Edgar Renteria & Game 7 of the 1997 World Series deserves a deep rewind.
Updated: Oct 5, 2022
It’s October 26, 1997. Game 7 of the World Series between the…..Cleveland Used to Be Called the Indians and the Florida Marlins. You know what. We’re going to call them the Indians because the Marlins are now known as the Miami Marlins.
Anyway, the bases are loaded with two outs. It’s the bottom of the 11th inning. Things aren’t looking great for the Guardians/Indians, but it was bases loaded and 1 out. If Cleveland can just get an out, they can still win its first World Series since 1948.
As for the Marlins, this is their first trip to the Fall Classic. In fact, the Fighting Fish just began five short years ago. And you guessed it, this is their first trip to the postseason.
What a way to potentially get your franchise’s first-ever World Series win. Game 7 on a walk-off win in front of your home fans.
Remember: With the bases full of Marlins, there are several ways that Florida can win the game besides a base hit. A wild pitch, a passed ball, a hit by a pitch, catcher’s interference, a walk, or a balk can give the Marlins their first-ever world championship.
All of the pressure seems to be on Indians pitcher Charles Nagy. Or is the weight of the world really on Edgar Renteria in the batter’s box? To answer that question, let’s rewind.
As previously talked about, the Indians are looking to win their first World Championship since 1948. In fact, from 1955 until the strike-shortened 1994 season, the Indians were basically the doormat of the American League.
Bill Veeck, former owner of the Indians, decided to become the first American League team to allow African-Americans to play Major League Baseball. Jackie Robinson gets all of the glory for breaking the color barrier, but Larry Doby was discriminated against just as bad (if not worse) as the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman and later shortstop.
Veeck was so worried about Doby having a terrible experience (and even Doby’s safety) that he didn’t even allow Larry to play in Cleveland’s minor league system. It wasn’t much easier for Doby once he left the Negro Leagues to play in the Majors. There wasn’t a designated hitter at the time, and Cleveland felt secure at second base and shortstop with Lou Boudreau at short and Joe Gordon at second base.
His teammates weren’t thrilled about Doby taking their everyday position, and it got so bad for Doby that he had to borrow a first baseman’s mitt from the opposing team since the Indians never told him he’d be playing first base.
His rookie season was a tough one, both on and off-the-field, as Doby batted just .156 in 1947. But, in 1948, Dobby was a key piece on the 1948 World Series ballclub, as he led the Indians with a .318 clip and became the first black player to hit a home run in the Fall Classic. Keep in mind that Doby had to play center field everyday after not playing much of the outfield coming into the Major Leagues.
Whether you believe in karma or not, the Indians won the 1948 World Series just a year after integrating the American League. Doby, fellow African-American teammate Satchel Page, and the rest of the Indians became national celebrities, and they made appearances in the movie The Kid from Cleveland.
Doby played in seven consecutive All-Star games from 1949-1955, and he won the home run title twice. His combination home run and RBI title in 1954 helped the Indians to win the American League pennant, but the New York Giants swept the 111-win Indians in four games. Ironically, the Giants entered the 1997 season without a World Series championship since sweeping Cleveland.
Things started to get bad rather quickly for the Indians. Not only did they not win a pennant for 40 years, but Indians writer Terry Pluto explained the Indians misfortunes due to a curse.
Starting in 1959, the Indians never finished more than 11 games out of first place for the pennant. Not only did the Indians not win a division crown until 1995, but Terry Pluto jokingly came up with a reason for Indians pain: The Curse of Rocky Colavito.
When the Indians traded away fan favorite and consistent All-Star slugger Rocky Colavito in 1960, Pluto joked in his book “The Curse of Rocky Colavito” that Rocky put a curse on the franchise since they traded him to Detroit while still in the prime of his career.
Even when the Indians got Colavito back in the mid 1960s, it cost them Tommy John and Tommy Agee (uh-GEE). John finished just shy of 300 wins once he left the Indians, and Agee (uh-Gee) was a key piece on the Miracle Mets of the 1969 World Series.
After the Indians traded away Jim “Mudcat” Grant to the Twins, Grant won 78 more games, including 21 in 1965 to help the Twins win the American League pennant.
