The 1999 Cleveland Indians scored 1,009 runs during the regular season. Only sixteen teams in the history of Major League Baseball have scored at least 1,000 runs, and the Indians are the only team to accomplish this feat since the 1936 Yankees. Take a look at these lineups:
|1936 Yankees||1999 Indians|
|Frankie Crosetti, SS||Kenny Lofton, CF|
|Red Rolfe, 3B||Omar Vizquel, SS|
|Joe DiMaggio, CF||Roberto Alomar, 2B|
|Lou Gehrig, 1B||Manny Ramirez, RF|
|George Selkirk, RF||Jim Thome, 1B|
|Jake Powell, LF||Harold Baines, DH|
|Tony Lazzeri, 2B||David Justice, LF|
|Joe Glenn, C||Travis Fryman, 3B|
|Sandy Alomar, C|
Three players from the 1936 Yankees accumulated an OBP greater than .400; the 1999 Indians had five. David Justice hit seventh and launched 21 HRs. Richie Sexson did not play every day, but still dropped 31 balls on the other side of the fence. When healthy, this lineup could out-mash any team in the game. This makes October 11, 1999 that much more remarkable. Troy O'Leary — with the help of two intentional walks and an unprecedented relief performance — sunk the greatest offense in a generation.
Game 5, 1999 ALDS, Jacobs Field. The box score itself is fairly innocuous, especially when compared to the 23 runs the Red Sox posted the previous night. The Indians marched out Charles Nagy to duel Brett Saberhagen. Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez sat on the bench after complaining of pain following his game one loss.
Both teams immediately went to work on the opposing starters. Nagy surrendered a two-run homer to Nomar Garciaparra in the first. Saberhagen walked Lofton on four pitches, gave up an RBI double to Vizquel, and then elevated a fastball to Jim Thome that landed 477 feet away from home plate. After Travis Fryman's two-run blast in the bottom of the second, Derek Lowe came to Saberhagen's rescue.
Despite the support from his offense, Nagy could not keep the ship righted for the Indians. With one out and runners on 2nd and 3rd, Nomar returned to the plate for Boston. After his homer in the first, Mike Hargrove called for an intentional walk, loading the bases for Troy O'Leary.
Putting Nomar on allowed for an inning-ending double play in case of a ground ball. This is the only thing it accomplished. The Sox were not forced to use someone from the bench; O'Leary was a perfectly serviceable hitter, with an OPS+ of 108 that season; and Nagy didn't gain a platoon/handedness advantage. The walk scores nineteen points according to Joe Posnanski's Intentional Walk Rage System (IWRS). The walk was a very bad decision. The walk led to a first-pitch meatball that O'Leary obliterated. Grand slam. 7-5 Boston.
Nagy walked around the mound and stared at dirt. Hargrove scratched the back of his head. Jacobs Field fell silent.
Then: Roberto Alomar doubled. Ramirez doubled. Thome saw a pitch that he quite liked, but decided that it would look even nicer in Heritage Park. 8-7 Cleveland, and the Red Sox responded by warming Rod Beck and Pedro Martinez in the bullpen before the end of the third inning. No one ever believed that Beck would enter the game instead of Pedro, although it wasn't clear how long the Red Sox planned to use him.
As Pedro prepared, Nagy failed record another out. Sean DePaula replaced him and wrestled with the Boston lineup. He allowed only one run to score in three innings of work. Over the same stretch of innings, Martinez held the Indians hitless.
Paul Shuey took the mound for the Indians in the top of the seventh inning. One run scored on a fielders choice in front of Garciaparra. Tom Hamilton, danger rising in his voice, called the action as it happened: "And for the second time tonight, they'll walk Garciaparra in front of Troy O'Leary. The Indians hoping that history does not duplicate itself here in the seventh inning."
The walk scored sixteen points according to the IWRS. The walk was a very bad decision. The walk led to a first-pitch meatball that O'Leary obliterated. Three-run home run. 11-8 Boston.
Shuey walked around the mound and stared at dirt. Hargrove crossed his arms and paced. Jacobs Field fell silent, having witnessed instant karma for the second time; Troy O'Leary rounded the bases, just an instrument of Old Testament God laying waste to baseball sinners.
The game ended there, although two and a half innings remained. Nobody stirred in Cleveland as Pedro methodically wrecked the Indians hitters. He struck out Vizquel to end the game with six shutout innings in relief. Boston went on to face the Yankees, who defeated them in five games and then swept the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.
To be a fan of a Cleveland sports team is to be intimately familiar with heartbreak. Balls are fumbled, passes are intercepted, teams and players leave town. With this in mind, it's nice to have one instance where divine intervention against the city was completely deserved.