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The ‘97 World Series still haunts Cleveland

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19 years after after being two outs away from a title, the Cleveland Indians are back in the World Series again.

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After a surprising sweep of the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS and a fairly dominant effort against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS, the Cleveland Indians have reached the World Series for the first time since 1997.

Marlins fans may have some small recollection of what happened in that series.

The 2016 version of the Cleveland Indians feature a seasoned manager in Terry Francona who’s won a couple of championships previously with the aforementioned Red Sox, a talented young rotation headlined by Corey Kluber, a competent offense up and down the batting order and a recently annointed ALCS MVP by the name of Andrew Miller who nobody can seem to figure out up at the plate. This version of Miller sure would have been nice circa 2009, but I digress.

It’s a well-balanced squad, one Indian’s fans can harbor legitimate hopes for capturing a World Series title and ending their 68 year drought (Editor’s note: Holy crap that is a long ass time).

The 1997 Cleveland Indians were also pretty good. Perhaps a bit more tilted toward the offensive side of the ledger, they could still boast of having Orel Hershiser and Charles Nagy alongside talented rookie Jaret Wright in their rotation. The lineup, while not as fearsome as the 1995 team that also reached the World Series (and put up an absurd +233 run differential), contained many future “Hall of Very Good” players: David Justice, Matt Williams, Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel, Sandy Alomar Jr., Jim Thome.

The series itself was a back and forth affair, alternating between sunny Florida and snowy Cleveland, until finally the two teams met, all tied up at three games apiece, for a pivotal game seven in Miami.

The Tribe would strike first as Jim Thome worked a walk off of Marlins starter Al Leiter in the third inning, and moved to second base on Marquis Grissom’s single. After Jaret Wright bunted them over and Omar Vizquel popped out, second baseman Tony Fernandez would smash a single to center to bring both Indian runners home and give Cleveland the early 2-0 lead.

Recently featured Bobby Bonilla hit a solo shot leading off the seventh that brought the Miami crowd roaring to it’s feet and brought the game to within one run.

The score would remain that way until a now infamous bottom of the ninth. Cleveland’s closer Jose Mesa took the mound, needing three outs to seal Cleveland’s long awaited title.

The trophy had already been brought into the visitor’s clubhouse at Pro Player stadium. Plastic tarps were hung. Champagne readied, presumably. Young Indian’s pitcher Chad Ogea’s name was apparently being engraved into the World Series MVP trophy.

It was not to be.

Moises Alou and Charles Johnson sandwiched a Bobby Bonilla strikeout with a pair of singles, and with runners on first and third Craig Counsell delivered a ball into deep enough right field to score Alou from third and send the game into extras.

“It was like a stab right in your heart,” Vizquel would tell Anthony Castrovince, 10 years after the fact.

The game would remain tied into the 11th, when, set up by an earlier Tony Fernandez error, Edgar Renteria would win the game for the Marlins by singling up the middle just past pitcher Charles Nagy and a diving Omar Vizquel, sending a jubilant Counsell home and sealing the Marlins first World Series title.

Indians fan Steve Eby recorded his fantastic reaction in the aftermath of the play at his blog, didthetribewinlastnight.com

The audacity of the upstart franchise in Miami winning a championship surely chagrined many a baseball fan, but particularly Indians fans, who last experienced the thrill of ultimate victory when Dewey defeated Truman Truman defeated Dewey.

Adding salt to the wound was that game seven was to be longtime Indian broadcaster Herb Score’s final call of his 34 year career. Score never got the chance to call the Indians champions during his run. He passed away after a lengthy illness in 2008.

Meanwhile, for anyone associated with the Marlins, it was, of course, an incredible night:

World Series

The victory celebration in the championship’s wake was decidedly short-lived, but this article is about Cleveland’s pain, not Miami’s. This is probably an unwelcome reminder for Indians fans of just another heart-breaking chapter in Cleveland’s long, sad sports history. A chapter that may soon be coming to a close.

The Cavalier’s championship run this year will have certainly assuaged many Clevelander’s fears that they would never see a title in their lifetimes. For Indians fans specifically, in just a few short days, they will have a chance to finally, finally, put 1997 and all of the other perceived failures over the years behind them.

If they don’t, 1997’s shadow will only grow longer.