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
- 15. Ken Hill
- 14. Omar Vizquel
- 13. Sandy Alomar
- 12. Charles Nagy
#11: Julian Tavarez
Julian Tavarez had been a successful starter in the minor leagues, but in limited opportunities with the Tribe in 1993 and 1994, he hadn't done well, and with a number of good options for the rotation in 1995, the team decided to try him as a reliever for the time being. It was a very successful move.
Tavarez pitched in 57 games for the Indians in 1995, second only to closer Jose Mesa. Unlike Mesa though (who like most closers by then was appearing for one inning at a time), Tavarez was often called on for more than just a single frame.
Tavarez's second appearance of the season was in what might be considered long relief, as he allowed just one run in 4 innings against Texas (the day after he pitched 1.1 innings against them), after Charles Nagy had a rough first start of the year. In addition to that game, Tavarez pitched 3+ innings three other times. In total, Tavarez pitched 2+ innings of relief 23 times that season, and record four or more outs a total of 31 times; no Tribe reliever has reached either of those totals in the twenty years since.
When Tavarez was asked to record no more than three outs, he was always brought in during the 7th inning or later, usually for the 8th inning, as he made himself one of the premier setup men in baseball.
Tavarez was especially impressive during the first half of the season. When the All-Star break rolled around Tavarez had a 1.18 ERA in 45.2 innings. That ERA easily led all reliever with even 25 innings pitched, and if middle relievers had ever been given real consideration as All-Stars then, the way they sometimes are now, Taverez probably would have been named to the team.
After the break, Tavarez reverted to being mortal, posting a 3.89 ERA in the second half (still more than half a run better than the AL's collective 4.46 ERA for that season), and even being charged with multiple runs 3 times, something that never happened during the first half. At the end of the regular season his ERA was 2.44, second-best on the team and good for an ERA+ of 193. He'd pitched 85 innings out of the bullpen, another figure no Tribe pitcher has matched in the last two decades.
Tavarez blew a late lead during his second inning of work in Game 1 of the ALDS, but the Tribe came back to win the game, and in his second inning (again) of Game 3 of the ALCS he gave up a leadoff single that eventually came around to score the game-winning run. Tavarez made another seven appearances later that postseason, and didn't give any runs in any of them, including 4.1 scoreless innings spread over five games of the World Series.
He pitched only one more year for the Tribe before he was dealt to San Francisco as part of the trade that brought Matt Williams to Cleveland. (That was an unfortunate trade for the Tribe, not because they lost Tavarez, but because they also gave up a young second baseman named Jeff Kent.)
Tavarez never again had a season quite as good as his 1995, but most relievers never have even one year like that.