1995 Game Recap: Finally! Indians Clinch First AL Central Division Title!—Indians 3, Orioles 2

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 September 8, 1995.

At long last, the Cleveland Indians are the 1995 American League Central Division Champions.

Let that sink in for a second before you pop the champagne.

The Cleveland Indians…champions.

This is the same franchise that lost 105 games four years ago. It’s the same one we watched struggle and end each of the last 41 years (a baseball record for futility) in frustration. The same one that was picked to win the World Series less than a decade ago and instead finished in the basement of the AL East. Now, they’re going to the playoffs and are ready to party like its 1948.

The Cleveland Indians are the American League Central Division Champions.

“We put the nail in the coffin and said, ‘We’re in the playoffs…finally!’” catcher Sandy Alomar said.  “Today is very exciting for the city and we now have the opportunity to be in the postseason.”

“(This is) the best,” a teary-eyed Carlos Baerga agreed.  “We lost (nearly) 100 games my first few years here.  Then last year we were so close when the strike hit.”

The Tribe (86-37) cemented their place in history on national TV at 11:03pm on Friday night when their record setting closer, Jose Mesa, forced Baltimore’s Jeff Huson to pop-out to third baseman Jim Thome and clinched the 3-2 victory over the Orioles. Cleveland received a brilliant effort from their veterans in the clincher, as Eddie Murray supplied the offense and starting pitcher Orel Hershiser (13-6, 4.11) pitched brilliantly en route to his 13th victory.

The Indians clinched baseball’s first playoff spot this season and will forever be known as the first team to hold the crown in the newly-created American League Central. They will appear in baseball’s postseason next month for the first time since being swept by the Giants in the 1954 World Series. Only two of the Indians current players were alive the last time the team played a playoff game; Dennis Martinez was born in May of that season and Dave Winfield was celebrating just his second birthday.

The Tribe did all of their scoring against O’s ace Kevin Brown in the third inning with the game scoreless up to that point. Alomar got the inning started when Brown hit him with a pitch with one out and then he moved to third on a single by Kenny Lofton. Omar Vizquel broke the ice with a sacrifice fly to centerfield that scored Alomar and then a single from Baerga and a walk to Albert Belle loaded the bases. Murray then cushioned the lead and provided the rest of the Cleveland runs with a two-RBI single up the middle.

The Orioles got one run back in the fourth inning and then earned another single tally off of Hershiser in the seventh. After that, the Tribe’s outstanding bullpen took over with a scoreless inning from Paul Assenmacher and a strikeout from Julian Tavarez before Mesa slammed the door for his league-best 40th save.

A sellout crowd of 41,656 stood, clapped, screamed, hugged and cried tears of joy when Thome finally squeezed Huson’s pop-out to end the game and seal the deal.

“I can’t get over the emotion in this ballpark and this city based on that clinching,” radio announcer Tom Hamilton said.  “I guess it’s the realization that the impossible dream has come true and they are going to be in the postseason.”

The team held an on-field celebration after quickly changing into their Central Division Championship T-shirts and hats. Lofton raised the flag from the Indians’ centerfield bullpen to a spot above the scoreboard that seemed visible for miles. Not one eye on the field was dry when Garth Brooks’ song, The Dance, was played over the PA system as Lofton pulled up the banner. The Dance was the favorite song of former Indians closer Steve Olin and was played at his funeral following his and teammate Tim Crews’ tragic death during Spring Training in 1993.

“The team asked me to pull the flag,” Lofton said. “I was very honored that they had me do that.”

“You couple all of this emotion in the ballpark tonight with the raising of the flag and the song that was playing,” Hamilton added. “It was also played at Steve Olin’s memorial service, The Dance by Garth Brooks.  It just brings it to the top for me as far as great moments.”

The Central Division Champions have 21 more games to wind down the regular season schedule before playoffs will start in early October. They will need to win 14 of the 21 games in order to reach 100 victories for just the second time in franchise history. Next, they will continue their series with the Orioles on Saturday night, as many of the regular starters will likely get a well-deserved rest behind scheduled starter Chad Ogea (7-3, 3.39). Ogea will be matched up against fellow rookie Rick Krivda (2-3, 3.63) in the 1:05 matinee event. The game can be seen on WUAB or can be heard on the WKNR-AM/1220 on the Cleveland Indians Radio Network.

Photo: Mark Duncan/Associated Press

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