COMMENTARY | While every team has its fair share of heroes over the years, every team also has its goat. "Goat," shortened from "scapegoat," is defined by Merriam-Webster as "one that bears the blame for others," as well as "one that is the object of irrational hostility."
For Red Sox Nation, it's Bill Buckner. For Chicago Cubs fans, it's Steve Bartman, who earned this dubious distinction without ever setting foot on the field. For fans of the Cleveland Indians, only one name comes to mind -- Jose Mesa.
It wasn't always like this, though. As a matter of fact, for nearly three years, Mesa was one of the most popular players on the team, with fans secure in the knowledge that a ninth-inning lead would be safe with the hard-throwing righty on the hill. Mesa finished second in the voting for the American League Cy Young Award in 1995, notching 46 saves with a stellar 1.13 earned run average. He again pitched well in 1996, posting 39 saves and being named to the American League All-Star team.
Unfortunately, 1997 turned out to be a year Mesa wished he could forget. After getting off to a very poor start, he was demoted from the closer's role in favor of offseason pickup Mike Jackson. Mesa did manage to pitch well enough over the summer to earn back his spot as the go-to guy at the end of the game, and got his ERA down to 2.40 heading into the playoffs.
After defeating the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, the Tribe advanced to their second World Series in three years against the upstart Florida Marlins. The World Series was back-and-forth, with the Indians and Marlins alternating wins the first six games. Game 7 was set for October 26, 1997, and a win would finally bring Indians faithful the championship they had craved for nearly half a century.
Rookie Jaret Wright and the Tribe bullpen shut down the Marlins' offense to the tune of one run over the first eight innings, and the Indians entered the ninth inning carrying a 2-1 lead. This was it, three more outs and all the disappointment and heartbreak suffered by Indians fans for decades would be a thing of the past. Mesa entered the game, and the weight of a city rested on his shoulders.
Sadly, Mesa collapsed under the weight. Leadoff hitter Moises Alou reached on a single and after striking out Bobby Bonilla, Mesa allowed another single to Charles Johnson, sending Alou to third. Craig Counsell hammered a long fly ball to right field, allowing Alou to tie the score on a sacrifice fly, and just like that the Indians were just hoping to get to extra innings.
The rest is history as the now-deflated Indians lost the game and the World Series on Edgar Renteria's 11th-inning single, leaving Mesa to be criticized and generally ridiculed in Cleveland. He was never the same for the Indians, and he was shipped to the San Francisco Giants in July 1998 after posting a lousy 5.17 ERA and only one save for the Tribe.
Even though he managed to collect over 200 saves and have some good seasons after leaving Cleveland, Mesa is still remembered to this day by most Clevelanders solely for blowing the save against the Marlins and costing the Indians a title. This alone makes Jose Mesa the biggest goat in Cleveland Indians history.
Shaun Heidrick is a Yahoo! Contributor that has followed the Cleveland Indians for 25 years.
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