All or nothing in overtime: Part 2, the unbreakable Indians

In the movie Unbreakable, Samuel L. Jackson plays a character whose bones break easily. Bruce Willis plays his opposite, a character who not only is the only survivor in a train wreck but who walks away from the accident unscathed.

Our previous installment examined the extra-innings equivalent to Jackson’s character, the 1969 Montreal Expos. This time around, we’ll take a closer look at Willis’ analogue, the 1995 Cleveland Indians. Thanks to the handy situational records tool at Baseball-Reference, we know that they are the only team since at least 1901 to go undefeated in extra innings, finishing with a remarkable 13-0 record.

The ’95 Indians won the AL Central with a 100-44 record in a strike-shortened season. They then beat the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox in the playoffs before falling to the Atlanta Braves in six games in the World Series.

The offense featured veterans Albert Belle (.317/.401/.690, 50 HR) and Kenny Lofton (.310/.362/.453, 54 SB), as well as youngsters Manny Ramirez (.308/.402/.558) and Jim Thome (.314/.438/.558). Even 39-year-old Eddie Murray (.323/.375/.516) contributed from the DH spot. This team had so much firepower that Ramirez laid down two sacrifice bunts—the only two of his career.

On the pitching side, 40-year-old Dennis Martinez (12-5, 3.08 ERA) and 36-year-old Orel Hershiser (16-6, 3.87 ERA) led the charge. The bullpen revolved around Jose Mesa (1.12 ERA, 46 SV), with Julian Tavarez, Eric Plunk, and Paul Assenmacher providing support.

The Indians were, as the record would indicate, a fine ball club in any circumstances. In extra innings, they were unstoppable. As with the ’69 Expos, this led to a discrepancy between Cleveland’s actual and expected performance; the Indians finished seven games ahead of their Pythagorean record.

The games

April 30, at Texas: 7-6 in 12 innings

Thanks to the labor stoppage, this was the first game of the year for both teams. The score was tied, 5-5, after five innings. Starters Charles Nagy and Rick Helling both got knocked out early, but then the bullpens took control, with neither side yielding until the 12th.

That inning, Matt Whiteside—who entered in the 10th and retired his first five batters—gave up back-to-back singles to Belle and Murray to start the frame. A ground ball off the bat of Thome plated Belle. After Ramirez was intentionally walked, Alvaro Espinoza singled up the middle to drive home Murray. The Indians now led, 7-5.

In the bottom of the 12th, Mesa started his second inning of work. After leaving the bases loaded the previous inning, he served up a leadoff homer to Dean Palmer to cut Cleveland’s lead to one run. Mark McLemore followed with a single, but Mesa retired the next three batters to preserve the win despite giving what would prove to be one of his least effective performances of the season.

May 7, vs Minnesota: 10-9 in 17 innings

This game featured 44 hits, 14 walks, and 39 men left on base. Four players—the Twins’ Marty Cordova and the Indians’ Lofton, Belle, and Murray—notched four hits.

Cleveland led, 6-2, after three innings. They were up, 8-3, after six. Minnesota scored five in the seventh, and the two teams traded single runs in the eighth. Then they exchanged zeroes for the next eight innings. Both teams had chances. The Twins left runners at second and third in the 10th. The Indians left the bases loaded in the 13th.

The best opportunity came in the 16th, when Minnesota had runners at second and third with nobody out. Pat Meares grounded to second, with Scott Leius being thrown out at home. Chuck Knoblauch then rapped into a 5-4-3 double play to end the threat.

The next inning, the Indians finally pushed across the winning run. Ramirez led off with a single. With one out, he swiped second and then advanced to third on an infield single by reserve catcher Jesse Levis (.255/.336/.307 hitter lifetime). Lofton followed with a ground ball up the middle that plated Ramirez and gave Cleveland the victory.

May 10, vs Kansas City: 3-2 in 10 innings

The Royals took a 2-1 lead into the ninth, but closer Jeff Montgomery couldn’t slam the door. Cleveland tied the score and had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Montgomery got Omar Vizquel to ground out with runners at second and third to force extra innings.

After Kansas City went quietly in the 10th, Rusty Meacham came on to face the home team. Carlos Baerga led off with a double to right. After Belle lined out, Murray was intentionally walked, bringing up Ramirez (yes, there was a time when teams pitched around someone else to get to Manny), who singled home Baerga to win the game.

