The strike of the 1994 season carried into the early days of the ‘95 season wiping out the first 18 games of the schedule and cutting the season down to 144 games. The strike made contract negotiations impossible, but as soon as a deal was signed the Indians front office moved quickly to sign veteran pitcher Orel Hershiser to provide them with a legitimate top end starter to push them over the edge in the American League. Hershiser would later say that the top factor that led him to sign with Cleveland was the fact that “I didn’t have to pitch particularly well to get the win the way they hit the ball”
Hershiser got off to a slow start, pitching to a 5-4 record with a 4.67 ERA in the first half. He would go on to win 11 of his next 14 decisions averaging 6 2⁄3 innings per start with a 3.60 ERA and was dominant down the stretch in September. But it wasn’t the regular season that the Indians needed Hershiser for, they could’ve gotten by without him, the Indians got Orel Hershiser because they had ambitions beyond the regular season in 1995, and Hershiser had a reputation for being one of the best postseason pitchers in the game and the ultimate competitor. You don’t get a nickname like “the Bulldog” for nothing.
The Indians faith in Hershiser would be rewarded as he would be absolutely stellar for them in the postseason. He pitched 7 innings of 3 hit shutout baseball against Boston in game 2 of the ALDS and followed it up with two absolute gems in the ALCS against Seattle, winning him the series’ MVP award. He “struggled” in game one of the World Series against Atlanta, having the audacity to surrender 3 whole runs in 6 innings. Unfortunately, giving up 3 runs against Greg Maddux is usually all it takes to get sent home with a loss, but he outdueled Maddux in an elimination game in game 5, and kept the Indians’ hopes alive for one more day before Joe Brinkman said “enough is enough” in game 6 and the Indians’ fell to the Braves.
The 1995 Indians were an absolute juggernaut. They scored 40 more runs than the next best offense and gave up 40 fewer than the next best pitching staff. The 90s teams have a reputation for being all offense and no pitching, but the ‘95 team could pitch with the best of them. They lacked a true ace in the mold of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez or Greg Maddux, but the trio of Dennis Martinez, Charlie Nagy, and Hershiser made a formidable front end of their rotation that could match up with anyone.
But their offense, oh man their offense, nobody was better that year and few, if any, have been better since. 6 of their 9 primary starters hit over .300, 5 players slugged .500 or better, 5 players hit 20 or more home runs, they put up an utterly absurd team slash line of .291/.361/.479 and stole more bases than any team in the major league.
The offense was led by Albert Belle who turned in one of the greatest individual seasons in baseball history becoming the only player to hit 50 doubles and 50 home runs in the same season on top of his .317 batting average and ridiculous .690 slugging percentage. Belle, not a player known for being particularly kind toward fans, opponents, teammates, and the media, was snubbed of the MVP vote at the end of the year in favor of Mo Vaughn, who not only wasn’t better than Belle that year, but wouldn’t have even been the second best hitter on the Indians as both Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez had better seasons than Vaughn. Had it been Edgar Martinez and his league leading 1.107 OPS that’s one thing, but Vaughn? No way.
The ‘95 Indians blew everyone’s doors off on the way to a 100-44 finish. In the process they gave us what is one of the most absurd stats in baseball history. The 1995 Indians had 46 comeback victories, that means in games in which they trailed they had a record of 46-44. They were above .500 in games that they were losing, how absurd is that?
Though the 1995 season didn’t end with a World Series, there was almost a sense of “just happy to be here” for Cleveland fans, sure a World Series would have been nice, but 1995 was a season that was just so dominant that I don’t think there’s many fans that look back on it with disappointment. Now the same can’t be said about the remainder of the 1990’s as the curse of expectations rears its ugly head, but the ‘95 team will always hold a special place in the hearts of Cleveland fans.
Join us tomorrow as we discuss the 1996 Indians and their disappointing ALDS loss to the Baltimore Orioles.