The night of nothing but homers

Dramatis personae

House of Cleveland

Joe Carter, center fielder, 1981 first-round pick of the Chicago Cubs
Pete O’Brien, first baseman, received in trade with Texas for Julio Franco
Cory Snyder, right fielder, 1984 first-round pick
Andy Allanson, catcher, 1983 second-round pick
Greg Swindell, pitcher, 1986 first-round pick

House of Arlington

Sammy Sosa, left fielder
Rafael Palmeiro, first baseman, 1985 first-round pick of the Chicago Cubs, received December 1988 as gift from House of Wrigley
Ruben Sierra, right fielder
Julio Franco, second baseman, received in trade with Cleveland for Pete O’Brien
Jeff Kunkel, shortstop, 1983 first-round pick
Charlie Hough, pitcher, knuckleball specialist

Minor characters

Felix Fermin, Cleveland shortstop later traded to Seattle for Omar Vizquel
Rick Leach, Texas outfielder, former University of Michigan quarterback
Chad Kreuter, Texas catcher, current USC baseball head coach
Kenny Rogers, Texas reliever, current Detroit Tigers starting pitcher
Dave Clark, Cleveland outfielder
Mark Salas, Cleveland catcher
Mike Stanley, Texas designated hitter
Brook Jacoby, Cleveland third baseman
Bobby Valentine, Texas manager
Doc Edwards, Cleveland manager
Doug Jones, Cleveland reliever

Setting

House of Arlington, June 24, 1989; the House of Cleveland has come to town to play a game of baseball against the home team.

Act I

The Saturday evening air at House of Arlington is warm and dry. Veteran right-hander Charlie Hough strides to the mound to do battle against the Cleveland Indians. This represents the 72nd game for each side. The Indians, as has been the case for most of the decade, are struggling. They haven’t finished higher than fourth place in the American League’s Eastern Division since 1968, when Tony Horton and Luis Tiant led them to 86 victories. Coming into Saturday’s game, Cleveland is 33-38, tied for fifth place in the division, 8 1/2 games back of the Baltimore Orioles.

Texas is 40-31, good for fourth place in the Western Division, but only 3 games back of the front-running Oakland Athletics. The Rangers have had a couple of down years, but aren’t too far removed from a strong 1986 campaign that saw them finish second to the California Angels. The current bunch features some promising young talent, including first baseman Rafael Palmeiro; outfielders Sammy Sosa, Ruben Sierra and Juan Gonzalez; third baseman Dean Palmer; right-hander Bobby Witt; and left-hander Kenny Rogers.

On this night, 41-year-old knuckleballer Charlie Hough takes the mound for Texas. He strikes out the side on 17 pitches in the first inning, including Cleveland’s Joe Carter on three straight to end the frame; it is the only time Carter will fail to make contact. Hough’s counterpart, 24-year-old left-hander Greg Swindell, likewise retires the side in order.

After a second uneventful inning from Hough, the home team draws first blood in the bottom half. Sierra hammers the second pitch he sees from Swindell into the left-center field seats, giving Texas a 1-0 lead.

The third inning unfolds in a fashion similar to the first. That is to say, nothing much happens, certainly nothing to hint at what follows.

Act II

The sparks begin to fly in the fourth. Dave Clark grounds to second to start the inning. Hough has retired 10 of the first 11 batters he’s faced, five by strikeout. The only batter to reach base for Cleveland is catcher Mark Salas, who walked back in the second.

After Clark’s groundout, Carter steps to the plate and homers to left field. Two pitches later, first baseman Pete O’Brien follows with a home run to right. The Indians now lead, 2-1.

The Rangers tie it in the bottom half, although they waste a golden opportunity to do much more damage. Sosa pushes a bunt up the first base line for a single to start the inning. After he is caught stealing, Palmeiro lines to center for the second out. Sierra then singles, and Julio Franco follows with an RBI double (of the 10 runs that will score tonight, this is the only one that doesn’t result from a home run). Swindell walks the next two batters before fanning Mike Stanley to quell the threat.

Hough, meanwhile, is back to his old tricks in the fifth. He retires the side in order on nine pitches.

The Rangers give him the lead in the bottom half. Shortstop Jeff Kunkel, a once highly touted prospect who is still trying to get his career started at age 27, starts the inning with a homer to left. With one out, Sosa and Palmeiro (that’s 1178 career home runs, if you’re keeping score at home) each single, but Swindell retires Sierra and Franco to escape further damage. Texas has stranded a total five baserunners over the past two innings.

Hough gets two quick outs to start the sixth. Carter then slams his second homer of the night to tie the game, 3-3. O’Brien strikes out swinging to end the inning.

Swindell, for his part, breezes through the Rangers’ 6-7-8 hitters in the bottom half. Two-thirds of the way through, the contest remains deadlocked.

Act III

The seventh begins much as the sixth did, with two quick outs for Hough. He then walks the #7 hitter, Brook Jacoby, on four pitches, bringing up catcher Andy Allanson. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, as Jacoby is less than two years removed from a 32-homer campaign, while Allanson—who looks like a slugger—comes from the Manny Alexander/John McDonald school of hitting.

Unfortunately for Hough and the Rangers, Allanson forgets that he’s no hitter and proceeds to swat the second pitch he sees into the left field seats. The Indians have reclaimed the lead, 5-3.

Texas has no answer in the bottom half. Sosa singles with two out but is left there when Palmeiro flies to right.

In the eighth—and you’ll forgive me if I repeat myself; it’s only because the story dictates that I do so—Hough retires the first two batters before serving up a homer to Carter, his third of the night. At this point manager Bobby Valentine pulls Hough, who finishes with as good a line as anyone who gives up five home runs can: 7.2 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 5 HR, 2 BB, 9 SO. (Hough also has thrown 139 pitches, although presumably one doesn’t concern oneself so much with the pitch count of a 41-year-old knuckleballer.)

Valentine summons one of his most reliable relievers, southpaw Kenny Rogers. The rookie throws one pitch to O’Brien, who grounds to second for the final out.

In the bottom half, Texas again squanders an excellent opportunity. Sierra leads off with a triple to right-center. Cleveland skipper Doc Edwards brings Doug Jones in, and Jones sandwiches two grounders around a strikeout to preserve the 6-3 lead.

Cory Snyder begins the top of the ninth with a bang, homering to right on the first pitch he sees from Rogers. The side is then retired in order, bringing up the Rangers for one last gasp. Again, the home team puts two runners on base, but Palmeiro ground to second to end the game.

Cleveland has won, 7-3, despite collecting only six hits—all home runs. A total of eight balls leave the yard on this night, leading to nine of the ten runs.

Postscript

  • The Indians finish the season 73-89, good for sixth place in the AL East, 16 games back of Toronto. On September 12, Edwards is replaced as skipper by John Hart.
  • Texas finishes 83-79, good for fourth place in the AL West, 16 games back of Oakland.
  • Less than a month after launching three home runs against Texas, Carter does it again in a game at Minnesota. He finishes the season with a career-high 35 homers, which garners him some MVP support despite a .292 OBP. His career concludes in 1998, with 396 home runs (plus six more in the post-season—the most memorable of which comes off one of the men traded for Palmeiro back in ’88).
  • O’Brien concludes his first (and only) season in Cleveland with a .260/.356/.372 line, the worst he’s done since his rookie campaign in 1983. For the 31-year-old out of the University of Nebraska, it is the last time he will provide above-average production in the big leagues, although his career will last another four years. He has 169 homers to his credit when he retires in 1993.
  • Snyder finishes at .215/.251/.360, with 18 homers. He retires in 1994 with 149 homers, only 34 of them come after his 27th birthday.
    Allanson hits .232/.289/.294 on the season, with three home runs. He retires in 1995 with a whopping 16 homers.
  • Sierra hits .306/.347/.543 and finishes second in MVP voting. At age 23, and with 98 homers already to his name, he appears to be on a Hall of Fame track. He retires in 2006 with 306 home runs.
  • Sosa is traded to the White Sox a month later for Harold Baines, as the Rangers try to make push for the AL West title. The 20-year-old Sosa hits .257/.303/.366. He retires in 2007 with 609 homers, behind only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays.
  • Palmeiro hits .275/.354/.374 in his first American League season. He retires in 2005 with 569 homers, good for 10th all-time in big-league history.
  • Hough finishes the season 10-13 and continues to be an effective member of a big-league rotation until age 45. He retires in 1994 with a career record of 216-216, with 61 saves thrown in for good measure.
  • Rogers posts a 2.93 ERA in 73 appearances for Texas. He works almost exclusively out of the bullpen for three more seasons before transitioning to a starting role in 1993, at age 27. Now with Detroit, Rogers owns a career record of 219-155, with 28 saves.
  • Swindell goes 13-6 on the season. He enjoys a couple more years of success in the rotation before faltering and eventually reinventing himself as a reliever in the mid-’90s. He retires in 2002, finishing his career with a 123-122 record and 7 saves.
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