June 7, vs Detroit: 3-2 in 10 innings

The Indians scored two early runs against David Wells, and Nagy made it hold until the eighth. That inning, Nagy coughed up a two-out, two-run homer to Lou Whitaker.

Cleveland almost won it in the ninth. With the bases loaded and one out, though, Dave Winfield grounded into an unusual 5-2-4 double play to kill the rally.

After Plunk set down the Tigers in order in the 10th, Brian Maxcy replaced Wells. The first batter Maxcy faced, Thome, knocked his 10th home run of the season (and 40th of his career) to send the hometown fans home happy.

June 19, vs Boston: 4-3 in 10 innings

The Red Sox took an early 3-0 lead. The big blow was a two-run homer by John Valentin off Dennis Martinez.

Cleveland clawed back, with single runs in the third, fourth, and fifth innings. The latter two came on solo shots by Thome and Belle, respectively.

The score remained tied, 3-3, until the 10th. In the top half, Valentin led off with a single to right. Mo Vaughn followed with another that advanced Valentin to third, but Paul Assenmacher and Plunk combined to retire the next three batters in order without allowing the lead run to score.

In the bottom half, with Ken Ryan starting his second inning of work, Ramirez homered to right-center. As in their last extra-innings contest, the Indians won on home run to lead off the 10th.

July 16, vs Oakland: 5-4 in 12 innings

The A’s drew first blood, scoring three in the first on homers off the bat of Geronimo Berroa and Rickey Henderson. Cleveland came back with a run in the second and two more in the seventh (courtesy of a Belle home run). In the eighth, Jim Poole and Tavarez walked the bases loaded with one out, but Oakland couldn’t score.

The game remained knotted until the 12th, when the A’s got to Embree. Henderson doubled to right, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a sacrifice fly.

Dennis Eckersley came on to seal the deal, but the Indians weren’t done yet. Baerga led off with a single. After Belle and Thome popped out, Lofton—running for Baerga—swiped second with Ramirez at the plate. Turns out Lofton was already in scoring position, as Ramirez promptly launched a two-run homer to win it for Cleveland. The Indians had taken their sixth straight extra-innings game and their third straight via walkoff homer.

July 24, at California: 9-7 in 10 innings

At one point, the Indians led this one, 6-1. The big blow was a three-run home run by Sandy Alomar Jr. in the fourth that knocked Angels starter Russ Springer out of the contest. The Angels clawed back and eventually tied it in the seventh, when Jim Edmonds pounded a two-run homer off Tavarez.

In the 10th, Lee Smith came on for the Angels and the Cleveland offense got back to work. Thome and Ramirez led off with back-to-back doubles to take the lead. Paul Sorrento then singled home Ramirez to add an insurance run.

Mesa nailed down the save, but the Angels put up a fight. With two out, they put runners at the corners before Gary DiSarcina grounded out to end the contest.

August 11, at Yankees: 5-4 in 11 innings

Nursing a 1-0 lead, Hershiser coughed up a grand slam to Ruben Sierra in the sixth. The Indians scratched back with two in the eighth courtesy of three doubles and a single off starter Andy Pettitte and reliever Bob Wickman. They added another in the ninth off Yankees closer John Wetteland, who walked two and then gave up a single to Baerga.

New York loaded the bases in the bottom half against Plunk, but southpaw Poole came on to retire Paul O’Neill and force extra innings. The Yankees put two more runners on in the 10th, but Poole and Tavarez escaped without damage.

In the 11th, with Wetteland still on the mound, Espinoza led off with a single. Alomar sacrificed the runner to second, bringing up Lofton. New York skipper Buck Showalter summoned left-hander Steve Howe from the bullpen, but the move didn’t work. Lofton doubled down the right-field line, plating Espinoza and giving the Indians the lead. Mesa then retired the Yankees in order to preserve the victory.

August 25, vs Detroit: 6-5 in 11 innings

The Indians, largely on the strength of two Belle homers, led, 3-1, after six innings. Both teams added a couple runs in the seventh, and the Tigers scored one each in the eighth and ninth, on solo homers by Travis Fryman and Chad Curtis, respectively. The latter came off the usually untouchable Mesa with two out.

Neither team mounted a threat until the 11th. Then, with one out, Felipe Lira served up a homer to Alomar down the left-field line to end the game.

August 30, vs Toronto: 4-3 in 14 innings

Another day, another walkoff homer. This game was tied, 2-2, after nine. Both teams squandered numerous opportunities.