After the team won a surprising 84 games in 1986, the team lost over 100 games in 1987 following the famous Sports Illustrated tagline of “Indian Uprising: Indians are the best team in the American League.”
Joe Carter was originally a Cleveland Indian. You might remember Joe Carter’s famous walk-off homer during Game 6 of the 1993 Fall Classic….as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
However, Bobby Bragan famously cursed the team of never winning another pennant after getting terminated from his managerial position in 1958. Bragan forever denied hat he cursed the team.
Whether the Indians are cursed or not, the team was basically a non-factor when it came to postseason baseball. But after Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Roberto Alomar, and Sandy Alomar Jr became part of the everyday lineup, the Indians were in business.
The 1994 season saw the Indians finish one game out of first place in the newly revamped American League Central.
When baseball returned in 1995, the Indians won their first-ever division title. The Indians incredibly won 100 games out of a strike-shortened 144.
Cleveland swept Boston and then overcame the upstart Mariners 4 games to 2 to get back to the World Series. The Indians won the last three games against Seattle to advance to the Fall Classic.
Everything seemed to go well for Cleveland. They didn’t have to play the Yankees in the ALCS due to Edgar Martinez’s famous double in extra innings, and they had a much better record than the Braves.
But the Big 3 of Greg Maddux-Tom Glavine-John Smoltz was too much for Cleveland to handle during the Fall Classic.
Maddux and Glavine won 3 out of the 4 games of the series, and Cleveland’s unstoppable offense managed just one hit in Game 6. Even though the Indians had the better record, the series was in Atlanta due to the National League not getting homefield in the 1994 World Series.
Cleveland hit just .179 as a team, with Carlos Baerga making the last out in Games 1, 2, and 6.
The Indians are now back in the World Series and are looking to finally get over the hump.
The problem is the Florida Marlins might be more talented than the Indians. Let me explain.
This ‘97 Marlins team is stacked, and they have former Pirates manager Jim Leyland leading the club.
Leyland knows all about Game 7s as his Pirates lost multiple Game 7s in the most heartbreaking of ways, including the walk-off base hit by the Braves during the 1992 NLCS.
If anyone knows how to learn from previous blunders or bad breaks, it’s Leyland.
But do the Marlins actually need the breaks to go their way? Not really.
Remember, this is a Marlins team led by Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, and others. This team is absolutely stacked.
Granted, the Marlins got their fair share of breaks during Game 5 of the ‘97 NLCS. After sweeping the Giants during the 1997 NLDS, Eric Gregg’s strike zone in Game 5 of the NLCS was absolutely absurd. It was so bad that Baseball America listed his Game 5 strike zone on left-handed hitters as the third-worst in MLB history.
Gregg’s strike zone allowed the Marlins to win Game 5, and they didn’t take their new momentum for granted by winning Game 6 in Atlanta.
Just like that, a franchise which began in 1993, was four wins away from getting World Series championship rings.
I actually left off some people on this roster. Luis Castillo and Craig Counsell were on this roster as well. Rob Nen was the seemingly unhittable closer, and Al Leiter was in the starting rotation as well.
Nen has two saves in this World Series, and he pitched shutout baseball in the 9th and 10th innings of tonight’s ball game. He recorded five of the six outs in Innings 9 and 10, and because of that, the game remained tied going into the 11th.
It doesn’t get much better than this. A World Series Game 7 that went into extra innings. But how we got here is a Cinderella story in its own right.
Looking for its first World Series title since the days of Bill Veeck, Cleveland has had some problems when it comes to pitching.
The Indians have scored at least seven runs in three of their World Series games against Florida. How many wins did they get? Just two.
One of the reasons the Fish forced a Game 7 is a back-and-forth 14-11 slugfest Game 3 against the American League champions. Florida scored seven runs in the top of the 9th, and the Indians made things interesting by putting up a four-spot in the bottom half of the frame. Nen was dreadful that night, but he still hung on after walking two batters and allowing four earned runs.
Florida’s offense has definitely not been the problem this series as the Marlins won 7-4 in Game 1 and 8-7 in Game 5. The Indians rallied again in the bottom of the 9th during Game 5. Nen gave up a couple of base hits, but the Marlins hung on for the dub with the tying run at second.
