There’s something about Game 2’s in playoff series involving the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees. Four times in the last 20 years these two teams have met in the postseason, three times in the ALDS and once in the ALCS. Three Game 2’s have now been extra inning affairs with the Indians being 3-0 in those (1998 ALCS 12 innings, 2007 ALDS 11 innings, 2017 ALDS 13 innings.)
The Indians have had plenty of postseason heroes in their postseasons. But Yan Gomes’ walkoff hit in Game 2 reminded me that there have been some very big hits from Indians catchers in the postseason. This could just be recency bias and there have been just as big of hits from other positions in the postseason, but there have been some pretty impactful RBI hits from Indians catchers over the years.
I looked back at every RBI an Indians catcher has ever had in a postseason win and its win probability added thanks to Baseball-Reference.
Steve O’Neil, a native Clevelander and a fairly average to below average hitter for his time (career 88 OPS+) had two RBI doubles in the bottom of the second and bottom of the fourth in Game 1 of the World Series against the Brooklyn Robins. His first RBI double had a WPA of 10% and his second was 11% (it made it a 3-0 game at that point).
The esteemed Jim Hegan, who was known for his defense at the time (74 OPS+) gave the Indians a 1-0 lead in Game 3 of the World Series against the Boston Braves in the fourth and had a WPA of 9%.
Tony Pena, also known for his defense (84 OPS+ for his career) but also had some surprising pop for this career, had what is still one of the most memorable hits in Indians postseason history. Mostly because it was the Indians first postseason games since 1954. But also because it gave the Indians their first postseason win since 1948. His 13th inning home run (what is it with the 13th inning, too?) against the Red Sox won Game 1 of the ALDS in 1995 and had a 46% win probability added, the highest percent by anyone who made this liste.
Sandy Alomar had some key hits in the 1995 postseason but was much more impactful with his hits in later postseasons. In 1995 he had an RBI double in Game 3 of the ALDS that made it 5-1 and a 5% WPA. He had an RBI triple in the ALCS that made it 4-0 and had a 7% WPA.
In the 1995 World Series, Alomar had a huge RBI double Game 3 vs. the Atlanta Braves that made it 6-6 in the top of the eighth, good for a 27% WPA.
Here’s where Alomar takes the bulk of the list up. Instead of a long paragraph, here is a list of Alomar’s 1997 postseason RBIs.
ALDS vs. New York
Game 2: RBI 1B, top 4th, gave Indians a 3-2 lead (9% WPA)
Game 3: Solo home run, bottom 8th (off of Mariano Rivera), tied game at 2-2 (32% WPA)
ALCS vs. Baltimore
Game 4: 2-run home run, top 2nd, 2-0 lead (18% WPA)
Game 4: RBI 1B, bottom 5th, tied game 5-5 (15% WPA)
Game 4: Game winning RBI 1B, bottom 9th, won game 8-7 (38% WPA)
World Series vs. Florida (Miami)
Game 2: 2-run HR, top 6th 6-1 lead (9% WPA)
Game 4: RBI 2B, bottom 1st, 3-0 lead (8% WPA)
Game 4: RBI 1B, bottom 3rd, 5-0 lead ( 3% WPA)
Game 4: RBI ground out, bottom 6th, 7-3 lead (1% WPA)
What a 1997 year and postseason for Alomar. He had 11 RBI in the postseason, a game winning hit and two game tying RBI. His game winning hit in the ALCS obviously had his highest WPA but his solo home run off of Rivera that tied the game was over 30% as well.
In ‘98, Alomar had a game tying RBI double vs. Boston in the ALDS that made it a 2-2 game in the bottom of the second inning of Game 2 (12% WPA). Oddly enough for his career, Alomar only had an 86 OPS+, which was in the realm of Pena’s career totals but both Alomar and Pena had a few very solid offensive season’s though Pena never came close to Alomar’s magical 1997 where he had a 128 OPS+
Einar Diaz took over catching duties in 1999 with Alomar’s injuries and didn’t quite have Alomar’s offensive output or flair for big postseason hits. His first postseason RBI came in 2001 when he had two RBI singles that had 3% and 4% WPA marks respectively.
It wouldn’t be until 2007 when the Indians were back in the postseason and a big hit from Victor Martinez against the New York Yankees in ALDS Game 1 that was a two run homer in the fifth that made it a 6-3 game, good for a mark of 16% WPA. Though Martinez was more known for his offense as well. Martinez also gave the Indians a 1-0 lead in Game 2 of the ALCS vs. Boston but only had a 9% WPA for that hit.
That brings us to Roberto Perez’s 2016 heroics. His homer in the bottom of the third in Game 1 of the ALDS vs. Boston had an 11% WPA, tying the game 2-2.
His first World Series home run in Game 1 made it 3-0 and only had an 8% WPA and his second one in the bottom of the eighth inning, a three run shot, only added 3%. However, his homer put the Indians Win Probability in that game up to 100%.
As for Gomes, he did have two hits in the Indians Wild Card game in 2013 vs. Tampa Bay but no RBI because nobody else showed up with the bat that game.
He had just four at bats in the 2016 World Series coming back from not only his shoulder injury but also a fractured hand when he was ending his rehab for the shoulder.
In 2017 though, Gomes’ game winning RBI single in Game 2 vs. the Yankees had an 18% WPA, which doesn’t come near of the impact of Pena or Alomar’s hits but it was still the third walkoff hit by an Indians catcher in their postseason history and their second walkoff hit vs. the Yankees in an ALDS Game 2 and remained perfect vs. the Yankees in extra inning games in the postseason (3-0).
Of course there have probably been big hits by Hegan, Alomar, Martinez and the not mentioned Kelly Shoppach that set up run scoring chances for the team and I did cherry pick games they won, but wins come from these big hits and there just seems to be something about Indians catchers in the postseason and heroics vs. the Yankees like Alomar hitting a game tying home run against the best closer in baseball history and then Gomes’ in a game against a historically good bullpen in 2017.