The Blue Jays loaded the bases with one out in the second and couldn’t score. When they broke through the next inning, they missed out on a second run when Belle nailed Paul Molitor trying to score on a fly ball off the bat of John Olerud to end the inning. In fact, Toronto got a runner to third base in six of nine innings and couldn’t convert any of those.

The Indians had fewer chances, their best coming when they left the bases loaded in the fourth. (They would later do the same in the 13th.)

In the 14th, Toronto finally broke through. With Assenmacher now on the mound, Roberto Alomar doubled and Joe Carter singled. After Carter took second on defensive indifference, Olerud struck out swinging. Ed Sprague was intentionally walked, bringing up Mike Huff, who flied to center, driving home Alomar. Assenmacher then retired Lance Parrish (yes, he really played for the Blue Jays) to end the frame.

In the bottom half, Lofton led off with a double to left against Tony Castillo. After Vizquel laid down a sacrifice bunt, Baerga flied to left, plating Lofton. Belle then stepped to the plate and smoked a 2-1 pitch over the fence in left-center to give the Indians their 10th straight extra-innings victory.

August 31, vs Toronto: 6-4 in 10 innings

Don’t pitch to Belle with the game on the line. For the second straight day, the Blue Jays did and it cost them.

Toronto took a 3-2 lead into the ninth, but Danny Cox gave up a single and a double to start the frame. After Herbert Perry struck out, Cito Gaston called on Castillo to turn the switch-hitting Baerga around (curious given that Baerga hit .307/.340/.434 from the left side that year and .333/.392/.500 from the right side). Baerga filed to center, driving home the tying run.

After Mesa retired the side in order in the 10th, Jimmy Rogers took the mound for the Blue Jays. He retired Vizquel and then walked Thome, bringing up Belle, who pounded his 33rd homer of the season for the win.

September 3, at Detroit: 9-8 in 10 innings

That Mesa managed to “earn” the win in this one boggles the imagination. With the Indians holding a comfortable 8-4 lead and Tavarez on the mound, Detroit’s Tony Clark led off the ninth with a single. After Bobby Higginson grounded out, Phil Nevin and Milt Cuyler drew walks to load the bases.

Exit Tavarez, enter Mesa to face reserve catcher Ron Tingley. To say that Tingley wasn’t much of a hitter (.195/.270/.307 career line in 641 PA) would be to understate the matter, but on this day he turned on an 0-1 pitch from Mesa for a game-tying grand slam. (This would be the final of Tingley’s 18 big-league home runs.) The Tigers then reloaded the bases against Mesa before Cecil Fielder grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Cleveland pushed ahead in the 10th when Vizquel singled to left off Joe Boever, plating Wayne Kirby, who was running for Ramirez. In the bottom half, Mesa gave up leadoff singles to Clark and Higginson before fanning Nevin and getting Juan Samuel to rap into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game. Mesa’s final line: 1.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 HR (GS), 1 BB, 1 SO.

September 30, vs Kansas City: 3-2 in 10 innings

Here’s the thing about baseball: sometimes Tom Goodwin hits a home run. Not often, mind you, but it happens. His victim in the sixth inning of this game was Mark Clark, who otherwise pitched a fine game.

Goodwin’s homer gave the Royals a brief 2-0 lead. The Indians scored two of their own in the bottom of the sixth, with the second coming on Belle’s 50th home run of the season.

The score remained 2-2 until the bottom of the 10th. With Royals closer Montgomery starting his second inning of work, Levis led off with a double. After Lofton was issued an intentional pass, Vizquel bunted the runners to second and third. Baerga followed with an infield single that brought home Jeromy Burnitz (running for Levis), giving the Indians the win and capping off their improbable 13-0 run through the extra innings in ’95.

Concluding thoughts

The Indians outscored their opponents, 18-3, in extra innings. Cleveland hitters posted a a ridiculous .343/.416/.606 line, while limiting the opposition to .257/.316/.314. Everybody mashed, with Ramirez getting the most opportunities and doing the most damage (.583/.688/1.250).

A total of six pitchers worked extra innings in those 13 games. Poole (.143/.200/.143) was toughest to hit, while Assenmacher (.375/.400/.500) was easiest. Mesa appeared in eight of the games and faced more batters the next two guys combined, but wasn’t especially effective (.310/.356/.405).

Will a team ever win all their extra-inning games again? Hey, anything is possible. But for now, the ’95 Indians are alone. They were truly unbreakable.

References & Resources
Chris Jaffe for the inspiration, Baseball-Reference for the numbers.

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