Saturday, October 6, 2012

1997 World Series: And Always Thus to Cleveland

The Teams
National League: Florida Marlins (92-70) - First World Series
American League: Cleveland Indians (86-75) - Fifth World Series (Won in 1920, 1948)

What Happened
When the Florida Marlins took batting practice before Game 3 of the 1997 World Series, they were wearing stocking hats and parkas, and there were space heaters on top of the dugouts. It wasn't a matter of the warm-weather Floridians not being able to handle autumn in Cleveland, either. It was cold. A bone-chilling, snow-flurries-falling kind of cold, the coldest weather anybody had ever seen for a World Series, a cold that was certainly too cold for baseball. And for those people who might say something like "football players play in the snow, baseball players should be able to too," just look to the middle three games of the '97 series for reason why baseball is a warm-weather sport.

See, when it's cold and wet, pitchers can't get a proper grip on the baseball. When pitchers can't get a proper grip on the baseball, they can't control where the ball is going. And when pitchers can't control where the ball is going, well, the sport becomes one of luck more than one of skill. And so the Marlins won Game 3 14-11, with 11 total runs scored in the ninth inning as temperatures plummeted. Cleveland scored early and often in the snow flurries to win Game 4 10-3, and the Marlins held off a late Cleveland charge -helped by two Florida errors in the ninth - to win Game 5 8-7.

After the chaos of Cleveland, the teams traveled back to Florida for Games 6 and 7, and as the temperatures rose, the scoring dropped. After Cleveland won Game 6 4-1, they settled in for Game 7. And soon after Game 7 started, everybody forgot about the farce that was the middle three games in Cleveland and instead focused on the great theater in front of them.

For the longest time in Game 7, the biggest question was when the other shoe would drop. The Indians took a 2-0 lead in the third inning, and then their fans spent the rest of the game counting down of the number of outs needed until they won their first championship since 1948. Meanwhile, the rest of the country spent the next few innings going "really? It's going to be that easy for them?"

No. It wasn't gonna be that easy. It was Cleveland. Bobby Bonilla led off the seventh with a home run to make it 2-1, and that's where the score stayed until the bottom of the ninth. Then Cleveland brought in closer Jose Mesa to wrap up their first championship since 1948 and the first professional championship of any kind for the city since 1964. But you know, no pressure.

Moises Alou led off the ninth for Florida with a single, just the latest in a series of clutch hits for him during the series. After Bonilla struck out, Charles Johnson singles to right to send Alou to third. Next up was skinny utility infielder Craig Counsell, who hit a line drive to right field that was deep enough to score Alou. And just like that, the coundown ended. The Indians went from being two outs from a title to being 270 feet from elimination.

Florida didn't score again in the ninth, but they weren't done threatening. While the shell-shocked Indians didn't do much of anything in extra innings, the Marlins threatened in the 10th - with normal starter Charles Nagy relieving Mesa to get out of the threat - and then again in the 11th. Bonilla led off the 11th with a single. After a failed bunt for the first out, Counsell hit a ball that should have been an inning-ending double play, but Cleveland's Tony Fernandez let it go right between his legs to put runners on first and third. Cleveland intentionally walked the next batter to set up a force play at home, which they promptly got in the next at bat.

Up came Edgar Rentaria, the Marlins' 20-year-old shortstop. He didn't hit it hard, but he didn't have to. His grounder was perfectly placed right up the middle, over the second base bag, to bring in Counsell with the World Series-winning run.

The Marlins and their fans celebrated like mad, but it was short-lived. Owner Wayne Huisinga claimed his team lost money, despite their championship, and it took less than a week for the first piece of the Marlins' championship team to be traded away. Soon, virtually all the stars were gone, and the Marlins were on their way to a 108-loss season. It was as if their championship had never happened.

But to Cleveland fans, it happened. It happened, and it was painful.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Cleveland46 1110742
Florida 7114381 3 (11)

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

17. 1997 - Florida (N) def. Cleveland (A) 4-3
18. 1993 - Toronto (A) def. Philadelphia (N) 4-2
19. 1956 - New York (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 4-3
Numbers 20-29
Numbers 30-39
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

5. 1997: Florida 3, Cleveland 2
7. 1946: St. Louis (N) 4, Boston (A) 3
9. 1925: Pittsburgh 9, Washington 7
12. 1979: Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 1
13. 1955: Brooklyn 2, New York (A) 0
15. 1971: Pittsburgh 2, Baltimore 1
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
19. 1958: New York 6, Milwaukee 2
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis (N) 4, Philadelphia (A) 2
23. 1973: Oakland 5, New York (N) 2
24. 2002: Anaheim 4, San Francisco 1
26. 1982: St. Louis 6, Milwaukee 3
28. 1965: Los Angeles (A) 2, Minnesota 0
29. 1964: St. Louis 7, New York (A) 5
30. 1957: Milwaukee 5, New York (A) 0
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago (N) 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0
34. 1934: St. Louis (N) 11, Detroit 0 
35. 1985: Kansas City 11, St. Louis 0
36. 1956: New York (A) 9, Brooklyn 0

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