For the sixth time in team history, the Cleveland Indians will play in a Game 1 on the biggest baseball stage of them all – the World Series.
Strange and inconvenient circumstances have prevented the Indians from owning home field advantage in the series in the past, which makes this year’s World Series opener from Progressive Field the first time in club history that they have hosted Game 1 in Cleveland. In that small sample size, there have been three complete games hurled by Indians starters, a controversial call, a walk-off homer, two games decided by one run, and all five games that were decided by three runs or less.
Baseball fans worldwide could ask for nothing more than that kind of excitement in the 2016 Fall Classic as the Indians host the Chicago Cubs in a matchup of the two longest suffering franchises in Major League Baseball today. Working against the Indians is a 1-4 record in starting the first game of the World Series, but all five games have been road contests. Progressive Field has played as friendly confines for the Tribe this year, both during the regular season and in four straight playoff games to start this postseason.
1920: Cleveland Indians at Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers)
The top club of the National League got the honor of hosting the World Series after an arrangement by Indians owner Sunny Jim Dunn, who was still working to add additional seating to his team’s home at League Park and allowed the Brooklyn club to open the championship round in part to get rookie shortstop Joe Sewell on the Indians roster to replace the deceased Ray Chapman, who had died tragically after being hit in the head by a Carl Mays pitch on August 16 in New York against the Yankees.
The 93-61 Robins, skippered by namesake Wilbert Robinson, were making their second trip to the World Series after losing in five games in 1916 to the Boston Red Sox. Lefty Rube Marquard got the Game 1 start for the Robins against the Indians’ Stan Coveleski. In front of 23,573 at Ebbets Field, the 98-56 Cleveland team took a 2-0 lead in the second inning against Marquard. George Burns earned the honor of notching the first postseason hit and run in club history and made it even more memorable as his high pop fly to shallow right dropped. Burns scrambled towards second on the play and the Brooklyn first baseman Ed Konetchy threw to a vacant base, allowing Burns to race all the way home for the first run of the series. One out later, Smoky Joe Wood walked and Sewell singled before Steve O’Neill doubled to left, scoring Wood to give the Indians a 2-0 lead.
O’Neill came up big again two innings later with two down against Marquard. Wood reached on a one-out double and after a fly out by Sewell for the second out, O’Neill lined a double that scored Wood from second to make it 3-0.
The Robins got their first base runner of the game in the bottom of the frame as Ivy Olson singled, but Coveleski would strand a pair. Olson singled again in the sixth for the Robins’ third hit of the day before they touched home plate in the seventh. Top Brooklyn hitter and cleanup man Zack Wheat doubled to lead off the inning and moved to third on a groundout by Hi Myers. Konetchy delivered with a grounder back to the mound, scoring Wheat to make it 3-1.
Brooklyn threatened in the eighth, getting a pinch-hit single from Clarence Mitchell and a walk from Olson, on base for the third time safely, but Coveleski bucked down and got a pair of outs to end the inning. In the ninth against the middle of the Robins’ order, he retired Wheat, Myers, and Konetchy to complete his complete game five-hitter as Cleveland was off to a 1-0 lead in the best-of-nine series. Game time was reported in at one hour and 41 minutes.
1948: Cleveland Indians at Boston Braves
Twenty-eight years and one day later, the Cleveland Indians were back in the World Series after a dramatic one-game playoff for the American League pennant. After ousting Boston’s Red Sox, the Indians stayed in town to take on the Braves from Braves Field.
In one of the more incredible World Series pitching matchups to date, Bob Feller and Johnny Sain went toe-to-toe for nine innings. After a difficult season on the mound, Feller was on his game, giving Cleveland eight innings, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out three. He kept the base paths empty of Braves runners until the fourth, when Earl Torgeson drew a two-out walk. Their first hit came the following inning on a leadoff single from Marv Rickert. Sain worked nine, giving up four hits and no walks while striking out six.
In a different era, things may have ended differently for the Tribe. With the game still scoreless heading into the bottom of the eighth, Feller walked Bill Salkeld to start the inning. Phil Masi took his place at first base and moved to second on a sacrifice from Mike McCormick. Feller issued the intentional walk to Eddie Stanky to set up the double play possibility, with Sibby Sisti running in his place at first. With Sain in the box, Feller turned and fired to his manager and shortstop Lou Boudreau at second base in a well-practiced pick-off play. While the limited photographic evidence looked differently, umpire Bill Stewart ruled the runner Masi safe.
Sain flied to right with what could and maybe should have been the final out of the inning. Instead, with just two down, Tommy Holmes delivered just the second Boston hit of the game, a single to left near the foul line that drove in Masi with what would prove to be the only run of the day.
1954: Cleveland Indians at New York Giants
The Indians and Giants met at the Polo Grounds on September 29, 1954, to kick off their World Series.
In setting a franchise record, the 111-win Indians won the American League pennant by eight games over the New York Yankees and 17 games over the third place Chicago White Sox. Despite owning the best record in baseball, things would not prove to be as positive for the Tribe in the postseason, the third in team history. The Giants, 97-57, held a five-game edge over the Indians’ first World Series opponent, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and an eight-game lead over their second opponent, the now-relocated Milwaukee Braves, in the National League pennant chase.
