If you thought that 2012 was one crazy year in the world of Cleveland Sports, 2013 proved that there is rarely a dull moment. There were good times and bad, hirings and firings, wins and losses, and appearances in postseasons and courtrooms. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last five years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories to grace our local sports scene over the last 12 months. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. Do enjoy.
Man, it was a crazy exciting year down at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. There weren’t nearly enough fans flocking to see this team, but the ones that did – especially on Friday nights – were treated to some masterful theatre. The calling card of those mid and late 90’s Indians teams that captured our city was the walkoff wins. The 2012 Wahoos did their best to match that drama seemingly almost once or twice a homestand.
11 times this special group sent the faithful home with a walkoff winner that they wouldn’t forget. 11 times. Think about that for a second. More than one-eighth of the time the Tribe played at home, they won in walkoff fashion. They went 51-30 at Progressive Field, which means essentially one out of every five home wins involved a final at-bat RBI. That’s just crazy. It was the story inside the story of the 2013 Cleveland Indians.
As we review the best of the best from this year, let us count down the 10 walkoff winners by level of excitement and importance. This list is subjective and if you disagree, you can be heard below in the comments section. Without further ado….
11. May 18 vs. Seattle – Mark Reynolds fielder’s choice scores Jason Kipnis
It seemed as though the Mariners were the gift that kept on giving for the Indians. That was before we would realize the White Sox were even more willing to help out the cause. A night after a walkoff homer, the Wahoos looked like they would cruise to another victory. But the Mariners scored two in the eighth off of Zach McAllister and Rich Hill and two in the ninth against closer Chris Perez on back to back two-out solo homers. A 4-0 lead where McAllister was cruising evaporated in a flash.
But in the bottom of the ninth, the Indians loaded the bases with nobody out with Mark Reynolds stepping to the plate. This was when Reynolds was still in his hot zone. He hit a hard ground ball toward shortstop Brendan Ryan who dove to make a back-handed play. He fired home from his backside and Jason Kipnis, running hard on contact looked as though he beat the throw, but in actuality he didn’t. Defensively challenged catcher Jesus Montero’s foot came off the bag and the Indians were able to escape with the 5-4 win.
10. June 14 vs. Washington – Drew Stubbs speed steals a 2-1 win
This one was a superb pitchers duel between Nats lefty Gio Gonzalez and Tribe ace Justin Masterson. It was 1-1 after four and stayed that way into the bottom of the ninth. With one out Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn hit back to back singles, putting runners at the corners for Kipnis. Jason hit a hard grounder towards Adam Laroche at first. He came up firing home, but Stubbs slid safely home in front of the tag, ending the game right there. “Speed kills” as they say and if anyone else on the team is at third, they are more than likely a dead duck. Stubbs’s wheels won this one.
9. May 3 vs. Minnesota – Stubbs RBI double does in Twins in extras
Funny how we are talking about Stubbs twice now, considering he was traded two days ago. On this night, he played the hero for the first time as an Indian. It was a back and forth affair which saw the Twins jump out 2-0 before the Tribe battled back to lead 5-3. A three-run seventh put the Twins back on top 6-5 before the Wahoos tied it in the eighth. We headed into extras tied at six when Stubbs sent a Casey Fien pitch into the gap in left-center to score Mike Aviles that started another Friday night mob scene on the field.
8. May 17 vs. Seattle – Kipnis takes lefty Luetge deep in 10th
Two weeks earlier, there were fireworks before the fireworks. In the sixth inning early in the season, Ubaldo Jimenez loved to fall apart. He came out to start the inning and was greeted with a single from Justin Smoak. Ubaldo was immediately replaced by lefty Rich Hill. Tribe killer Raul Ibanez then homered to tie the game. It would stay that way for an hour. So here we were again, going into extra innings tied.
With two out an nobody on against lefty Lucas Luetge, the offense went to work. Stubbs (that man again!) walked and stole second. Michael Bourn reached on an infield single, setting the stage for Kipnis. It didn’t matter that he was facing a lefty, Kipnis yanked one over the wall in right to start the fireworks early. The Tribe’s all-star second baseman came around first base with his arms out with the “I told you so” look on his face. It was a thing of beauty.
7. July 26 vs. Texas – Ryan Ra-burns the Rangers
Another wild Friday night affair had a see-saw effect to it. The Indians led 7-1 after the fourth inning and watched as the Rangers kept chipping away at Corey Kluber and a bevy of Tribe relievers. Befor you knew it, Texas had tied things at eight. The Wahoos entered the 11th inning with eight runs on 15 hits and still hadn’t sealed the deal.
Rangers reliever Jason Frasor was on to pitch his third inning, something that he does not normally do. Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana started things with back to back singles which brought one of the Goon Sqauders, Ryan Raburn, to the plate. When Raburn was hot in 2013, he sizzled. Earlier in the season, he had a sickening 12-14 stretch with four homers. In a season of big moments, this one was his. He took a Frasor pitch deep over the 19 foot wall in left on onto the home run porch which gave the Indians a 11-8 win. Just another hom, hum, friday night at Progressive Field.
