The BASEBALL WORLD SERIES has been played in Cleveland 6 times, when the CLEVELAND INDIANS won the American League championship in 1920, 1948, 1954, 1995, 1997, and 2016. They went on to win the series in 1920 and 1948. Cleveland played the Brooklyn Dodgers in a best-of-9 series in 1920. The Indians were led by player-manager TRIS SPEAKER and pitchers Jim Bagby and STANLEY COVELESKI. The series was to have opened in Cleveland, but the first 3 games were played in Brooklyn while seats were added to Cleveland's LEAGUE PARK.
Coveleski won the first game, 3-1. Brooklyn won games 2 and 3, 3-0 and 2-1. Coveleski won again in game 4, 5-1. The 5th game, won by Cleveland 8-1, is one of the most famous World Series games. In that game, Cleveland's ELMER SMITH hit the first World Series grand slam home run. Bagby added a 3-run homer, the first by a pitcher in the World Series. In the 5th inning, Cleveland second baseman BILL WAMBSGANSS completed the only unassisted triple play in World Series history. With runners on first and second, Wambsganss caught a line drive for the first out, stepped on second to force the runner breaking for third, and tagged the runner moving from first. Cleveland won the 6th game 1-0 on a 3-hitter by Duster Mails and clinched the championship in game 7 on a 3-0 shutout by Coveleski.
The Indians and Boston Red Sox tied for the 1948 AL championship and a 1-game playoff determined the World Series representatives. Cleveland won the game 8-3 behind 20-game winner Gene Bearden. Third-baseman Ken Keltner had a 3-run homer, and player-manager Lou Bordreau was 4-for-4, to spark the victory. Their World Series opponents in the best-of-7 series were the Boston Braves. Opening in Boston, the Braves won the first game 1-0, scoring their only run after a Bob Feller pickoff play failed at second base. A single drove the base runner home after the disputed play. Cleveland won game 2, 8-1. Joe Gordon and Larry Doby drove in the winning runs. The Indians won game 3 in Cleveland as Bearden shut out the Braves, 2-0. Doby hit a game-winning homer for a 2-1 Cleveland triumph in game 4. Boston came back to defeat Feller 11-5 in game 5. The Indians won the 6th and decisive game in Boston, 4-3. Bob Lemon won his second game of the series with relief help from Bearden.
The 1954 Indians won 111 games in the regular season, coming in behind the Chicago Cubs (1906) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (1909) with the best MLB regular season record. They were heavily favored over their series opponents, the New York Giants, who upset the Indians in a 4-game sweep. Opening at the Polo Grounds in New York, the Indians took a 2-0 lead, but the Giants tied the game. With 2 on in the 7th inning, Cleveland's Vic Wertz drove the ball 460' to deep center field. Giant centerfielder Willie Mays, in one of the most remarkable plays in baseball history, ran the ball down, caught it over his shoulder with his back to the plate, and returned the ball to the infield, killing the rally. The Giants won the game, 5-2, in the bottom of the 9th. Pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes hit a 3-run, 260' homer down the right-field line to win it. Cleveland's Al Smith homered to lead off the second game, but the Giants came from behind again to win 3-1, with Rhodes delivering another key pinch hit. The Series moved to Cleveland for game 3, which the Giants won 6-0. They completed the sweep with a 7-4 triumph in game 4.
Following their Central Division title in 1995, the Indians advanced to the World Series with victories in the divisional and league championship series over the Boston Red Sox and the Seattle Mariners respectively. The Indians fell short against the NL champion Atlanta Braves, however, who took the series 4 games to 2, although Cleveland fans were treated to a full slate of World Series games at Jacobs Field. In game 5, Cleveland won a dramatic 5-4 victory by the margin of a late-inning Jim Thome home run, as the Indians defeated the Braves' Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Greg Maddux to send the series back to Atlanta. Unfortunately, the Braves beat the Indians 1-0 in game 6 to capture the world championship.
