Sunday, January 20, 2008

One curse ended/One curse continued: Game 7

Cleveland! Chicago! Game 7!

Two of the greatest teams in baseball history face off to determine the winner of the Cloverland League championship. Neither won the World Series in reality, each franchise represents the longest championship drought in their league.

Taking the hill for the Indians was El Presidente, Dennis Martinez, while the Cubs countered with Jack Pfiester. The Jake was packed and raucous as "Hometown Hero" Bob Feller, a member of the 1948 champion Indians, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Hall of Famer Earl Averill.

As has been the pattern through the series, the pitchers worked quickly through the first three innings. The Cubs broke through in the top of the 4th as the Peerless Leader, Frank Chance, manufactured a run on a single and stolen base, moving to third on a ground out and scoring on another ground out.

Pfiester looked like he would make that run count, retiring Cleveland without a run through the 5th. The sixth inning began with trouble, as Tony Peña doubled. The next three batters all hit the ball hard, climaxed by Carlos Baerga's clout to deep left, but all went at fielders save Baerga's (on which Slagle made a brilliant play, stealing a homer). Pfiester escaped the 6th with a 1-0 lead, but perhaps the Indians were catching up with him? The answer came after Martinez pitched a scoreless 7th.

AL MVP candidate Albert Belle had been having a pretty quiet series, but led off the 7th with a double. Jim Thome, whose series had been even more quiet, followed that up with an RBI double, and as quickly as that the Cubs lead was gone. After a strike out of Eddie Murray, and an intentional walk to the ubiquitous Manny Ramirez, pinch hitter Herbert Perry hit a comebacker to Pfiester that was just too slow to be a double play, extending the inning. Pinch hitter Sandy Alomar took advantage, singling to center and scoring Thome. 2-1 Cleveland. Carl Lundgren ended the inning without further damage, but Chicago, 6 outs away from winning the championship, was now 6 outs away from losing it.

Dennis Martinez gave way in the 8th after allowing only three hits and the one run to the Cubs. Assenmacher and Plunk shut down Chicago in the top of the 8th, the rapidly-heating Thome added an insurance run in the form of a homer off of Lundgren.

The Cleveland crowd went wild as Jose Mesa took the mound in search of his third save, to close out the Series. Unfortunately for them, this was Jose Mesa. Sheckard led off with a single and took second on fielder's indifference. With one out Chance walked, now representing the tying run with Steinfeldt and Schulte coming up. Mesa bore down, however and retired both, Schulte's popup to Baerga sealing the deal and making the 1995 Cleveland Indians the champions of the Cloverland League's Third Season.