The Indians rolled into town hot-scorching hot. In 7 of the last 9 our battling Tribe had claimed victory. Now this one? This one was for all the marbles. Could the Indians, 54-66, claim one more victory? Could they get to the mark that had been unthinkable only days before, 55-66?
That's right, Devil Rays. This was before they went all driven snow, wedding gown, Longoria pure. This is back when they still had bite, swagger-the kind of swagger you get when you trot out Damon Hollins to start in half your games. Yeah, that Damon Hollins! --------->
The action was hot from the very beginning. In the top of the first Casey Fossum (umm, maybe you've heard of him?) was absolutely mowing them down. Sizemore grounds out to first base unassisted. No help required for the slick fielding Travis Lee. Jason Micheals, where he's most comfortable, in the two hole? WHOOOSH! Strikes out swinging. Wow. Bring it, Fossum, bring it. We Clevelanders like a worthy adversary.
Then, it happened. The unstoppable pitcher met the unmovable hitter. As the nation turned it's eyes, Fossum stared in for the sign. Travis "Pronkey" Hafner snorted, eyes wild. The pitch came flying out of Fossum hands-old timers still talk about this pitch.
It's too fast to be hit! It's supersonic Fossum stuff!
No it's not fast-it's a curveball! A helluva curveball!
WOWIE IT'S GONE!
And just like that, the Devil Rays were in the hole staring up at the big man-the man with all the answers: C.C. Sabathia. And so, the score stayed 1-0 through two batters in the first inning, when Ben Zorbist grounded out and drove home Rocco "DiMaggio" Baldelli.
Things stayed knotted until the top of the third when, finally, the man that Eric Wedge would later call "the best leadoff hitter in the 9 spot I've ever seen", Andy Marte stepped up. You've got to realize, up to this point, Fossum had been just incredible. He'd retired 6 batters, with some other stuff happening in between them. He'd finished the last inning by inducing a groundout from maybe the best bottom of the order hitter in baseball-Hector Luna.
But today? Today wasn't to be Fossum's day. It was Andy's day. Andy's great day. He put that big, sweet swing of his to use and just Billy Squired it out to deep centerfield. When asked what he called that swing after the game Marte would say "Ahh, umm, not the really slow one. A faster one."
Fast forward a couple of plays and there's Marte, touching home plate, driven in by a "Pronkney" single. Marte had set the table so that the big dogs could eat. Unselfishly, he'd scored a run to help the team. By the end of the inning it was Indians 3-1 and one name was on everyone's lips: Andy Manuel Marte.
The two old pitching warhorses, long-time AL rivals, remained locked in combat for the next couple of innings. It seemed like the game might end with just that score-in fact, some fans actually left in the fourth, assured of the Cleveland victory and trying to beat Tampa traffic.
Then, the top of the fifth rolled around and everyone who had stayed realized why they had. He strolled back into the box-do I even have to specify who he was? It was the player that somone at the game described as "looking pretty alright." It was Andy and he put that same swing on the ball to the same effect: deep CF, double. If everyone wasn't buzzing already, they were now.
Now, this next part sounds unbelievable but everyone who was there at the game, the 15,405 paid attendees inside of "The Trop", swear to its veracity. Marte stood at second base and pointed at Grady Sizemore, now in the batter's box. Some thought he was saying "I'm coming for your leadoff job" but others who knew Marte well knew better.
It was more of what Clevelanders would fall in love with over his next 110 odd appearances in two years-the famous "Marte magnanimity." Andy was saying "Hey Grady, drive me in. Get yourself a RBI."
I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the third basemen, giddy like a house cat who knows he doesn't have to live in Buffalo anymore, was crossing home plate soon. Unselfishly, Marte later credited Grady with the RBI saying "Grady got that RBI, so I was able to score."
It seemed like a victory lap, icing on the cake when Marte finally took some credit for himself by belting a leadoff homerun in the top of the 7th, a homerun that retrosheet would later classify as a "Fly Ball" in one of the all time comic understatements. A "Fly Ball"? This was a deep "Fly Ball"; one that left the park in fact! Old timers still talk about that homerun!
That ball left the ballpark that one time. I'm so dusty.
When Matte hit that homerun off Facem, it counted for one run.
We're never going back to Tampa after we got arressted at Gasparilla. What a hellhole. And beer isn't even that cheap!
Then Marte struck out looking in the top of the 9th, Brian Sikorski and Jason Davis combined to blow the 5-3 lead and the Indians lost.
But no matter! The headlines the next day were surely not about how this game was emblematic of the Tribe's inability to provide run support to a Cy Young candidate or about one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory or even about how novel Joe Maddon's glasses still seemed in 2006. No! They were about Andy Marte and his day in the sun. They were about the greatest game in Andy Marte's career.
Shine on, you crazy diamond.