The 1995 season had enough highlights take up a whole series of posts, but the one that has stuck in my mind came on July 16th, against the Oakland Athletics. The Indians had by this time removed all doubt about winning the division (the , leading the second place Royals by 13.5 games even with over two months left to go. But as the Indians hadn't made the playoffs since 1954, every game the Indians won that season seemed to be a celebration.
July 16th, 1995 was a Sunday, the last day of a four-game series against Oakland. The Indians had taken the first three games of the series, but on this day Oakland took command of the game early. Dennis Martinez gave up three first inning runs, all on home runs. Rickey Henderson led off the game with a home run, one of the 81 times he'd do that in his Hall of Fame career. Later that inning, future Indian Geronimo Berroa would take Martinez deep with a two-run shot.
Todd Stottlemyre, in his only season with Oakland, held the Indians at bay through six innings, allowing just one run despite allowing seven hits and three walks. So when he left after six innings, the A's still led 3-1. That wouldn't last, as the Indians jumped on reliever Mark Acre for two runs in the bottom of the seventh. After Carlos Baerga singled with one out, Albert Belle smashed a game-tying home run to the bleachers, and that's where the game stood until the the 12th inning.
Martinez had recovered from the early bad inning to pitch seven innings, so the Tribe bullpen was in relatively good shape to handle an extra-inning game. Mike Hargrove used the usual suspects (Jim Poole for one batter, then Julian Tavarez and Jose Mesa) to get through the eight, ninth, and tenth innings, then went with Allen Embree to start the eleventh. Embree pitched a 1-2-3 eleventh, but ran into trouble in the twelfth. He allowed a Rickey Henderson double to start the inning, and he compounded things by uncorking a wild pitch, allowing Henderson to get to third with nobody out. Stan Javier hit a sacrifice fly, and Oakland took the lead with closer Dennis Eckersely waiting in the wings.
1995 with Eckersley's last season with the A's, and he wasn't the same pitcher he'd been earlier with the decade. He still had excellent strikeout rates, but his walk and hits were creeping upwards. He was in no danger of losing his closer's role, though, as to this point he'd only blown two save opportunities. In this game, he allowed a leadoff single to Carlos Baerga, but retired both Belle and Jim Thome on popups. That left Manny Ramirez with a runner still at first. After Thome popped out, Mike Hargrove sent Kenny Lofton in to run for Baerga, the idea being that Lofton could steal second to set up a game-tying base hit. Lofton would steal second, but it was totally unnecessary, for after fouling off several pitches, Manny Ramirez turned on an inside fastball, and not with a single in mind.
He hammered the pitch half-way up the bleachers, and as Eckersley walked off the mound while Ramirez rounded the bases, he mouthed "Wow." Had the Oakland closer simply left the field without any reaction, it would have just been one walkoff among many that season. But because he did, this highlight became one of the defining moments of 1995.