CLEVELAND – They say hindsight is 20/20, and now that more than two decades have gone by since Cleveland’s magical 1995 season, we’re able to clearly see that the writing for what was to come that year was on the wall.
It was a season that ended in disappointment following a Game 6 loss in the World Series to Atlanta. But that doesn’t erase just how much of an impact each day of that year made on the franchise’s history, setting quite the tone in a brand new ballpark after its inaugural season was cut short due to the strike in 1994.
The ’95 team set a foundation for how the second half of the decade would go. Everything had been trending in the right direction after the Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Baerga trade and a young Manny Ramirez was jumping in the spotlight. But it was impossible to know at the time just how fun of a ride that season would become.
Fast forward nearly 27 years later and we can see that nearly everything fans needed to know about that special club was foreshadowed on Opening Day. Let’s take a step back in time and take a deeper look at how the 11-6 victory against the Rangers on April 27, 1995 epitomized the rest of the team’s season.
Manny being Manny
Ramirez struck first. Cleveland had just fallen in a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the first, and Ramirez found himself at the plate with two outs, a runner on second in the next half-inning. For the first time of the year, the up-and-coming star proved that his runner-up AL Rookie of the Year performance in ’94 (although it was shortened) was far from ending with an RBI single up the middle to start his '95 run. This was a preview of the reliable force he’d become in the bottom third of Cleveland’s lineup that season, as he hit .358 with a 1.129 OPS, five homers and 29 RBIs in 53 at-bats with two outs and a runner in scoring position that year.
He got off to a hot start, going 4-for-5 with three RBIs against the Rangers on Opening Day – a trend that continued for the rest of the year. He became a first-time All-Star, finished the season batting .308 with a .960 OPS and his first career 100+ RBI season (107).
Sorrento flying under the radar
In a lineup full of guys like Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Ramírez and Kenny Lofton, it’s almost impossible not to slip into the shadows of the blazing spotlight – just ask Paul Sorrento. And Sorrento’s Opening Day performance mirrored exactly what he’d be to the team all season.
Just after Ramírez tied the game in the top of the second, Sorrento blasted a two-run homer to take the lead. It was the moment of the game that Baseball Reference deemed to be the most important in Cleveland’s win that day, and when looking at the most pivotal plays of that season based on win probability added, Sorrento owned the top moment.
On June 4 against Toronto, Cleveland entered the bottom of the ninth trailing by one run. But with two outs and a runner on, Sorrento sent a game-winning moonshot over the right-field wall that sent Jacobs Field into a frenzy. It marked the second victory in what would be a seven-game winning streak and a stretch in which the team would go 11-1, as it climbed higher and higher in the division rankings.
Little did anyone know that the three-run homer Belle launched in the third inning was going to be his first of 50 that season. It was a year that was unmatched for the slugger, who enjoyed arguably his best season of his career. He led the Majors in homers (50), doubles (52) and slugging percentage (.690), while sitting atop the American League leaderboard in runs scored (121) and RBIs (126). And his 103 extra-base hits still stands as the club record.
The man who was part of the trade that ended up bringing the teams of the 1990s to life was one who made his presence known in ’95. On Opening Day, he posted his first three-hit game of the year, which soon would be commonplace for the second baseman. In what would be his final All-Star season, he led the team with 175 hits and was third in batting average (.314) and RBIs (90).
Outhit, outplay, outlast
The hot bats were a theme throughout the ’95 season, as Cleveland led the league in average (.291), runs scored (840), hits (1,451), homers (207) and slugging percentage (.479). That sunny, 69-degree day at The Ballpark in Arlington was just a fun Opening Day victory at the time. Little did anyone know that the game was more like a movie trailer, giving a peek at the highlights of what’s to come over the next few months. But like every good cinematic preview, it didn’t give away everything.
Opening Day didn’t show us what Thome’s bat would do or how fast Lofton would be on the bases. And it didn’t have a chance to feature Jose Mesa, who would go on to have 46 saves with a mere 1.13 ERA.
It was an accumulation of all of these forces that caused the team to sit in first place of the division for 131 of the 144 games that season. Maybe a sour taste was left in everyone’s mouths after the excitement the regular season built, but not much more needs to be said about how impactful this year was in the club’s history when a parade was still held in downtown Cleveland -- something we now realize could’ve been planned since Opening Day.