6. April 12 vs. Chicago – Welcome to Cleveland, Nick Swisher
Everyone loves Nick Swisher. Coming up with the adjectives to describe him can run the gamut. But to a man, his teammates love having him in the clubhouse. He is a quote machine who always has a smile on his face. His signing was the first on the field step that showed Tribe fans that things were going to be different around here. But during his first few weeks in Cleveland, he struggled. However, he provided a memorable moment on a ice cold Friday night in April.
Of course, it was a Friday night.
Justin Masterson pitched a complete game, five-hit shutout and looked as though it would be all for naught. Chicago’s Jose Quintana was even better, giving up just one hit in seven. Matt Thornton added a scoreless eighth and as the temperatures dropped, it was only going to take one mistake to end this one. Jesse Crain was on the mound for the White Sox. With one out, Bourn doubled. The Tribe now had two chances to end this one. Cabrera grounded out to second, which moved Bourn to third. With first base open, Crain intentionally walked Kipnis to set up the force. It was all on Swisher. He sat on Crain’s out pitch – his fastball – and lined a walkoff RBI single to right. It set off a wild celebration which Swisher enjoyed every single second of.
5. September 19 vs. Houston – Matt Carson Mania starts Tribe streak with walkoff single in 11th
The thing about this particular Indians team, it was a true team effort. One through 25, everyone contributed. During the month of September, the roster was expanded and even more players had chances to make their mark. Perhaps no bit player came through late in the season in bigger spots than Matt Carson.
I called it Matt Carson mania. He is a 32-year old 4A special who was called up to be a defensive replacement/pinch hitter type. He only had 11 at-bats as an Indian, yet seemingly every one of them had meaning. None was bigger than the one he had on this night.
There were two weeks left in the season and the Indians soft schedule was in full swing. Every game was crucial. The sad sack Astros were in town and the Wahoos spent the night leaving runners on base. Ubaldo was terrific again, striking out nine without walking anyone in six innings. But again, we would end up in extra innings.
With one out in the 11th, Yan Gomes and Asdrubal Cabrera both singled. Cabrera’s was of the infield variety. After a Michael Brantley line out, Mike Aviles walked to load the bases. Houston’s Rhiner Cruz had no margin for error. In the ninth inning, Jason Giambi had already been used to pinch hit for Drew Stubbs. With Ryan Raburn still still ailing, Carson’s spot came back around.
The journeyman seized the moment and slapped a Cruz pitch the other way form a game-winning single that started the season finishing 10-game winning streak. The entire team swarmed Carson as he rounded the bag.
“It’s the greatest feeling,” he said. “I have done it plenty of times with other guys. To be the guy getting mobbed, it feels good. This is the pinnacle of my career to this point.”
4. July 31 vs. Chicago – Carlos Santana’s solo bomb sends Indians to seventh straight
It was trade deadline day and the Tribe did not add a significant, needle moving acquisition. There were still two key months of baseball left to go, but the Indians were playing some of their finest baseball at the time. They entered the night of a six-game winning streak. Corey Kluber had pitched another gem, coming out for the ninth inning with the score tied at three. He retired the first two White Sox that he faced, but a single by Connor Gillaspie chased him to a standing ovation. On came Cody Allen who gave up a walk and a single to load the bases. He threw more gas on the fire when Jeff Keppinger singled in two. The streak looked dead. I mean, Keppinger entered the at-bat in a 3-31 slump after all.
However, this resilient bunch had one last chance. Closer Addison Reed wasted no time loading the bases with nobody out. Sac flies from Bourn and Kipnis would force extra innings. After Chris Perez came out of the 10th unscathed, Carlos Santana led off the home half against Dylan Axelrod. He jumped ahead in the count 3-1 and looked at a pitch that seemed out of the zone for ball four. Santana even started the move towards first, thinking he walked. Instead, the pitch was called a strike. That turned out to be a good thing. Carlos would take the payoff pitch deep to right for another Tribe walkoff win.
“I love that situation,” said Santana. “All the time I was looking for a fastball and I made contact.” The win moved the Tribe to 59-48, two and a half games back of Detroit in the AL Central. People really began to believe.
3. July 29th vs. Chicago – Jason Giambi’s pinch hit blast
I was lucky enough to be in attendance with my three year old daughter on this night. And yes, we stayed until the end. For some reason, the Tribe just couldn’t get to left-hander John Danks, whom they have owned over the past three seasons. They had just three hits entering the ninth inning with the score tied at two apiece. Right-hander Ramon Troncoso came back out for a second inning. With the slumping Reynolds due up, manager fired the one remaining big bullet in his gun – 42 year old Jason Giambi. Tito wanted this game to end with one swing. Giambi was looking fastball all the way. He got it.
