game victory, Martinez improved his perfect record to 9-0 on the season.  He sported a 2.35 ERA and was clearly the best pitcher on the best team in baseball.  Martinez’s impressive stats had baseball people thinking that he could become the Indians first Cy Young Award winner since Gaylord Perry won the award in 1972.

The Cy Young Award was not in the stars for “El Presidente”, however.  Immediately following the July 21 win in Oakland, Martinez lost his next start on July 26 at the California Angles for his first loss of the season.  He then followed with an 0-3 record in the month of August before finally winning his 10th game on September 5 in Milwaukee.  Martinez finished his still-excellent 1995 season with a 12-5 record and a 3.08 ERA.

For as reliable as Martinez was in the regular season, he was equally as such in the first two series’ of the post season, albeit a little unlucky.  Dennis pitched well in the opening games in both the ALDS and ALCS and had little to show for them.  The Indians won game one against Boston in extra innings, leaving Martinez with a no-decision, and Dennis was a tough-luck loser in game one in Seattle by a score of 4-0.  Martinez got his first postseason victory in game six of the ALCS against Seattle, and he sent the Indians to their first World Series in 41 years by doing so.

The Fall Classic against the Braves did not go as well for Martinez.  Dennis struggled and lost game two in Atlanta which put the Indians down 0-2 in the series.  He then started the deciding game six, again in Georgia, and took a no-decision in the game that ended the Indians dream season.  Martinez danced in and out of trouble during that game and ended up pitching four and two-thirds innings with four hits and five walks.  Martinez, however, did not allow a run in the game.  The Indians lost the game 1-0.

Dennis Martinez pitched the following year with the Indians, but in what was a microcosm of the 1996 season, he just wasn’t the same as he was in ’95.  Martinez had a respectable 9-6 record but had a 4.50 ERA.  Due to injuries, Martinez only pitched in 20 games for the Tribe in 1996.

Martinez signed the following season with the Mariners and put up the worst statistical season of his career in Seattle.  Still hoping to earn his first World Series championship, he signed for the 1998 season to pitch for the Braves.  When Atlanta lost to the eventual NL Champion San Diego Padres, Martinez retired from playing baseball.

“El Presidente” ended his playing career with a 245-193 record.  His 245 wins are the most by a Latin American pitcher in MLB history.  Beloved in his native Nicaragua, the Nicaragua National Stadium was renamed for Martinez and is now called Estadio Nacional Dennis Martinez (Dennis Martinez National Stadium).  Martinez got back into baseball in 2008 when he became the pitching coach for the Palm Beach Cardinals in the St. Louis organization to be the team’s pitching coach.  Martinez was back in the Big League’s a few years later as the bullpen coach for the Houston Astros.

Tomorrow:  Carlos Baerga

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
#11 Charles Nagy
#10 Orel Hershiser
#9 Julian Tavarez
#8 Eddie Murray
#7 Jim Thome

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