On This Date in Sports October 26, 1997

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The Florida Marlins become the first Wild Card team to win the World Series, beating the Cleveland Indians 3-2 in 11 innings in Game 7 as Edgar Renteria drives home Craig Counsel with the winning run. Livan Hernandez who won two games in the series would be named World Series MVP. However, the joy of the championship would be short-lived as the Marlins team were quickly broken up in a controversial off-season fire sale.

The Florida Marlins managed by Jim Leyland were just in their fifth year of existence when Owner Wayne Huizenga decided to roll the dice and make a run at the postseason. The Marlins were buoyed by the addition of the Wild Card in 1994 and figured with a few key additions they could contend. Before the season the Marlins acquired Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd and Jim Eisenreich giving themselves one of the deepest lineups in the National League. While they were unable to break through the Atlanta Braves stranglehold of the National League East, the Marlins secured the Wild Card spot with a solid record of 92-70. In the Division Series, the Florida Marlins upset the San Francisco Giants in three straight, benefiting from starting the series at Pro Player Stadium with two walk-off wins to start the series. In the NLCS the Marlins took on the Braves, winning in six games. The hero of the series was Livan Hernandez who won Game 5 by a score of 2-1 starting in place of an ill Kevin Brown, with a record 15 batters. All the more remarkable, Hernandez had won Game 3 in relief just two days earlier.

The Cleveland Indians managed by Mike Hargrove was the American League Champions for the second time in three years, seeking again to win their first World Series since 1948. The Indians had posted a record of 86-76 in the regular season, and with a few exceptions had the same team that lost the 1995 World Series to the Braves in six games. In the Division Series, the Tribe survived a tough five-game battle with the reigning champion New York Yankees thanks to the pitching of Rookie Jaret Wright. They then moved on to the ALCS and beat the Baltimore Orioles in six games to reach the Fall Classic.

The World Series opened with 67,245 fans on hand at Pro Player Stadium as the tarps were removed from the upper deck for the first time as the Marlins had NLC MVP Livan Hernandez on the mound against Orel Hershiser. David Justice gave the Tribe an early lead with an RBI single in the first inning. The Marlins answered back with a run in the third and took the lead on a three-run home run by Moises Alou in the fourth inning, as Charles Johnson made it 5-1 one batter later with a solo shot. The Indians would later get home runs from Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, but it was not enough as the Marlins won the opener 7-4. The Tribe bounced back the following day as Chad Ogea allowed just one run seven hits in six and two-thirds innings as Cleveland won 6-1 to even the series.

After the first two games were played in warm South Florida, the series shifted to Northern Ohio, where an October chill hung in the air. Neither starting pitcher lasted long as both Al Leiter and Charles Nagy were hit hard, as the two teams combined for 25 runs, 26 hits, and six errors. The game went back and forth and was tied 7-7 heading into the eighth inning, as the Marlins got home runs from Gary Sheffield, Darren Daulton, and Jim Eisenreich, while Jim Thome’s home run led a singles parade for Cleveland. In the ninth inning, the Tribe defense unraveled with three errors that led to seven runs, four of which were unearned. The Tribe nearly answered loading the bases against Marlins Closer Rob Nen. The Indians rally would fall short as the Marlins won the game 14-11, with Omar Vizquel grounding out to end the game. Game 4 was a winter wonderland played in snow flurries as the game set the record for the coldest in the history of the fall classic at 38 degrees, with an 18-degree wind chill. Matt Williams led the offensive attack, going 3-for-3 with a home run and three RBI as the Tribe evened the series with a 10-3 win as Jaret Wright earned his third win of the postseason. In a rematch of Game 1, things looked good early for the Indians as Sandy Alomar Jr. built a 4-2 lead with a three-run shot in the third inning. However, Livan Hernandez settled down and the Marlins regained the lead with a three-run blast by Moises Alou in the sixth. The Marlins would tack on three more runs, including a ninth-inning RBI single by Alou who was quickly becoming the team’s most dangerous bat. Hernandez trying to finish the game allowed the first two runners to reach base before yielding to Rob Nen. Nen struggled again as the Indians scored three times in the ninth. However, Sandy Alomar Jr. flew out to deep right to end the game, as the Marlins won 8-7 to regain the series lead at 3-2.


In Miami for Game 6, it was Chad Ogea again coming up big for Cleveland, earning his second win of the series with the help of three relievers as the Indians won 4-1 to force a seventh game. Ogea also excelled with the bat, driving in the first two runs of the game in the second inning. In Game 7, the Indians had Jaret Wright on the mound against Al Leiter of the Marlins. The Tribe drew first blood on a two-run single by Tony Fernandez in the third inning. The Marlins could not get anything going against Wright until the seventh inning when Bobby Bonilla made it 2-1 with a solo home run. After hitless relief from Paul Assenmacher, Michael Jackson and Brian Anderson the Indians had Jose Mesa on the mound to close out their first championship since 1948 in the ninth inning. Moises Alou led off with a single. After Bonilla struck out, Alou advanced to third base with one out on a single by Charles Johnson. Alou would score the tying run on a sacrifice fly by Craig Counsell. Game 7 would go into extra innings tied 2-2 after neither team scored in the tenth inning, Jay Powell pitched around a leadoff walk by getting Jim Thome to hit into a double play. With Charles Nagy on the mound for the Tribe in the 11th inning, Bobby Bonilla led off with a single. After Greg Zaun failed to get a bunt down, the Tribe appeared to be getting out of the inning in similar fashion. However, Tony Fernandez booted a ball hit by Counsell at second allowing Bonilla to advance to third base with the winning run. Jim Eisenreich was walked to load the bases to create a force at every base. With Devon White at-bat, Fernandez atoned for his error forcing out Bonilla at home on a slow hit grounder. With two outs it was up to Edgar Renteria to win the game the game for the Marlins. On a 0-1 pitch, Renteria singled up the middle to score Craig Counsell, setting off a wild celebration in South Florida. Livan Hernandez was chosen as World Series MVP as the trophy was presented on the field for the first time.

The Florida Marlins would never get to savor the taste of victory as Owner Wayne Huizenga who was disappointed by the lack of crowd support in the regular season decided to break up the team in the off-season. As quickly as the expansion Marlins were turned into contenders they were back to an expansion like team, as nearly the entire team was traded away over the next 12 months. Huizenga never accounted for the difficulty in getting to Pro Player Stadium during a weeknight in Miami where frequent showers cause frequent rain delays, with a party city with plenty of outdoor nightlife. He also did account for fans still hurting from the 1994 strike, and boycotting baseball. However, with overflow crowds in the World Series, he never even gave the Marlins fans a chance to enjoy the championship and show up in 1998. The Marlins would go from World Champions to 54-108 in 1998 the worst ever for a team that won the World Series a record unlikely to ever be broken.

The Marlins path to the World Series forced another change as best record became the determining factor in playoff seeding. The format of the division series was also changed from the Wild Card or lower seed getting the first two games at home and three straight on the road, to a 2-2-1 format that forced the Wild Card to start on the road, and still need to a win a possible Game 5 on the road.