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Jose Mesa's 1995 was the best season any Cleveland Indians reliever has ever had

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Two years before the blown save so many remember him for, Jose Mesa was tremendous in 1995.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images


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.

Previous entries:

#6: Jose Mesa

Jose Mesa was acquired by the Indians in a fairly minor trade during July of 1992. He'd been a starting pitcher for the Orioles, but not a successful one. He continued to be a starter for the Tribe, but also continued not to find a great deal of success, though he did throw more than 200 innings in 1993. In 1994 he was moved to a middle relief role, and his numbers improved, but still weren't anything to write home about. He was 28 years old and didn't seem especially likely to put together a notable career.

Everything clicked in 1995.

The Indians didn't have a closer in 1994, no pitcher recorded more than 5 saves for the team. (They were one of only two teams in the last 30 years without anyone who recorded at least half a dozen saves. The dreadful 2003 Tigers were the other.) Mesa was moved into that role, but I'm hard pressed to believe anyone thought he'd be anything much more than capable.

During the opening three weeks of the season, Mesa was certainly capable, but nothing about his performance really jumped out. Through 18 team games he'd recorded only 3 saves. Starting with a series in Boston during the second half of May though, his numbers took off. Mesa recorded a save in 14 of the team's next 27 games. He allowed a run on June 8, but it was the last one he'd be charged with for two and a half months. He made 29 consecutive appearances without allowing any earned runs, setting a new franchise record (eventually broken by Paul Assenmacher).

Along the way he was named to the American League All-Star team; he pitched a scoreless 9th inning in the Midsummer Classic.

By the time Mesa blew his first save opportunity of the season, it was August 25, and the Tribe winning the Al Central was a foregone conclusion. On September 8, Mesa pitched a scoreless 9th to pick up his 40th save of the season. The final out clinched the division, and the team's first postseason appearance in 41 years. It was quite a scene at the Jake.

Eight days after that Mesa set a new franchise record with his 44th save of the year. He finished the season with 46 saves, which is still tops in team history (and the schedule was only 144 games that season). His ERA was a minuscule 1.13, which, with offense exploding around MLB, was good for an ERA+ of 418, which looks like a typo, and is the fifth-highest figure for any pitcher with 60+ innings in MLB history.

Mesa posted a 2.70 ERA in 10 postseason innings, including 3 scoreless frames in the Tribe's 11-inning victory in Game 3 of the World Series.

If there is one player in these rankings who is too low, it's Mesa. He had what I consider the best season by a reliever in Indians history, and no one on the 1995 team did their job any better than he did.