With right-hander Bob Lemon due to pitch in the bottom half, his offense gave him some support before he even made his return to the World Series mound. Al Smith was hit by a pitch from Sal Maglie to start the ball game and moved to third on a single by Bobby Avila and an error in right field. After a pair of outs in the air from Larry Doby and Al Rosen, Vic Wertz cleared the pair on base with a triple to deep right to put Cleveland in front, 2-0.
Lemon had some difficulty against the unfamiliar foe, giving up two hits and a walk through two scoreless frames before the Giants struck back. Back-to-back singles from Whitey Lockman and Al Dark put runners on the corners before Don Mueller grounded into an RBI-forceout at second. A walk to Willie Mays put two on and Hank Thompson singled to right to score Mueller to tie the game at two before Lemon settled down to retire the next two batters to end the inning.
That 2-2 score persisted into extra innings. Wertz started the tenth with a double, but his pinch-runner Rudy Regalado was stranded at third. Lemon came back out for the tenth and struck out Mueller before walking Mays. Mays picked off second, leading to an intentional walk of Thompson. Dusty Rhodes pinch-hit for Monte Irvin and ended the game in dramatic fashion, hitting a three-run walk-off homer to right to give the Giants the 5-2 win.
Wertz was 4-for-5 with both Indians’ RBI while coming a homer short of a World Series cycle. The Indians were 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
1995: Cleveland Indians at Atlanta Braves
The 1995 season ushered in an expanded playoff structure with both the American and National Leagues splitting from two divisions to three a piece. The Indians, in the return of baseball from the costly strike of 1994, were a juggernaut in the regular season, winning 100 of 144 games before sweeping the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series and defeating the Seattle Mariners, 4-2, in the American League Championship Series, bringing the AL pennant back to Cleveland for the first time in 41 years.
Cleveland’s Orel Hershiser, the MVP of the ALCS, and Atlanta’s Greg Maddux took center stage at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on October 21. The Indians struck first in the first as Kenny Lofton reached on an error at short, stole second, stole third, and scored on a grounder to short by Carlos Baerga. Fred McGriff hit the first pitch of the second inning over the wall in right-center to tie the game at one.
The homer was followed by a dry run of 16 consecutive batters retired by the two pitchers before a Jim Thome single with one out in the fifth. David Justice drew a leadoff walk off of Hershiser in the bottom of the fifth and Mark Lemke singled with two down in the sixth, but the middle innings were otherwise silent.
Things changed in the seventh as McGriff and Justice each walked before Paul Assenmacher was summoned from the bullpen and walked pinch-hitter Mike Devereaux to load the bases. Julian Tavarez entered in a double-switch, but Luis Polonia delivered an RBI-forceout at second to break the tie. A bunt from Rafael Belliard forced another run across on the squeeze, giving Maddux some breathing room.
The Indians threatened in the ninth as Lofton singled with one out off of the Braves starter. Omar Vizquel grounded out to second, but McGriff made an error on his throw to third trying to nail the Indians speedster that allowed Lofton to score to make it a one-run game. With a chance to keep the game going, Baerga popped up in foul territory to end it.
1997: Cleveland Indians at Florida Marlins
The 1997 season was a weird one when it came to the playoffs. The Indians won the AL Central, but had four fewer wins than the AL West’s Mariners, ten fewer than the wild card Yankees, and 12 fewer than the AL East champ Orioles. In the Senior Circuit, two different NL teams went home with better records than the Houston Astros, who won the NL Central with an 84-78 mark.
After ousting the Yankees in the ALDS and the Orioles in the ALCS, the Indians headed to Miami to face off with the NL wild card Florida Marlins, who finished with the second-best record in the entire league. Hershiser was tapped for his second Game 1 start with the Indians. He was no stranger to the big stage, winning a pair of games with the Dodgers during the 1988 World Series, including a complete game three-hitter in Game 2 and a second complete game victory in the clinching Game 5 to win World Series MVP. He did not have that kind of luck for the Tribe in 1997.
Cleveland took a 1-0 lead in the first inning as Bip Roberts doubled to right off of Livan Hernandez and moved to third on a sacrifice from Vizquel. Manny Ramirez walked before Justice singled to center to put the Indians on the board first, the fourth time in five games that Cleveland has scored first in the World Series opener.
Roberts was stranded at third in the third after his second consecutive double on the night, which proved costly as the Marlins tied it in the home half. Craig Counsell doubled to right, moved to third on a sacrifice from Hernandez, and after a walk to Devon White, Edgar Renteria drove home Counsell from third on a grounder to first. Those names would come up again later during Game 7.
Hershiser walked the first man in the fourth, Bobby Bonilla, on four straight pitches before a single by Darren Daulton. The Marlins then went on the full offensive as Moises Alou and Charles Johnson went back-to-back to give Florida a 5-1 advantage.
Ramirez homered with two down in the following inning to cut into the lead slightly, but the Marlins responded again to knock Hershiser out of the game. Gary Sheffield walked with one out and went to third on a single by Bonilla before Jeff Conine singled in the first run of the fifth. After Jeff Juden entered in relief and got a groundout for the second out, the right-hander uncorked a wild pitch on ball four to Johnson, allowing Bonilla to score the seventh run of the night.
Cleveland scratched across a run in the sixth on a solo homer from Thome and added one more in the eighth on an RBI-double from Brian Giles to make it 7-4, but they would strand a pair on with one out in the ninth against closer Robb Nen to end it.
Photo: Cleveland Plain Dealer file