As he trotted around the bases in what had to be one of the most vindicating and fun moments of his long Major League Career, Giambi’s teammates waited for him at home plate like a group of giddy fraternity brothers. You could see the joy in their faces from a mile away. It was tough to tell who the moment meant more to – the players awaiting his arrival or Giambi himself.
“Big G means so much to the ballclub, on and off the field,” Swisher said. “That’s why, when he does what he just did, the party’s off the charts.”
With that swing, he become the oldest player in Major League history to supply a walkoff homer. Little did we know it wouldn’t be his last.
2. May 20 vs. Seattle – The Legend of Yan Gomes is born
Here was another game I was lucky enough to witness live. I love the mid-week afternoon specials. In a series full of crazy moments, this one took the prize. The Indians had taken the first three games of this four-game set, two of them in walkoff fashion. They were poised for the sweep with the Mariners looking defeated before even setting foot on the field.
In the eighth inning, set up man Vinnie Pestano gave up a game tying homer to Kyle Seager. An inning later, Perez came on and started the frame by being taken deep by the one guy who never actually does, slap hitter Endy Chavez. Boos came down from the depths of Progressive Field, but the game was still three outs away from being over.
Former Tribe skipper Eric Wedge called on his closer Tom Wilhelmsen to salvage the final game of the series. With two on and two out, the game appeared to be over when Carlos Santana rolled one over to Justin Smoak at first. He flipped the ball to Wilhelmsen at the bag, but he inexplicably dropped the ball, allowing the tying run to score. The Indians once again had life. It was short lived exuberance.
Joe Smith came on for the 10th to try and calm the rough waters. Instead, he too was touched up for a solo homer, this time from Smoak. So to recap, the Mariners hit solo homers with the score tied in the eighth, ninth, and 10th against the Tribe’s top three late inning relievers at the time.
The majority of the fans who stayed until the end couldn’t believe what they were seeing, me included. But again, they had one more chance. Lefty Charlie Furbush came on to get the final three outs. Michael Brantley, the most clutch Indian of them all this past season, came up with a big leadoff single and was sacrificed over to second on a bunt from Drew Stubbs. The man coming to the plate next was Yan Gomes.
At the time, Gomeswas the backup catcher and had yet to become a household name in Cleveland. All of that was about to change. He had homered earlier in the game. In this at-bat, the legend of The Yanimal was born. He took a Furbush hanger deep over the left field wall to give the Indians perhaps their most improbable comeback win of the season. This game was the spring board for what would become Gomes’s breakout campaign.
1. September 24 vs. Chicago – Giambi delivers a moment for the aged…and the ages
“Mardi Gras in September in Cleveland.”
You can easily argue that this was the most memorable Tribe moment since the turn of the century. It was the final week of the regular season. The Indians were locked in a three-team race for the two wild card spots. Every single game seemed like life or death. One loss could derail them. There would be no margin for error.
Lets set the scene. The Tribe trailed the White Sox 2-1 in the seventh. Sox manager Robin Ventura went to lefty Hector Santiago to face Michael Brantley. Boom. Dr. Smooth did it again, crushing a game-tying solo blast to right to open the inning. With two out and a man on second, Jason Kipnis took his turn playing superman, coming through with a monster RBI single putting the Wahoos on top 3-2. Joe Smith came on to pitch a 1-2-3 eighth. The Indians were thee outs away from a dramatic come from behind win.
Then Chris Perez happened.
In what would turn out to be his final appearance as an Indian in Cleveland, Perez imploded at the worst possible time, giving up two solo homers to Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza, blowing a Tribe lead. When Francona came out of the dugout to lift him, I have never, in my 37 years on this planet, heard a player get booed as loudly in their home stadium as Perez did in that moment.
This had all the making of a Cleveland-esque season killing loss. Ah….but this team refused to quit all year long and had their last licks remaining. Once again, it was Addison Reed who toed the rubber for the Sox. With one out, that man again, Brantley, came through with a single, bringing the winning run to the plate. Mike Aviles had the first crack, but struck out. The Indians were down to their last out and once again, Francona turned to the old grey-beard, Jason Giambi. What happened next was the stuff of legend.
It has been said time and time again that he is the most beloved player in the clubhouse. Just watch the video again and check out the reaction shots from his teammates. You can see it in their eyes. They couldn’t be more happy for the man they call “Big G.”
Said Nick Swisher: “I almost started crying when he hit that ball.”
“I think I have a man crush on ‘G,’” Francona said. “That was pretty awesome. Boy, did he hit that ball. Wow!”
So how did Giambi feel?
“This is the stuff you dream about,” said Giambi, 42. “Coming down the stretch, trying to get a playoff berth. It doesn’t get any bigger. It really doesn’t. I’m speechless……I ran into it. . .I hit it. There’s nothing more special. That’s what keeps you coming back every year.”
As I said before, losing this game would have been completely devastating, knowing they were three outs away from the win. But as they showed time and time again, the Indians just don’t die.
It was easily the most memorable moment in a season full of them. Without each and every one of the 11 walk off winners, the Indians don’t make the playoffs. Amazing and true.