The 1995 Cleveland Indians were an incredible team. They are rightfully famed for their other-worldly offense, but their pitching was excellent as well. As we all know, they fell in the World Series that October, making them arguably the best team ever among those that didn't win the Fall Classic.
It's been 20 years since that team brought the city of Cleveland to its feet and ended decades of frustration with an AL Pennant. Throughout this anniversary year we'll be celebrating them, as the current version of the Tribe hopefully makes its own run to the postseason. Each week I'll look back at one of the key players from that season, counting down to the very best of them.
- 25. Wayne Kirby
- 24. Alan Embree
- 23. Albie Lopez
- 22. Jim Poole
- 21. Tony Pena
- 20. Herbert Perry
- 19. Mark Clark
- 18. Paul Assenmacher
- 17. Paul Sorrento
#16: Eric Plunk
Eric Plunk signed with the Indians a few days after the start of the 1992 season, and would go on to quietly become one of the best relief pitchers in franchise history. He pitched 70+ innings in each of his first three seasons with the Tribe, and by the time 1995 rolled around, he was the only pitcher in the bullpen who'd thrown even 30+ relief innings for the team in each of the two previous years, making him something of an elder statesman despite being only 31 years old.
The team hadn't had a proper closer in 1993 or 1994, and Plunk's combined total of 18 saves over those two years actually made him the team's leader, but in 1995 Jose Mesa would become an incredible closer, and Plunk would be firmly established as one of the best setup men in baseball.
During the first month of the season, Plunk appeared in 13 games, allowing a total of just one run to score in 16.1 innings. He'd recorded at least four outs in 8 of those games, one of two relievers Mike Hargrove regularly called on for more than just one inning that year. (The other was Julian Tavarez, whom we'll get to next month.)
Plunk continued to be among the best relievers in baseball through the end of July. He pitched in 38 games during that time, with 33 of those outings beings scoreless. In 46.1 innings he had a 1.55 ERA, which would be great in any era, but was especially impressive in 1995, as offense was exploding.
Unfortunately, Plunk's shoulder began to both him somewhere around that time. Plunk allowed at least one run to score in each of his first four August appearances, and posted an 8.49 ERA for his 11.2 innings pitched that month. He was shut down for nearly three weeks in September, returning for the final week of the regular season and throwing 3 scoreless innings,, looking like he was healhty enough to get back to what he'd done for most of the season.
In the team's first postseason game in 41 years, Plunk entered a tied game to record the final out of the 8th inning, then pitched a scoreless 9th, buying the team some of the time it needed to set up Tony Pena's 13th inning heroics. In Game 3 of the ALCS though, Plunk gave up a three-run home run to Jay Buhner in the 11th inning, sending the Indians to defeat. Two days later, with the Indians clinging to a one-run lead, Plunk walked the first two batters he faced, and only escaped the jam when the next batter hit into a line-drive double play.
Whether Plunk's shoulder was an issue, or it'd just been a shaky couple games, those two appearances were enough to convince Hargrove to leave Plunk off the World Series roster, which must have stung.
It's unfortunate that Plunk's shoulder acted up, because he was on track for an incredible season, and a healthy Plunk might have been on the mound for the 7th inning of Game 4 of the World Series, when a tie game turned into a 3-run deficit the team couldn't fight back from, or for the 6th inning of Game 6, when the only run of the game was scored. We'll never know if Plunk would have made the difference, but he was a fantastic reliever for most of that season.