A new day dawned in Cleveland Indians baseball on April 4, 1994. After decades of calling Cleveland Stadium home, the team moved across downtown to their new digs at Jacobs Field. The open-air, baseball-only ballpark was the new jewel of Cleveland.
Two days earlier, the Indians had a dress rehearsal against the Pittsburgh Pirates to give fans a live view of what was to come. The ballpark, built largely on a tax on liquor and cigarettes, basked in sunshine. Perhaps as a tribute to the “sin tax,” as it was called, cameras caught Pirates manager Jim Leyland puffing away in the first-base dugout.
For Opening Day, the dignitaries came out in full force. President Bill Clinton was one of them, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch with Ohio Governor George Voinovich and Indians legend Bob Feller. President Clinton, it was noted, wore an Indians windbreaker and a baseball cap with a Block C instead of the controversial Chief Wahoo emblem that the players wore on the field.
Along for the ride with the entourage from Washington was adviser George Stephanopoulos, a Cleveland native. “We felt it on the way in,” said Stephanopoulos about the excitement in the city. “The president was saying what a beautiful place this is. I was proud. It’s always great to be home.”1
“Beautiful, man,” said President Clinton, echoing the sentiments of everyone else. “There isn’t enough federal money to rebuild the cities. It takes efforts like this one to bring in jobs and housing.”2
Dennis Martinez, who signed a free-agent deal with the Indians on December 2, 1993, was given the starting assignment by Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove. Martinez was a crafty pitcher; he had posted a 15-9 record and a 3.85 ERA at Montreal in 1993.
For the visiting Seattle Mariners, their ace Randy Johnson toed the rubber. The “Big Unit” was coming off a superb 1993 season, sporting a 19-8 record and a 3.24 ERA. He led the American League with 308 strikeouts. The pitching matchup featured two pitchers who were teammates with Montreal from 1988 to 1989.
Dennis Martinez exhibited some wildness in the first inning, as the Mariners scored the initial run without the benefit of a base bit. With one away, Edgar Martinez was hit by a pitch. Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay Buhner loaded the bases with consecutive walks. Eric Anthony sent a fly ball to right field to score Edgar Martinez and Seattle led, 1-0.
In the top of the third inning, Anthony launched a solo home run to right field to give the Mariners a 2-0 advantage, and in the process became an answer to a future trivia question.
Meanwhile, Johnson was holding the home team hitless. After surrendering a couple of walks in the first inning, he had little trouble with the Indians lineup. For the first seven innings, Johnson had a no-hitter intact. To his credit, Dennis Martinez righted the ship and kept the Mariners at two runs. He was lifted after seven innings, giving way to reliever Russ Swan. Martinez walked four , struck out four, and gave up three hits and two runs in seven innings of work.
After Swan worked a scoreless eighth inning, the Indians tied the score in the bottom of the frame. Candy Maldonado led off with a walk. Sandy Alomar Jr. followed with Cleveland’s first base hit, a single to right field. A wild pitch by Johnson enabled the runners to move up a base, and two runs scored on a double by Manny Ramirez. The rally died there: Ramirez was picked off second base for the first out, and Johnson retired Mark Lewis and Kenny Lofton to end the threat. But the score was knotted, 2-2.
Johnson left after the eighth inning, giving way to reliever Tim Davis. He had issued five walks, struck out two, and, like Martinez, was charged with two earned runs.
The game was in the hands of the bullpens. It looked as if the Indians were going to win the game in bottom of the ninth inning. With two outs, Albert Belle doubled to left field off Davis. Eddie Murray followed with an infield single, moving Belle to third base. Seattle reliever Bobby Ayala entered the game and ended the rally by striking out Paul Sorrento.
Griffey led off the top of the 10th inning with an infield single to shortstop. Buhner sacrificed him to second base. Jose Mesa was lifted for Derek Lilliquist. The lefty Lilliquist was brought in to face the left-handed-hitting Anthony and Tino Martinez. Lilliquist retired Anthony on a popup to first base. Martinez walked. Keith Mitchell pinch-hit for the switch-hitting Reggie Jefferson. Mitchell delivered a go-ahead run with a single to left field that scored Griffey. Eric Plunk relieved Lilliquist and recorded the last out on a grounder to avoid any further damage.
The capacity crowd at “The Jake,” as the ballpark came to be known, grew quiet. But the somber mood was temporary. Alomar led off the bottom of the 10th with a strikeout. Ramirez walked, and was replaced by pinch-runner Wayne Kirby. Jim Thome pinch-hit for Lewis. Seattle manager Lou Piniella made a move to his bullpen, bringing in southpaw Kevin King. With all the changes made, Thome rapped a double to right field. Kirby raced to third base. Lofton was walked intentionally to load the bases. Omar Vizquel sent a grounder to second base to force Lofton and score Kirby with the tying run. Lofton’s hard slide into shortstop Felix Fermin kept the Mariners from turning two. “The slide was the key to the game,” said Vizquel.3
Plunk pitched a 1-2-3 11th inning. King was still on the mound for the Mariners. With one out in the bottom of the inning, Murray doubled to center field. He moved to third base on a fly ball to right off the bat of Sorrento. Alomar was walked intentionally. Kirby ended the drama, singling on a 3-and-1 pitch down the left-field line to score Murray and deliver the Indians a 4-3 win. Plunk was credited with the win in relief, while King was charged with the loss.
“You can say so many things about this game,” said Maldonado. “But finally, when it’s over, it was just a beautiful game.”4
Feller, who recorded the only Opening Day no-hitter (as of 2017) in the major leagues, was asked about Johnson’s no-hit bid through seven innings. “I was concerned,” said Feller.5
“I don’t want to sound like this is the end of the world,” said Hargrove. “This is the first of 162. But I’m glad we won it because it sure beats the alternative.”6
As it turned out, Hargrove was wrong. The players strike on August 12 canceled the rest of the season and it carried over to the beginning of the 1995 campaign. But for this day, a new beginning in Cleveland baseball was unveiled. After decades of ineptitude and apathy, good times were right around the corner for Tribe fans.
1 James F. McCarty, “How’s That for Openers,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 5, 1994: 1A.
3 Paul Hoynes, “Game One: No-Hit for Seven, Tribe Prevails in 11,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 5, 1994: 1D.