The tortured sports history of the city of Cleveland has been well documented. Since the Browns won the 1964 NFL title (this was before the Super Bowl even existed), fans of northern Ohio have not had a parade.
The Cavs, Browns and Indians have teased their fans. But the unrest is fresh, right through the injury ravaged Cavaliers taking the Warriors to the 6th game of the NBA title last year. LeBron’s mission to deliver a title for the city is still the story going into this season. But his burden could have been lighter if the Indians ended the title drought during their glorious 1990’s run.
And one unlikely player, Chad Ogea, helped bring the Indians to the brink of easing Cleveland’s pain in 1997.
The 1997 squad was arguably the weakest Cleveland Indians playoff team that Mike Hargrove managed to the post season. But they pulled off an upset of the defending World Champion Yankees in the Division Series and stunned the Baltimore Orioles in a thrilling and sometimes controversial ALCS.
Without the departed Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton or Carlos Baerga and lacking a Cy Young contender, the Indians won their second pennant in three years and would face the Florida Marlins. Jim Leyland’s squad was cobbled together with superstars whose contracts were about to expire. It was appropriate that the team was owned by the head of Blockbuster Video because the Marlins were a rented roster.
Moises Alou and Charles Johnson powered starter Livan Hernandez and Florida to a Game 1 victory. In Game 2, Hargrove handed the ball to Chad Ogea.
The 26 year old from LSU played his third full season in the bigs in 1997. After an effective 1995, he pitched to a disappointing 4.70 and 4.99 ERA, winning 10 in 1996 and going 8-9 in 1997. Hardly a number 2 World Series starter. But this was the steroid era and the Indians were not built like the Braves with Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.
Ogea pitched well in Game 2, throwing into the 7th and finishing with 6 2/3 innings, allowing just 1 run. The Indians, led by Marquis Grissom and Sandy Alomar Jr., won the game and sent it back to snowy Ohio.
By the time the Series returned to Miami, the Indians were in trouble. They dropped two ugly games at home and the upstart Marlins were up 3-2 and on the verge of winning the World Series. Orel Hershiser could not work his October magic as he went 0-2. Now Hargrove once again turned to Ogea.
It would be no easy task. Kevin Brown, whose complete game victory clinched the NLCS for Florida, was on the hill and looking to avenge a poor game 2 start.
Ogea got the Marlins out in order in the first. In the second, a single and a pair of walks loaded the bases with one out. Because the game was played in a National League park, the pitcher had to bat. Ogea faced Kevin Brown and smacked a line drive to right, scoring Matt Williams and Jim Thome. Of all the people to break through with the bat, Ogea seemed like the least likely, but he did.
By the top of the fifth, the Indians had a 3-0 lead. Ogea led off the fifth with a double to right field and came around to score on a Manny Ramirez sacrifice fly. Ogea was the pitching AND hitting star so far.
Maybe all the running wore down Ogea as the Marlins rallied for a run in the bottom of the fifth but he escaped without much more damage. But when he let up a lead off walk in the 6th, Hargrove did not take any chances and he went to the bullpen. Mike Jackson, Paul Assenmacher and Jose Mesa closed out the game.
5 innings might not sound like a heroic effort. But throw in going 2 for 2 and being involved in 3 of the teams’ 4 runs and Ogea was the hero of the game. He set up the Game 7 showdown, which turned out to be a classic game, if agonizing for Indians fans who saw their team an inning away from winning it all to falling in 11.
The angst continued in Cleveland as it does to this day. But don’t blame Chad Ogea. He did HIS part. That is what makes him the Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero for October 25.