The winner of tonight’s game gets the Commissioner’s Trophy. The loser of Game 7 only gets a pennant flag on its home stadium.
And when the Indians entered the diamond in the bottom of the 9th, it sure looked like they would be the champions.
After holding the Marlins to a single run in Game 6, the Indians pitching staff finally got back on track at the right time during most of Game 7. Jaret Wright pitched 6 ⅓ innings of great baseball, but his five walks pushed up his pitch count, forcing manager Mike Hargrove to go to the bullpen.
The Marlins entered the Bottom of the 9th with a 2-1 deficit. Hope was still there for the Marlins though, especially since Indians closer Jose Mesa gave up a triple last night, three hits during Game 5, and two hits and a wild pitch during Game 3.
In a nutshell, Mesa was anything but a sure-thing closer going into Game 7.
Brian Anderson looked fine in the bottom of the 8th inning. Granted, he only went up against one batter. Also, Mesa was a two-time All-Star going into the 97 season and was the 1995 Rolaids Reliever of the Year.
But, as what happened earlier in the series, Mesa could not get a 1-2-3 save. Moises Alou started the rally with a leadoff single. Bonilla struck out swinging, but catcher Charles Johnson put the game-tying run on third base with a single to right. Hargrove decided to play no doubles defense, disallowing Manny Ramirez from having a shot at nailing Alou at third base.
Even more weird, Hargrove was issuing signals from the dugout to catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. Did Johnson know that a slider was coming because he was easily reading Hargrove’s signals?
WIth runners on the corners, a double play would in theory end the game. But Craig Counsell did what he had to do, and a line drive into right field was more than enough to score Alou to force extra innings. To make matters worse for Indians fans, the champagne was ready to go in the locker room. The grounds crew had to quickly remove the champagne once Counsell connected for the game-tying sacrifice fly RBI.
Mesa almost blew the game in the bottom of the 10th, but a strikeout with runners at first and second helped force an 11th inning.
Not everything can be blamed on Mesa and Hargrove. The Indians could’ve put the game away in the top of the 5th. Omar Vizquel stole second and third base, but Cleveland simply couldn’t add to its slim lead.
But Mesa blew the save. And the Indians didn’t do anything offensively in the 10th and 11th innings.
And now, with two outs, the Indians are hoping that Renteria won’t make solid contact.
Renteria wasn’t supposed to bat this inning. Jim Eisenreich pinch-hit for Florida, and with him batting .364 during the postseason, Hargrove asked for Nagy to intentionally walk him to load the bases.
Bases loaded of course means a force at any base. Tony Fernandez, who made a huge error earlier in the inning, made a fantastic play at home to preserve the tie.
But when one looks at instant replay, could Fernandez have tagged Eisenreich and then quickly thrown the ball to first base for the inning-ending double play? Woulda-coulda-shoulda.
It’s not Fernandez’s fault that the Indians are in this spot. Actually, Fernandez has the only 2 RBI for Cleveland tonight. And you have to admit that was picture-perfect fundamentals on his very stressful 4-2 putout at the plate.
But the Indians still need one more out to have another shot in the Top of the 12th. And Renteria, who delivered a walk-off hit during Game 1 of the 97 Division Series, is no easy out. He’s also quite speedy as he stole 32 bases during the regular season. Any slow moving ground ball could be an infield single if the infielder is forced to throw it to first base. Renteria also has an inside-the-park-home run as part of his short but impressive MLB resume.
Well, here we go. Renteria, who has five go-ahead hits in extra innings this season, can be the hero. And Nagy, who’s not a bullpen pitcher by trade, has to keep pitching to preserve Cleveland’s dream season.
Can the Indians officially end the Curse of Rocky Colavito? Or will the Marlins go against the norm and win the World Series as a baby franchise? This could be Florida’s only shot at a World Series championship as reports are owner Wayne Huizenga (hy-ZANG-uh) will try to drastically cut payroll following the season.
The Marlins are 90 feet away from a World Series title. Nagy is about to throw an 0-1 pitch. Welcome to a moment in history.
The Indians would not return to the World Series until 2016. Cleveland still hasn’t won the World Series since 1948. Florida would win the World Series again in 2003.