Lonnie Chisenhall’s 2008 season at Pitt Community College in Winterville, North Carolina—a .408 batting average, with 24 doubles and 61 RBIs1—made him the first-round selection, 29th overall, of the Cleveland Indians in that June’s draft.
The North Carolina native ascended through Cleveland’s minor-league chain, demonstrating that he was a fair hitter and a developing prospect at third base. Prior to the 2011 season, Baseball America ranked him 25th among baseball’s Top 100 prospects. Chisenhall was batting 9-for-21 over a five-game stretch at Triple-A Columbus just before Cleveland called him up to debut on June 27. For the rest of 2011, Chisenhall started most of the Indians’ games at third.
But his career was up and down for the next two seasons. A fractured right forearm in 2012 sidelined Chisenhall for 10 weeks. He was demoted to Columbus in 2013, batting .213 at the time he was sent down in May. Improved play down the stretch—including a slugging percentage of .636 from August 29 through the end of the season, then three hits in the American League wild-card Game, Cleveland’s first postseason appearance since 2007—suggested that his career was getting back on track.
In 2014 Chisenhall, still only 25 years old on Opening Day, put it all together. He stayed with the Indians all season, was injury-free, and had the support of manager Terry Francona. “This is a big year for Lonnie,” said Francona. “He’s got the tools to be a really good major-league player. We are dying to see that player come out because it’s in there.”2
But neither Francona, nor anyone else for that matter, could predict how much Chisenhall would produce in the first half of the season. Through the end of May, Chisenhall was batting .369 (48-for-130) with 15 doubles and 15 RBIs.
As action got underway on June 9, Cleveland (32-31) was in second place in the AL Central Division, trailing the front-running Detroit Tigers (33-26) by three games. The Indians were at Globe Life Park for the final game of a four-game series with the Texas Rangers (31-32), who were fourth in the AL West, eight games behind the first-place Oakland A’s.
The Indians had won two of the first three games in the series. The pitching matchup for the June 9 affair was Cleveland’s TJ House (0-1, 3.79 ERA) and Texas’s Nick Martinez (1-2, 3.22 ERA). Both pitchers were in their rookie seasons.
Cleveland put three runs on the scoreboard in the top of the first. Michael Bourn led off with a walk, then went to third on a single to left field by Asdrúbal Cabrera, who took second on the throw to third. Michael Brantley walked to load the bases.
Texas got a run back in the home half of the first on an RBI groundout by Adrián Beltré that scored Daniel Robertson. But the Indians responded by denting the scoreboard with five more runs in the second. With one down, catcher George Kottaras stroked his third home run of the season to make it 4-1.
Kipnis added to the total with a two-run, two-out single, and Chisenhall completed the second-inning barrage by depositing Martinez’s 1-and-1 offering into the right-field stands for a two-run shot, his fifth home run of the year.
The Indians’ 8-1 lead chased Martinez from the game. Scott Baker emerged from the bullpen and Cleveland tacked on another run in the third to extend its lead to 9-1.
The Rangers stirred in the bottom of the third. House walked Luis Sardiñas to start the frame. One out later, Elvis Andrus doubled to left field, putting runners at second and third. Sardinas scored on House’s wild pitch; Shin-Soo Choo, with Cleveland from 2006 through 2012, grounded out to first base to knock in Andrus. Texas added a third run when Beltré singled and scored on Álex Ríos’s triple to center, making the score 9-4.
Cleveland, however, struck back for three more runs in the fourth. Brantley homered, his 10th round-tripper of the year. After a single by Kipnis, Chisenhall hammered his sixth home run of the season—giving him the second two-homer game of his career—as the Indians again established an eight-run advantage at 12-4.
Of course, in a game where the offense for both teams was treating the scoreboard like a counter on a pinball machine, the score did not stay that way for long. Michael Choice led off Texas’s half of the fourth inning with his sixth home run of the year. Sardiñas then reached base on shortstop Cabrera’s throwing error and scored on Robertson’s double.
