Today in Tribe History: October 26, 1997

While two years ago, the Cleveland Indians edged out the Atlanta Braves at home, 5-4, to extend their World Series dreams to a sixth game, this date in 1997 brought about heartache from Pro Player Stadium in Miami. It was there that the Indians came within two outs of ending a 49-year title drought, but instead returned home losers in Game 7 by a 3-2 final in eleven innings.

Al Leiter and Jaret Wright matched up in the decisive seventh game and went toe-to-toe for the first six innings. The Indians struck for two in the third, with a Jim Thome walk and Marquis Grissom single setting the tables for a sacrifice from Wright. Omar Vizquel popped up, putting the scoring threat in danger, but Tony Fernandez singled both runners home with a liner to center to give Cleveland a lead.

Bobby Bonilla led off the seventh inning against Wright with a solo homer to make it a 2-1 game. Wright would allow just the one run on two hits in six and one-third innings, walking five but striking out seven. His counterpart Leiter went six himself, giving up two runs on four hits with four walks and seven strikeouts in a very similar performance.

The Indians would face three different pitchers in the ninth and missed a giant opportunity for insurance. Matt Williams walked but was forced out at second on a fielder’s choice from Sandy Alomar against Antonio Alfonseca. Felix Heredia took over on the mound and gave up a single to Thome, moving Alomar to third. Robb Nen, the Marlins closer, came on and got the biggest out, as Grissom grounded to short and Alomar was thrown out at the plate on the fielder’s choice. Pinch-hitter Brian Giles flied out to left to end the threat with two stranded and the Indians holding a 2-1 lead.

In the bottom of the ninth with Jose Mesa on the mound, Moises Alou singled to center. Bonilla struck out but Charles Johnson singled to right to move the tying run to third base. Craig Counsell, a name that still haunts, lined out to Manny Ramirez in right field deep enough to score Alou to tie the game. Jim Eisenreich grounded out to force extras.

The Indians got a single from Fernandez in the tenth, while the Marlins got back-to-back singles from Edgar Renteria and Gary Sheffield in the tenth, but no damage was done. Thome grounded into a double play to end any scoring threat in the eleventh. In the bottom of the frame in his second inning of relief work, Charles Nagy gave up a single to Bonilla. Gregg Zaun popped up a bunt to Nagy for the first out but Counsell reached on a costly error at second from Fernandez, allowing Bonilla to get to third. Eisenreich was intentionally walked to create forces at any base. Devon White grounded out to Fernandez, who forced Bonilla at the plate for the second out. But Renteria became the hero with a World Series-winning walk-off single to score Counsell with a dagger through the heart of Cleveland.

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