This article was written by Joseph Wancho
The California Angels came to Cleveland for a two-game series between the two division leaders on July 17, 1995. The Indians had a comfortable 14 1/2-game lead over both Milwaukee and Kansas City in the American League Central Division. It was their largest lead ever over another team. The Indians were coming off a four-game sweep of Oakland, and were building on their league-best 50-21 record.
The Angels (43-30) held a one-game lead over Texas (42-31). It was an incredible reversal of the previous season, when the Angels finished dead last in the West with a 47-68 record. California was coming off a four-game sweep of their own, having disposed of Detroit at Tiger Stadium. In the series, Garret Anderson and Jim Edmonds each smacked three home runs, while J.T. Snow added two round-trippers.
The pitching matchup for the second game of the series featured left-hander Mark Langston (8-1, 4.30 ERA) for California and the Indians’ Mark Clark (4-3, 7.46 ERA). Langston was on a five-game winning streak and together with Chuck Finley provided the Angels with as potent a 1-2 punch as there was on any staff in the majors. Clark was a spot starter for the Indians. He spent the early part of his big-league career shuttling between whatever team he was with and its top affiliate. The 1995 season was no different: Clark spent part of the season pitching for Buffalo of the Triple-A International League, where he amasses a 4-0 record with a 3.57 ERA.
The game was scoreless for the first two innings. But Tony Phillips changed that in the top of the third inning. He deposited a pitch from Clark into the stands in right-center field for a 1-0 Angels lead. The home run was Phillips’s 15th of the season.
Edmonds extended the lead in the fifth inning when he slugged a two-out, two-run homer off Clark. It was Edmonds’ 17th home run of the year, and his third in three games.
Langston was able to keep Cleveland off the scoreboard through the first five innings, but the Tribe went the singles route to finally put runs on the board. Singles by Alvaro Espinoza, Ruben Amaro Jr., Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, and Manny Ramirez plated three runs for Cleveland, and tied the score at 3-3.
But while Cleveland used the base hit to manufacture runs, the Angels used the long ball. Clark fell victim again to the home run as Anderson’s sixth homer of the season just cleared the wall in right field. The two-run shot by the rookie outfielder put the Angels up 5-3. It was the fourth home run in the last five games for Anderson.
Clark’s day was done. He was replaced by Eric Plunk at the start of the seventh inning. It was a rough day for the young right-handed hurler from Bath, Illinois. He had given up five earned runs on eight hits, three of which were home runs. Clark struck out four and did not walk a batter.
Langston was replaced an inning later by reliever John Habyan. Langston had given up three runs on nine hits, three strikeouts, and two walks. He was in a great position to pick up his ninth win of the season as the game progressed to the bottom of the ninth inning and Lee Smith was on the hill for the Angels.
Smith was currently the all-time leader in saves with 456 in his career, and counting. To date this season he had 22 saves, one behind Cleveland’s Jose Mesa for the league lead.
Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove sent in the left-handed-swinging Wayne Kirby to hit for Espinoza. Kirby came through with a smash down the first-base line. California first baseman J.T. Snow dove for the ball, but it struck first base and caromed off Snow’s chest into foul territory for an infield single. Hargrove went to his bench again and sent in Jim Thome to hit for Amaro. Thome struck out, but Kirby stole second base. Omar Vizquel followed with a line drive toward Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina. But he was only able to get his glove on the ball and could not corral it, and Kirby took third base. Baerga followed and walked on four pitches to load the bases. “Smith wouldn’t give me a pitch to hit; if he had, I was going to try to go deep,” said Baerga. “But you have to like Albert in that situation.”1
Belle came to the plate and Smith quickly got ahead of him with two strikes. A close pitch just missed the outside corner. Belle then unloaded on a hanging slider by Smith, smashing it 425 feet to dead center. The blast gave the Indians a 7-5 victory. The roar of the 41,763 in attendance at Jacobs Field as the ball left the playing field and when Belle took a curtain call was deafening,
“I was trying to throw something in the dirt, out of the strike zone, but that’s what happens when you hang sliders,” said Smith.2
It was the 14th time the Indians won a game in their final at-bat in 1995, the 10th time at Jacobs Field. It was their 25th come-from-behind win thus far in the season. “He hung a slider, and I hung back on it,” said Belle. “He threw two fastballs with mustard and went to 0-and-2 on me. Then he threw one off the outside corner. I thought (home-plate umpire John) Hirschbeck might call it (a third strike).
“The fans went crazy, but I’m not so crazy about coming from behind all the time.”3
Paul Assenmacher pitched a scoreless ninth inning in relief to secure his third win of the season.
Cleveland went on to win the AL Central Division and advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1954. The result was similar; they lost to the Atlanta Braves in six games.
The California Angels ended up tied with Seattle atop the West. The Mariners, behind Randy Johnson , disposed of the Angels with little trouble, winning 9-1 in the tiebreaker (it was their 145th game of the season).
The author accessed Baseball-Reference.com for box scores/play-by-play informationand other data, and Retrosheet.org.
1 Dennis Manoloff, “Tribe Enjoys a Late Feast: Belle Wins it With Grand Slam Into Picnic Tables,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 19, 1995: 1D.
2 Mike DiGiovanna, “Indians’ Belle Puts Angels in Wringer,” Los Angeles Times, July, 19, 1995: C5.