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Cleveland Indians History: The night the Indians won an unwinnable game

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

On August 5, 2001 the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians met on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.  Good thing the game is on YouTube, because I gave up early.

The Cleveland Indians came into the game at 61-48, on their way to a 91-71 record. That record would be good enough for first place in the AL Central and a sixth playoff appearance in seven years.

The Mariners were 80-30, on their way to a record-breaking 116-win season.

The Indians were on a three-game losing streak, including a 17-4 beating from the Oakland A’s on August 2. Beer league softball scores were fairly common for the 2001 Indians, on both sides. On July 1 they lost to the Royals, 13-11. On June 4 they lost a walk-off game to the Twins, 11-10. They also had a 14-2 win over the Cardinals.  Before the year was out they would lose to the White Sox 19-10 and beat the Mariners (in the playoffs no less) 17-2.

That said, nothing could prepare fans for what happened on August 5, 2001.

I tuned in early. The Mariners scored four in the second inning off Dave Burba. The party got started when Kenny Lofton lost a ball and turned a routine fly ball to center in a double. Then they added eight more in the third off Burba and Mike Bacsik.

I tuned out early. No one comes back from 12 runs down. Certainly not against the team with the best record in the American League.

In the fourth inning Juan Gonzalez singled off Aaron Sele. Jim Thome followed with a home run. Mariners 12, Indians 2.

In the top of the fifth inning the Mariners answered with three singles and a groundout. Two runs.  Mariners 14, Indians 2.

The score stayed 14-2 until the bottom of the seventh. I happened to turn on the game. I have no idea why. But I did.

Russell Branyan led off. At this point, Robbie Alomar, Juan Gonzalez and Ellis Burks have all been replaced. Branyan is Burks’ replacement.

Branyan was the ultimate three true outcome guy. (The three true outcomes are those plate appearances where there is no doubt about the outcome. If a ball is in play, the batter might be out, he might be safe, it might be a double, or an error, etc. But when it’s a walk, or a strikeout, or a home run – there is no doubt.)  In 2001 just over half of Branyan’s 361 plate appearances ended with a walk (38 + 3 HBP), strikeout (132) or home run (20) .

On this at-bat, Branyan landed outcome number three on the first pitch. Home run. Mariners lead, 14-3.

I think “Well, it’s always nice to see a Branyan home run, but it’s still an 11-run lead. Good night.”

The next morning I would turn on the radio and hear the words “record-setting comeback.”

Here’s how it went down.

The rest of the seventh inning

After the Branyan homer, Marty Cordova struck out. Wil Cordero lined out to short. Einar Diaz singled to center. Kenny Lofton walked. Omar Vizquel walked.

With the bases loaded the Mariners decided to call in lefty John Halama. Bad call. Jolbert Cabrera (Robbie Aomar’s replacement) singled in two runs. Ed Taubensee (Gonzalez’s replacement) flew out to center.

End of seven, Mariners 14, Indians 5.

Bacsik shut the Mariners out in the eighth.

Eighth inning:  Four more runs

Halama is a lefty. Thome is a lefty. Thome doesn’t care. He launches his second home run of the game, this one to the opposite field.

Russell Branyan achieves the fourth true outcome:  Hit by a pitch.

Branyan didn’t stay on first base long. Marty Cordova hits a home run to left. And it’s 14-8.

Cordero grounds out, Diaz gets an infield single, Lofton singles and the Mariners decide it’s time to get serious.

Norm Charlton comes in to face Omar Vizquel. Omar greets him with a double down the right field line, scoring one more. 14-9.

A slider gets away from catcher Tom Lamkin. Lofton hesitates then tries to score. He’s easily out.

Inning ends with a strikeout of Cabrera, and it’s 14-9.

Ninth inning: We need five

Charlton opens the ninth by giving up a single to Taubensee. He then retires Thome on a flyball to right and Branyan on yet another true outcome – a strikeout.

Statistically the Indians now have a 0 percent chance of winning the game. This is roughly the same chance they had when they fell behind 14-2 in the fifth.

More from Away Back Gone

Marty Cordova doubles. It’s now a 1 percent chance.

The Mariners aren’t messing around. They bring in Jeff Nelson. In 46 innings he has 70 strikeouts. He has allowed 18 hits. Mariners 14, Indians 11 (5 percent chance).

The Mariners now go to their closer Kazuhiro Sasaki. What was a blowout is now a save situation.

Lofton singles to left. Bases loaded again. Omar Vizquel is up,

At one ball one strike, color commentator Rick Sutcliffe notes that right fielder Charles Gipson is playing a little shallow in right field. Hold that thought.

Vizquel runs the count to 3-2. He fouls off two pitches. Then a ball hit down the right field line for a triple. 14-14 and Jacobs Field goes nuts. (Suddenly it’s a 65 percent chance of winning.) The ball barely got past first baseman Ed Sprague, who was – for whatever reason – not guarding the line.

What was a save situation is now a blown save.

Cabrera grounds out to third and we have extra innings.

 The almost anti-climactic ending

After a scoreless tenth, and scoreless Mariners 11th, the Indians come up to bat.

Diaz pops out to short. Lofton singles to center. No one is mad about the misplayed fly ball or the ill-advised dash to home.

Vizquel singles to right for his fourth hit. Lofton stops at second.

In a night of heroes, Jolbert Cabrera becomes the final hero. A first pitch single. Lofton beats the throw to the plate easily.

Final score: Indians 15, Mariners 14.

Next. The 6 “worst” deadline deals in Tribe history. dark

The game matched the biggest comeback in major league history and was the first comeback from 12 runs down since 1925.