Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 32

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Countdown to Opening Day – 32

The number 32 has been missing in regular action on the diamond for the Cleveland Indians for the last three years. That could continue on into 2017, as no player currently holds the number as his own with spring training well under way from Goodyear, Arizona.

Pitchers have been the primary wearer of 32 in recent Indians history and the last to do so, Matt Albers in 2013, was no different.

The big right-hander was an overlooked part of a massive three-team deal between the Indians, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Arizona Diamondbacks the previous winter. Albers had logged Major League time with the Houston Astros, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and a half season with the Diamondbacks before relocating to Cleveland with teammates Bryan Shaw and Trevor Bauer as part of the trade that sent Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds. Albers was coming off of the best season of his seven-year MLB career and gave the Indians a steady arm in the bullpen, going 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 56 outings.

He was back in Houston in the offseason on a free agent deal, missing much of the season before heading to the Chicago White Sox organization for the past two years. He signed in January of this offseason with the Washington Nationals.

Before Albers, many pitchers took the mound in his number, including the likes of Esmil Rogers, Jairo Asencio, Alex White, Aaron Laffey, Danny Graves, and Kazuhito Tadano. Outfielder Jerad Head tried it out during his ten-game cup of coffee in the Majors in 2011, while Travis Hafner wore it briefly during his debut season with the Tribe in 2003 before switching to his far better remembered 48 in 2004.

Martinez - AP Photo/John Bazemore
Martinez – AP Photo/John Bazemore

One of the more successful players to wear 32 in Cleveland (at least for the city’s baseball team) was already an 18-year MLB veteran and 39 years old when he inked a contract to join a young, talented bunch of players moving into a fancy new stadium downtown.

Dennis Martinez joined the organization on December 2, 1993, part of a big free agent signing day by the club as the Indians also brought veteran first baseman Eddie Murray in to the fold.

The duo was expected to provide plenty of veteran leadership and experience, much of which came from their shared success while members of the Baltimore Orioles in the 1970s and 1980s. Martinez had seen his struggles on the field, but he was coming off of some of the best years of his career. He spent parts of his first eleven seasons with the O’s, but was dealt to the Montreal Expos during the 1986 season. His career was revitalized in Canada, as he became a quality starting pitcher at an age that most players are holding on for dear life in the professional game. He became an All-Star for the first time in 1990 as the age of 36. He led all of baseball the following season with a 2.39 ERA and five shutouts while leading the NL with nine complete games and again representing the league in the Midsummer Classic. He made a third straight All-Star trip in 1992, matching his career-high with a 16-win season.

He was the Opening Day starter for the first regular season game at Jacobs Field in 1994, taking a no-decision in one of his better outings in the month. He finished April 0-3, but would find himself heating up with the warmer weather. He was 3-1 in five May starts, 3-0 in six June starts, and 5-2 in seven starts between July and the first week of August before the season was preempted by the strike.

The layoff did not hurt Martinez as he picked up his winning ways when the 1995 season resumed. He won each of his first nine decisions and posted 13 quality starts in that 16-game stretch, helping him earn his last All-Star appearance. He lost his first game on July 26 and was winless in August, but he won three of his final five starts in September as the team headed to its first postseason appearance in 41 years.

It had been a long absence from the postseason stage as well for Martinez, who had last pitched in the playoffs in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1979 World Series. He looked the part of a pitcher built for October, as he made five starts for the Tribe in the three rounds, including the American League Division Series opener against Boston. He was just 1-2 in the postseason despite three quality starts and a 2.73 ERA, but five walks to the Atlanta Braves in Game 6 of the World Series would lead to a short outing and therefore a longer reliance on the bullpen. The relief corps would give up the only run of the game on a solo home run to future Indians player David Justice.

Martinez was 9-6 with a 4.50 ERA the following season, making just 20 starts while pitching at the age of 42. It would be his last season in Cleveland before making nine starts for Seattle in 1997 and working largely in relief for Atlanta in 53 total games in his final season in 1998. He made four scoreless relief appearances for the Braves in the NLCS against the San Diego Padres in his final professional games.

The Indians front office had tried to take a similar free agent approach during the 1987 season when it brought future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton to town on a contract.

Carlton - 1987 Topps
Carlton – 1987 Topps

The former ten-time All-Star, four-time NL wins leader, and four-time NL Cy Young Award winner was far removed from the pitcher he once was when he took the mound for the Indians at Cleveland Stadium. After spending parts of his first seven seasons in St. Louis with the Cardinals, he played parts of the next 15 years as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, helping lead the club to his second championship season in 1980. But heading into the twilight of his career, he was just 1-8 in 16 starts in 1985 and split the 1986 season between the Phillies, the San Francisco Giants, and the Chicago White Sox organizations, going 9-14 in 32 starts on the year with a career-worst 5.10 ERA.

He had returned to Philadelphia as a non-roster invitee to spring training in 1987, but was cut in March. The Indians scooped him up on April 3 on a one-year contract for $160,000 (not including incentives) to be a middle reliever for the club. He joined another 300-win pitcher on the roster in Phil Niekro (48 years old at the time), giving the Indians the first two 300-game winners to be on the same team since 1891.

He worked four scoreless innings in his first outing for the Tribe on April 9 and did something he had not done in 20 years – he earned a save. It was just the second of his career and it would be his final one while it also ended his Major League record of 544 consecutive games started. He pitched with mixed results in relief after that, but after three better outings from the bullpen to close April and open May, he was inserted into the starting rotation as manager Pat Corrales moved starter Scott Bailes into the struggling bullpen to try to get batters out.

Carlton struck out ten in a loss to Texas in his first start for Cleveland on May 12. It would be the 84th and final time in his Major League career that he would reach double digits in strikeouts, using a fastball clocked by the team at 88 MPH.

“Lefty” remained in the starting rotation for the Indians into the summer. He won three straight decisions from May 23 to June 20, but took a loss in his final start of June. Control was becoming an issue, and beginning with his start on June 26, he allowed at least a home run in each of his remaining outings for the Tribe. He would drop five straight decisions in that span and took another no-decision on July 30 against Baltimore despite giving up three home runs in six and one-third innings.

The next day, he was traded to the Minnesota Twins for a player to be named later. Sitting atop the American League West, the Twins were looking for any help that they could get to make it through the final two months of the season in that same position in the standings.

“I told Lefty the Twins came after him because they’re in a pennant race. I told him how much I appreciated his professional attitude here and the effect it had on the clubhouse,” new Indians manager Doc Edwards shared with the media after the move. “I’m just happy that he’ll have another chance to be in a pennant race.”

So ended Carlton’s run in 32 in Cleveland, leaving town with a 5-9 record, a 5.37 ERA, and a 1.60 WHIP in 23 games (14 starts). He would go 1-5 with a 6.70 ERA and 1.79 WHIP in nine games (seven starts) for the Twins, who would go on to win the AL West and defeat the Detroit Tigers in five games in the ALCS before falling in seven games to Carlton’s original team, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Carlton did not pitch during either round, as he was removed briefly from the Twins roster and sent to Triple-A Portland on August 31 to make room for Don Baylor, who was acquired in a trade from Boston that day and needed Carlton’s spot on the 24-man roster to be eligible for playoff consideration.

Carlton would re-sign with the Twins after the season, but was released after one month with a 0-1 record, a 16.76 ERA, and a 2.59 WHIP through four games (one start).

Other notable 32’s in Indians historyHank Edwards (1946-49), Al Smith (1953-55), Roger Maris (1957), Rudy Seanez (1990-91)

Photo: J. Meric/Getty Images

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