In 1997, the Tribe started the post-season with the worst regular-season record among the eight playoff teams in both leagues. They were four outs from elimination in the fourth game of their opening playoff series against the New York Yankees when Sandy Alomar Jr. homered off of Mariano Rivera, the best reliever in the American League, to tie the game. The Indians won the game 3-2. Rookie Jaret Wright pitched the Indians to victory in the fifth and deciding game for his second win of the series. Tony Fernandez then helped propel the Indians past the Baltimore Orioles four games to two, winning the American League pennant with an 11th inning home run that shattered a scoreless tie in game six. In the World Series, the Indians faced the Florida Marlins, the National League wild card team that entered the major leagues as an expansion franchise five years earlier. The teams traded victories throughout the series forcing a seventh and deciding game. While the Tribe veteran starters Charles Nagy and Orel Hershiser fell flat, Chad Ogea went 2-0 against the Marlin's ace Kevin Brown, hitting the game winning RBI in game six. In a surprise move, Rookie Jaret Wright was given the start over Charles Nagy in the seventh game and pitched well enough to win as the Tribe entered the ninth inning with a 2-1 lead. But Jose Mesa allowed two singles and gave up a game-tying sacrifice fly to Craig Counsell in the ninth inning. Nagy started the eleventh inning with the game tied, but in a cruel twist of fate he allowed a bases loaded two-out single to Edgar Renteria, sending the Indians to defeat. The Indians played eighteen postseason games, the most in history, and faced elimination four times before eventually losing the series to the Marlins and foiling their bid at their first World Series title since 1948.
The Indians entered the 2016 postseason with a regular season record of 94-67, and injuries to two of their five starters – Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. After the Tribe swept the Boston Red Sox in three games in the American League Divisional Series, starter Trevor Bauer seriously injured his right pinky finger while repairing one of his remote-control drones. Bauer attempted to start Game 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series, but he only survived two-thirds of an inning as his injured finger split open and gushed blood all over the mound. The Tribe managed to win that game by utilizing their bullpen; that same bullpen played a major role throughout the postseason thanks to all of the injuries to the starting staff. With a chance to sweep the series in four games, the Indians lost Game 4 in Toronto 5-1. For Game 5, manager Terry Francona decided to start the soft-tossing, left-handed rookie Ryan Merritt. It was a bold choice with the Blue Jays’ heavy-hitting lineup, especially considering that Merritt had only thrown 11 major league innings prior to the start. Merritt rose to the occasion, as he allowed just 2 hits and no runs in four and a third innings pitched; Francona then handed the ball over to the bullpen, which locked down the victory 3-0. After dispatching Toronto 4 games to 1 in the ALCS, the Indians advanced to the World Series where they would face the Chicago Cubs. Combined, the two teams had a 176-year drought since their last championship title.
The Cubs had the best record in baseball in 2016 at 103-58; despite this fact, the Indians held home field advantage thanks to the American League’s victory in the 2016 All-Star Game. The Indians jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the series and took an early lead in Game 5 at Wrigley Field as Jose Ramirez hit a solo home run off of Chicago starter Jon Lester. The Cubs came roaring back, winning the game 3-2 and forcing a Game 6 back in Cleveland. At Progressive Field, the Indians struggled to score off of Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, while the Chicago lineup teed off on starter Josh Tomlin, who was pitching on short rest after throwing a high number of innings throughout the postseason. Tomlin only lasted two and one-third innings, but the 6 runs he allowed would prove insurmountable. The series, that was once the Indians’ to lose, would go to a Game 7. The Cubs jumped out to a 5-1 lead by the fifth inning of the unseasonably warm game, in part thanks to 4 earned runs surrendered by staff ace Corey Kluber. Kluber, like Tomlin the day before, was pitching on short rest. As the game entered the eighth inning, the Cubs still led the Indians 6-3. There were two outs and one on when hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman entered the game for starter Jon Lester. The first hitter to face Chapman was Brandon Guyer, who hit an RBI double to make the score 6-4. Next to the plate was outfielder Rajai Davis, a speedy outfielder who was not known for his power. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, with a 2-2 count, Davis launched a 98 mph fastball onto the home run porch in left field. With the score now tied 6-6 heading into the ninth inning, the entire complexion of the game had changed. As the game entered the tenth inning rain started to fall, prompting the grounds crew to pull the tarp and enter a rain delay. After a brief 17-minute delay, the game restarted at 12:15 a.m. with Bryan Shaw on the mound for the Tribe. Shaw had strong performances throughout much of the postseason, but managed to surrender 2 ER to the Cubs in the top of the tenth inning. The Indians refused to surrender though; in the bottom of the tenth inning Davis once again tried to play hero with an RBI single to pull the Indians within a run and make the score 8-7 Chicago. The winning run came to the plate in utility journeyman Michael Martinez, who grounded out to third to solidify the Cubs’ first World Series title in 108 years.
Updated by Stephanie Liscio
Finding aid for the Cleveland Mayoral Papers. WRHS.
Finding aid for the Andrew Kraffert Photographs. WRHS.