Monday, June 20, 2011

1997 ALDS: Another comeback thwarted

The matchup seemed a little bit too good for a first-round meeting. The New York Yankees, defending World Series champions, against the Cleveland Indians, American League champions two seasons ago. This was a series that really should have been for the American League championship. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.

The Indians appeared to be in control in Game 1, scoring five first-inning runs, but the Yankees started chipping away. Finally, they got tired of chipping away and scored five sixth-inning runs to claim an 8-6 victory.

In Game 2, it was the Yankees' turn to score big in the first, putting up three runs in the first frame. Then, it was Cleveland's turn to come from behind, and they did to take Game 2 7-5 and take a tied series back home to Cleveland.

After a fairly easy win in Game 3, the Yankees were six outs away from a series victory in Game 4 when they brought in Mariano Rivera. Though not yet viewed as untouchable as he would be in later years, Rivera was still considered a valuable and clutch closer. Cleveland didn't care, though, as Sandy Alomar tied the game with a home run in the eighth. The postseason blown save would the last for Rivera until the 2001 World Series. Cleveland then won in the ninth as Marquis Grissom scored from second on an infield single.

The Game
Having already survived elimination with the great Rivera on the mound, Cleveland went into Game 5 with nothing to lose. They had been to the World Series just two seasons before, so nerves wouldn't be a problem, and they were in the familiar confines of Jacobs Field.

So really, it shouldn't have been a surprise when Manny Ramirez's two-out laser beam in the third inning turned into a two-run ground-rule double for the first runs of the game. Cleveland eventually made the lead 4-0 entering the top of the fifth.

This was a series of comebacks, though, so the defending champion Yankees started making a comeback of their own. A two-out fifth-inning single by Bernie Williams made the score 4-1; an error by Ramirez on the play brought home a second run. One inning later, Wade Boggs singled to center to cut Cleveland's lead to 4-3 and knock starter Jaret Wright out of the game.

Cleveland still had the lead, but with the game heading to their bullpen, there had to be some apprehension. In the Indians' case, they had three good relievers and a handful of dreadful ones. If they could coax 11 outs out of the three good relievers, they'd be golden.

So in came first Mike Jackson, then Paul Assenmacher, then Jose Mesa to try to hold off the Yankees. And they did so in rather impressive fashion. Jackson and Assenmacher combined for six outs, giving up only one baserunner between them, before closer Mesa came in for the last five outs. After a hiccup in the eighth left the Yankees with runners on the corners and two outs, Mesa got Jorge Posada to weakly ground out, then got Bernie Williams to fly out to end the game with the tying run on second base.

Awaiting the Indians after the ALDS were the Baltimore Orioles. Though the Orioles had the best record in the American League that year and dispatched the Mariners rather easily in the ALDS, many people still thought the Cleveland-New York series was the true ALCS. In reality, it took six tight games for Cleveland to beat Baltimore and advance to the World Series.

Once there, Cleveland and Florida played six rather boring, barely remembered games before meeting in Game 7. The Indians took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning and were two outs from a championship before Mesa gave up a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Two innings later, the Marlins were celebrating a World Championship, while Cleveland was left with a now- 49-year World Championship drought.

The Rundown

15. Cleveland 4, N.Y. Yankees (1997 ALDS)
16. L.A. Angels 5, N.Y. Yankees 3 (2005 ALDS)
17. Texas 5, Tampa Bay 1 (2010 ALDS)
18. San Francisco 3, Atlanta 1 (2002 NLDS)
19. N.Y. Yankees 5, Oakland 3 (2001 ALDS)
20. Seattle 3, Cleveland 1 (2001 ALDS)
21. Chicago 5, San Francisco 3 (1998 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
22. N.Y. Yankees 7, Oakland 5 (2000 ALDS)
23. Los Angeles 4, Houston 0 (1981 NL West Division Series)
24. Montreal 3, Philadelphia 0 (1981 NL East Division Series)
25. N.Y. Yankees 7, Milwaukee 3 (1981 AL East Division Series)
26. Seattle 9, California 1 (1995 AL West tiebreaker)
27. Chicago 5, Atlanta 1 (2003 NLDS)
28. Houston 12, Atlanta 3 (2004 NLDS)
29. N.Y. Mets 5, Cincinnati 0 (1999 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
30. Cleveland 8, Boston 3 (1948 AL tiebreaker)
31. Houston 7, Los Angeles 1 (1980 NL West tiebreaker)

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