The Cleveland Guardians are showing detractors that they may have what it takes to win the American League Central division in 2022.
If they make it into the postseason, Cleveland will have an opportunity to end the longest championship drought in baseball. If that happens, it will undoubtedly require magic moments and big plays in crucial games in October.
As a way to look ahead at that possibility, let’s look back at the five best postseason games in Cleveland baseball history.
Five Best Postseason Games in Cleveland Baseball History
5. 2007 AL Championship Series, Game 2
Few things are as exciting as a walkoff win. A walkoff in the playoffs is even better. In this game, the Indians trailed 1-0 after seven innings, stymied by Yankee ace Andy Pettitte. In the eighth, reliever Joba Chamberlain melted down, tossing two wild pitches that led to the tying run crossing the plate.
The game moved through the best relievers in the game, with Mariano Rivera making an appearance. But the teams were still knotted through 10 innings. In the 11th, Travis Hafner lined a single to the edge of the outfield to score Kenny Lofton (in his second stint with Cleveland) with the winning run.
4. 1948 World Series, Game 3
This game is best known for a photo taken in the clubhouse just after it finished. Cleveland pitcher Steve Gromek is seen in a bear hug with teammate Larry Doby, who hit a home run that decided the outcome of the game in favor of Cleveland. Gromek is clearly ecstatic at being the winning pitcher in such a pivotal game.
The photo was hailed as important for racial harmony on Major League Baseball and sports, as well as the country. It was 1948, and MLB had only integrated the previous year. Doby was the first black player in the American League, and he was not exactly welcomed with open arms when he joined the team in the middle of the 1947 season. A few players refused to shake his hand, and one teammate did not let Doby borrow his first baseman’s mitt.
But the Doby/Gromek photo, which later figured prominently in a book about Doby’s career, was enduring, and still serves as a keystone moment in the history of the Cleveland franchise.
3. 1997 AL Division Series, Game 4
Fans are still talking about this game, which sent the home crowd into a frenzy at The Jake in Cleveland, which hosted the longest sellout streak in baseball at that point.
The Indians were down 2-1 in the series and facing elimination. After a fantastic regular season, an exit in the first round of the playoffs would have been crushing. But the veteran Cleveland club was not going down without a fight.
Cleveland gave the ball to 37-year old Orel Hershiser trying to extend its season. “Bulldog” did not disappoint, going seven innings and allowing two runs. Still, the Indians trailed by one.
In the eighth, Sandy Alomar Jr. hit a solo homer off a Mariano Rivera cut fastball to tie the game. The ballpark was rocking with thunderous reaction. Tie game.
In the ninth, the Indians won in remarkable fashion when a groundball off the bat of Omar Vizquel bounced to the right of the Yankee pitcher and dribbled away. The baserunner on second, Marquis Grissom, kept going around third an scored the winning run. The victory staved off elimination for Cleveland and forced a Game 5, which the Indians won, 4-3 the following night.
2. 1948 World Series, Game 6
When the final out was recorded in Game 6, the Indians were World Series champions. The score was 4-3 in a game that witnessed late-innings rallies. Cleveland secured its second championship, and first since 1920.
There are many things about the 1948 Series that are unbelievable today. The games were played during the daytime, and the Braves were in Boston at that time. This was years before that franchise shifted to Milwaukee, and ultimately Atlanta. The Braves played their home games at Braves Field, which was witness to Babe Ruth’s final big league season, in 1935.
Also, this was the last time a World Series was not broadcast nationwide on television. Starting in 1949, at least one network beamed games into homes, some on tape delay, but usually live.
Who were the 1948 Indians? They were a very good team, led by 31-year old shortstop Lou Boudreau, who also happened to be the team’s manager. This was the last time a player-manager led his team to a title. And lead he did: Boudreau hit two home runs in a special one-game playoff to get Cleveland to the Fall Classic. Then he deftly managed his pitching staff against the Braves.
The Indians featured Larry Doby, a former negro leagues outfielder with power and speed. The lineup also had perennial batting crown contender Dale Mitchell, future Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Gordon, who was called “Flash” because of his amazing defensive skills, and mercurial third sacker Ken Keltner, who was famous for halting Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak with his glove.
1. 2016 World Series, Game 7
How could a loss be No. 1 on our list? Well, this is Cleveland. A city known (sadly) for coming up short. The list of devastating losses is long for Cleveland sports fans. This one really stung, considering the circumstances.
The Indians won three of the first four games against the Chicago Cubs, taking a commanding lead. It seemed likely Cleveland would manage one more win in the last three games. Instead, the moxie Cubs won Games 5 and 6, setting up an epic finale.
The Indians trailed 5-1 in the fifth, with Chicago lefty Jon Lester seemingly in control out of the bullpen in relief. That’s when Cubs manager Joe Maddon started overmanaging. He lifted Lester with two outs in the eighth. The Indians narrowed the margin, and then reliever Aroldis Chapman surrendered a three-run homer to Rajai Davis, of all people. The Indians had clawed back to tie the game.
Sadly, the game was lost in extra innings, following a tension-stretching rain delay. The Indians made one last comeback attempt in the 10th but lost 8-7 in what many believe is the best game in World Series history.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cleveland Post-Season History
When is the last time Cleveland won the World Series?
The Cleveland Indians won the 1948 World Series in six games, defeating the Boston Braves. As of 2022, that means the franchise has been waiting 74 years to win its next title. That drought is the longest among the original 16 MLB franchises. Twice since its last triumph in the World Series, Cleveland has lost the Fall Classic in seven games — in 1997 and 2016.
When did Cleveland play in the World Series?
The Indians (now Guardians) franchise has played in the World Series six times:
- 1920: defeated the Brooklyn Robins
- 1948: defeated the Boston Braves
- 1954: lost to the New York Giants
- 1995: lost to the Atlanta Braves
- 1997: lost to the Florida Marlins
- 2016: lost to the Chicago Cubs
The Indians record in the World Series is 2-4. Three of the teams that Cleveland has played in the World Series are no longer in the city they were at that time: the Dodgers; Braves; and Giants.
How Many Times Have the Guardians won the Division Title?
The Guardians (formerly the Indians), or the Cleveland franchise of the American League, has won 10 division titles: 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2007, 2016, 2017, and 2018. MLB’s divisional era began in 1969.
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel