I know that you loyal BTB readers are disappointed that I have written only two “This Day in Sports” articles so far. Therefore, I’m ready to give you two for the price of one! Today, October 5, is the 20-year anniversary of a great moment in Yankees/Indians history, and – can you believe it? – it is also the 10-year anniversary of another great moment in that rivalry! By “great”, I should warn you that I don’t like the Yankees.
Let’s dive right in.
In 1996, the 92-70 Yankees won the World Series. That year, the Indians were the heavy favorites entering the postseason. The 1995 AL Champs had won 99 games in 1996, more than anybody else that season. With a loaded lineup including Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Roberto Alomar, and Jim Thome in their primes (In my mind, those are four HOFers, again in their primes!), I was one of many who expected the Indians to finish the job and win the World Series. Well, this was not to be. The Wild Card Orioles upset the Indians in the ALDS, and, of course, the Yankees went on to win the World Series.
Fast forward to 1997. That regular season (in the AL) belonged to the Orioles (98 wins) and Yankees (96 wins). The Yankees seemed even stronger than the championship unit of the previous season. Tino Martinez started the year on fire and finished the campaign with a .296 average, 44 homers, and 141 RBI. That was one hell of a season. Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill hit .328 and .324, respectively, and both clubbed 21 homers. Jeter hit .291 with 116 runs in his sophomore season and proved that his rookie season was no fluke. Plus, this was the season when rumors swirled that he was dating an in-her-prime Mariah Carey. While many of the college-age readers of BTB think of Mariah as the train wreck who shows up with too much cleavage at Rockefeller Center every holiday season or as the train wreck in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, Mariah 1997 was amazing. Therefore, this was the season when Derek Jeter truly became “Derek Jeter”.
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, things had seemingly turned south after two dominant campaigns. The Indians won only 86 games but did manage to win the mediocre AL Central in 1997. They met the 96-win Yankees in the ALDS. Even though the Yankees were the Wild Card, the Bombers were the clear favorites. When the series got underway, the Yankees won Game 1 and lost Game 2 at The Stadium. Then, the Yankees took Game 3 at the artist formerly known as Jacobs Field. Games 4 and 5 were to be played in Cleveland as well, but the Yankees were sitting pretty with a 2-games-to-1 lead. In Game 4 (on October 5, 1997), the Yankees’ Dwight Gooden (ugh, it never stops hurting to write those three words in a row) left in the 6th inning with a 2-1 lead. Heading into the Bottom of the 8th, the Yankees maintained that lead. With 1 out in the inning, Mariano Rivera entered the game. Rivera had created a reputation as a great setup man for John Wetteland in the 1996 World Series Championship run. However, this was his first playoff series as the closer. Sure enough, Sandy Alomar Jr. hit a game-tying homerun off Rivera in the Bottom of the 8th, and Rivera had his first blown save of his career. The Indians would win the game in the Bottom of the 9th against Ramiro Mendoza, and they would win Game 5 the next night. After dealing with gloating Yankees fans for a year following the 1996 championship, I was quite happy.
The Yankees and Indians ended up flipping scripts from 1996 to 1997. In 1996, the Indians had the better record; they lost in the Division Series; and the Yankees won the World Series. Then, in 1997, the Yankees had the better record; they lost in the Division Series; and the Indians went to the World Series (losing to the Marlins in extra innings in Game 7).
Fast forward 10 years to another Yankees/Indians ALDS. Needless to say, Mariano had gotten over the 1997 blown save and had dominated over the next nine postseasons. In 2007, the Yankees entered their 13th consecutive postseason, having reached 6 World Series and won 4 championships over the first 12 appearances. That said, the Yankees hadn’t reached the World Series since 2003 and hadn’t won a championship since 2000. Furthermore, the Yankees had lost in the 2005 and 2006 ALDS to the Angels and Tigers, respectively. On the other side, the Indians were in the playoffs for the first time since 2001. In 2007, all four AL playoff teams (including the Red Sox and Angels) had won between 94 and 96 games, so the Indians and Yankees were roughly equals. However, with the Yankees being the Wild Card, the Indians had homefield advantage. The Yankees were led by Alex Rodriguez and his otherworldly .314 BA/54 homers/156 RBI stat line. However, he had underperformed in his previous two ALDS and the 2004 ALCS, so he faced a lot of pressure entering the 2007 ALDS.
What happened in Game 1? The Indians lit up Chien-Mien Wang for a 12-3 win, with CC Sabathia being the Indians’ pitcher of record. A-Rod went 0-2 with 2 walks, for what it’s worth. The next night was the big one though. That is why I am writing this article. On October 5, 2007; the Indians won Game 2 2-1 in 11 innings. This game is memorable for the reason of Joba Chamberlain and midges. Joba had burst onto the scene in 2007 and had thrown 24 innings with a 0.38 ERA in the regular season. “Joba Rules” were in effect, as the Yankees limited his innings so that they could protect his arm for a potentially long and prosperous career as a starter. Of course, this “long and prosperous career” didn’t pan out at all, but Yankees fans felt great when Joba entered that game in Cleveland in the 7th inning with a 1-0 lead. They continued to feel great after Joba pitched well in the 7th. However, Yankees fans could not have expected what would await Joba in the 8th inning. A huge swarm of midges came in off Lake Erie and threw Joba off his game. Joba allowed the Indians to tie the game, and the Indians would win it in the 9th inning. While the Yankees ultimately won Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, the Indians won Game 4 there to clinch the series. The Yankees went home; Joba’s career went downhill; and the Indians went on to lose to the Red Sox in 7 in the ALCS.
Moral of the story: on October 5, _ _ _ 7: Big things always happen for the Indians against the Yankees. Let’s see what happens tonight.