1995 Indians Remember a Magical Season, 20 Years Later

The history of the Cleveland Indians from the late 1950s to the early 1990s is one of many, many, many losses. But after forty years without so much as a playoff berth, an unforgettable cast of characters banded together and led the Indians to ultimate dream – the 1995 World Series.

On June 19, many members of that great team returned to Progressive Field, the site of countless wins in the late innings, to be honored by the franchise that they helped revive after 41 years of perennial losing.

The story of the 1995 Indians began several years earlier. From 1990-93, the Indians lost an average of 91 games per year, but gradually built up their farm system into one of baseball’s best. They also brought up from the minors homegrown players who would become key contributors, such as third baseman Jim Thome and outfielder Albert Belle.

“That was one of the things that made [1995] for us so special, because many of us were on those teams in the early 90s that lost a lot of games,” said Charles Nagy, the Indians’ No. 1 starter for most of the 1990s and a three-time all-star. “We could feel it internally, we knew we were getting better, we knew it was just a matter of time.”

cleveland indians 1995 anniversary

Meanwhile, work had begun on a shiny new ballpark that the Indians would call home. The construction of Jacobs Field was underway, and it would be ready in time for the start of the 1994 season. Dennis Martinez started the first game at “the Jake.” “It was exciting to be involved in the opening of this beautiful ballpark,” he said. The Indians won that game in 11 innings, using a formula they would use over and over in 1995: timely hitting and good pitching.

And that beautiful ballpark would play a major role in the Indians success in the ’95 season. “We got the new stadium, and everything sort of jelled… it was fun,” said the great Kenny Lofton, who is one of baseball’s all-time great base stealers and swiped 54 bags in 1995. “It was unbelievable… the park was full every night,” added Alvaro Espinoza, a utility man on the team.

Jacobs Field would eventually be the site of many walk-off wins from 1995 onward. That year alone held too many clutch victories to count, but two of the greatest came on June 4, when the Indians came back from an 8-0 deficit to beat the Blue Jays on a walk-off homer by first baseman Paul Sorrento, and July 18, when Belle belted a walk-off grand slam to beat the Angels.

New heroes emerged every night, including the bench players, such as Herbert Perry, who hit two home runs in a key midseason victory over the Yankees. “I didn’t have many days like that,” Perry admitted. “I was nervous – the Yankees were in town, they were leading the East, we were leading the Central. [After my first homer] I ran around those bases so fast, I didn’t even touch the ground. It was awesome.”

And that awesomeness was just beginning. The Indians, after a 100-44 season, marched into the playoffs where they clashed with the Red Sox. In Game 1 – the first playoff game in Cleveland since 1954 – the Indians claimed victory with a walk-off home run by backup catcher Tony Pena in the 13th inning. The Indians then rode the momentum from that triumph to an eventual sweep.

But the high tide of the season came in the ALCS, where the Indians beat Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and the Seattle Mariners to secure a trip to the World Series. To do that, the Indians had to win both at home and at the deafening Kingdome.

The most iconic moment of that series – and one of the most iconic in the history of Cleveland sports – came in the eighth inning of Game 6. In that inning, the Indians had runners on second and third. The ball then got away from the Mariners catcher. The runner on third scored, and Kenny Lofton, starting from second, flew around third and tallied his own run to give the Indians a 3-0 lead.

cleveland indians 1995 anniversary

“I’m always being very aggressive,” Lofton said of his famed mad dash. “When you’re aggressive, little stuff like that, you see [it] in front of you, you just react.”

“We didn’t hit like we did in the Boston series, but we played the game right,” Thome said of the ALCS in general. “[We had] Kenny scoring from second base, we got great defense, we got good pitching. That’s what helped us get into the World Series.”

Cleveland would run out of gas in the World Series, falling to the Braves 4 games to 2. But the Indians and the city of Cleveland had set a course for success, as Cleveland would claim five of the next six AL Central flags, including another pennant in 1997. It also had a lasting effect on the city of Cleveland.

“The city rejuvenated, and they showed their support. It was just a very cool, special time,” said Thome.

Photos: Al Behrman/AP (stadium), Mark Duncan/AP (fans)

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