With six Rangers runs across the plate before four innings were done, Francona made the move to his bullpen and summoned Scott Atchison. The Texas native shut the door on the Rangers, retiring Andrus and Choo to keep the score 12-6 through four innings.
For the rest of the night, it was a matter of Chisenhall keeping his big game going and Cleveland’s bullpen containing the Rangers. In the sixth inning, Chisenhall drove in Brantley with his fourth hit of the game, a double to center against Baker.
Two innings later, Chisenhall punctuated his record-tying night. Singles by Cabrera, Brantley, and Kipnis brought in Cleveland’s 14th run and set up Chisenhall with two runners on base.
He drove everyone in by unloading his third home run of the game. The score was 17-6. It was the Indians’ most runs since they scored 19 against the Chicago White Sox nearly a year earlier in June 2013.
“The best part of seeing Lonnie is how much he’s grown, physically and mentally,” said Indians pitcher Justin Masterson. “He understands his role within the team. When he started the season it was like ‘Well, you’re going to play a little third, you could take some balls in left field and at first base.’ He didn’t know where he was going to play.
“He said, ‘I’m just going to go out there and try to get some hits. … I’m going to make this work.’ It just shows how much knowledge and wisdom he’s learned about himself.”3
In the meantime, the Cleveland bullpen parade of Atchison, John Axford, Carlos Carrasco, and Josh Outman worked the final 5⅔ innings, surrendering only an eighth-inning run. Atchison (3-0) was credited with the win while Martinez was charged with the loss (1-3).
Chisenhall went 5-for-5 with three home runs, nine RBIs and three runs. The nine runs batted in tied a team record set by Chris James on May 4, 1991, at Oakland. Cabrera, Brantley, and Kipnis all contributed with three hits apiece.
For the Rangers, Robertson, Beltré, Ríos, and Robinson Chirinos each had two hits and one RBI.
“Me and Vanbo [Cleveland hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo] have focused on getting hits,” said Chisenhall. “That’s how I played when I was younger. That’s how I came through the minor leagues, just concentrate on getting hits. There are good spots to take chances when you can drive the ball in the gap. I’m refining my approach through my work with Vanbo in the cage.”4
When he was told that the Baseball Hall of Fame wanted him to send them the bat he used, Chisenhall was ecstatic. “Never in my career did I think the Hall of Fame would call and ask for anything,” he said. “To play in a game and then have something that I used go into the Hall of Fame, it’s just icing on the cake. Things just keep getting better and better. I can’t imagine things going up from here.”5
Cleveland ended 2014 in third place in the AL Central Division with an 85-77 record, five games behind Detroit. Texas completed its season with a 67-95 record, in last place in the AL West, finishing 31 games behind the first-place Angels.
As for Chisenhall, he finished the season batting .280. He achieved career highs in home runs (13) and RBIs (59), but injuries curtailed his playing time. Still, Chisenhall was an important player on Cleveland’s playoff teams in 2016 and 2017. A versatile player, he could play all outfield positions and had a strong throwing arm.
This article was fact-checked by Jim Sweetman and copy-edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for pertinent information, including the box score and play-by-play. He also reviewed MLB.com’s video of Chisenhall’s hits in the game, posted on YouTube.
1 NJCAA archive, https://www.njcaa.org/sports/bsb/2007-08/div1/teams/PittCommunityCollege/leaders.html, accessed December 27, 2022.
2 Paul Hoynes, “Bullpen and Bench Are Big for Francona,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 23, 2014: B-2.
3 Paul Hoynes, “BLAST FROM THE PAST: Lonnie Chisenhall’s 9-RBI Game Matches 1991 Effort by Tribe’s Chris James,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 11, 2014: B1.
4 Hoynes, “BLAST FROM THE PAST.”
5 Zack Meisel, “Hall of Fame Wants Chisenhall’s Hot Bat,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 11, 2014: B-5.