This series looks at top Cleveland Indians playoff games of all time. No. 9 is a 12-inning win over the Baltimore Orioles in the 1997 ALCS.
The 1997 Cleveland Indians finished at 86-75. That was a record that in many years wouldn’t qualify for a Wild Card let alone a division championship (the Tribe would learn this in 2000 and again in 2005). The White Sox chased the Tribe all summer long, getting as close as 3.5 games at the end of July.
Then came the famous “White flag trade”: Starting pitchers Wilson Alvarez and Danny Darwin PLUS closer Roberto Hernandez to the San Francisco Giants for six prospects on July 31. This started a most welcome downward spiral that ended with the White Sox finishing in second, six games behind the Indians.
After a win over the Yankees (which will be featured in a future Playoff History article) the Indians faced the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS.
Game 4 was a blown save for Jose Mesa, but the Indians won it on an Alomar single in the ninth against Armando Benitez. Also a great game, but not Top Ten.
One of the most memorable games was Game 3.
Mike Mussina was amazing for the Orioles. In six innings of work he gave up one hit and one walk while striking out 14. These were not your normal Indians hitters either: Ramirez, Thome, Matt Williams, Justice, Sandy Alomar, Brian Giles and more.
Orel Hershiser was equally good, giving up four hits and no runs in seven innings work.
In the seventh, Mussina tired. He gave up a walk and two singles. This gave the Indians a 1-0 lead.
Jose Mesa blew the save in the top of the ninth (looking back you start to see a pattern here) so we had extra innings.
Things stayed 1-1 until the bottom of the 12th inning. Brian Giles struck out. Marquis Grissom walked. Tony Fernandez singled to put runners on second and third.
With the count 1-1, Grissom took off for home.
It was a suicide squeeze, but Omar Vizquel didn’t get the bunt down. In fact, he completely missed the ball. So did Oriole catcher Lenny Webster. Webster casually jogged over to pick up the ball, letting Grissom run by untouched. Game over. Indians win 2-1.
Webster and manager Davey Johnson argued (vociferously) that the ball was fouled by Vizquel, but it wasn’t. He missed. Game over.
This was of course before the days of replay review, so arguments were more common. There was replay available on TV, and it showed clearly that Vizquel (much like Webster) did not touch the ball.
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As great as this game was, there was a better one in the series. One where Mike Mussina pitched even better, and still the Indians won. Stay tuned.