Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Cleveland That I Love

"My home team is NOT winning and it IS a shame.
Like all great art, 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' reveals deep truths."
~ Dave Holmes

Oh, 2017 Cleveland Indians, how you break my heart.

I'd like to say that I am proud of how my guys played, even in their defeat.  I'd like to say they left it all out on the field and gave it their best shot and we can all hold our heads high.

But mostly, the Cleveland Indians got beat by the New York Yankees.  Plain and simple.  

I am no expert, but here's my simplified analysis of "point here" to explain this catastrophic flatline:

Andrew Miller giving up the solo home run to Greg Bird in Game 3 coupled with Aaron Judge reaching up and robbing Frankie Lindor of a 2-run homer in that very same game.  Had Miller not given up that bomb and/or had Frankie's home run ball not been caught, the 2017 Cleveland Indians would have had the week off to prep for Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday night, tucked in and cozy at Progressive Field.

That was the game we had to win.  That one.  Otherwise, the Cleveland Curse cracks its knuckles and takes its reward.  We certainly watched it happen.  I mean...seven errors in the last two games from the best defensive team in the American League.  That can only be the act of disappointed baseball gods.  C'mon, Cleveland.  Get your act together.

I want to take a moment, actually, to talk about Game 3 and how brilliant Carlos Carrasco's pitching was.  No one is talking about the work he did and I want to give him a special shout out here.  While Bauer was terrific in Game 1, he was back to his old hot headed tricks in Game 4.  And Kluber, what a mess.  He was considerably better in last night's outing, but he gave up just as many home runs in this crucial early innings where we needed a chance to ignite our offense and get it going.  It's a steep mountain to climb when your starter is shaky, making everyone think they have to crush the ball to Lake Erie and instead just rack up strike outs.  But Carrasco pitched a beauty.  It would have been nice to see him get another postseason start. 

Maybe next year.

Last night's game was tough with Kluber giving up a first inning home run and a third inning two run homer, both to shortstop Didi Gregorious, and our offense being completely shut down by Yankee starter CC Sabathia.  Signs of life came to our hitters in the 5th as they got four straight hits, scoring twice with only one out, before CC was booted from the game.  We had ourselves a ballgame with the score now 3-2, Yankees still out front.  But we had two on and Frankie Lindor was up to bat when reliever Dave Robertson got him to hit into an inning ending double play.

That was the play that lost us the game.  That was our chance.  But we couldn't get it done.

It still seemed like a comeback was possible as the score remained 3-2 until the top of the 9th when our closer Cody Allen gave up a run and then a second run scored on back to back throwing errors, making the score 5-2.  The Indians barely even made it interesting in the 9th as only Jose Ramirez reached base on a walk and our offense otherwise fizzled out.

It was a very depressing way to end this series.  Our ace, our closer, our incredible offense, and even better defense completely detonating. Listening to Hammy and Rosie call the last two games, it was right there in their voices:  they called the game sounding defeated as Indians player after Indians player struck out.  I've been listening to these radio guys most of my life and I can't ever remember them sounding so frustrated.  I felt that frustration.  All of us who love this team did.

I don't care who wins the American League Championship Series -- or the National League Championship Series -- nor do I care about the winner of the World Series.  My season is over.  Time to buck up for next year.

Terry Francona, thanks for a great regular season.  Sorry your postseason run was a short one -- we all hoped it would go differently.  But I'm excited to watch your ball club again in the spring.  Most of our key guys will be back, but there will be a shakeup in the off-season, too, there always is.  Jay Bruce, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith, Michael Brantley, Josh Tomlin, Austin Jackson, and Carlos Santana are all possible free agents (there are options for Brantley and Tomlin), so it'll be interesting to see if they sign any of those guys.  It would be great to keep Santana -- he's been a cornerstone of this club for a long time.  But we'll probably lose him.  Bruce was helpful down the stretch and I've heard he'd like to stay in Cleveland, but again, we shall see.  It's hard to think about any of this stuff right now when what we should be thinking about is the ALCS.  

October baseball, how fickle you are.  I guess it was too much to hope that the Indians could make it back to the big dance two years in a row.

The silver lining to all of this, though, is the camaraderie that happens with my Tribe fan friends, near and far.  I've appreciated all the text messages, emails, and social media exchanges.  I've appreciated how tolerant my friends "in real life" have been with my mania, especially over the second half of the season when the team got rollin'.  It's such a lovely way to check in with folks and feel connected to friends all over the country.  Last night before the game, my 10-year-old nephew Landon FaceTimed me just to talk about our chances, and that kind of stuff is really what loving this sport is all about.  I don't know if football fans or basketball fans experience this kind of phenomenon.  America's favorite past time, right?  It certainly is mine.  And I think it's because there's so much to talk about with each and every game -- the stories that unfold in nine innings, the lives of the players and the managers both on and off the field.  And every team has its own narrative, its own set of circumstances that turn into a great jam session on game day, blending forces in a melodic way.  There's just nothing like baseball and I will continue to love it -- and my team -- even though it's so capable of breaking my heart, as it did last night.

Well, Cleveland Indians, there's still only one thing left to do:  win the whole f'ing thing.  Pull up a seat next to me and we can pass the time together until it happens.  We'll get there.  Someday.

Slam Range

One of my most sacred Baseball Rules is "Slam range is safe."  And what I mean by that is if a team is leading by more than five runs, especially in later innings, it's pretty likely that a comeback is out of the question.  

Last night my guys proved to be the exception to that rule all I can say is....  Frankie Lindor.

Things started out pretty shaky for the Indians as starter Corey Kluber had his worst outing of the year, going only two and two-thirds innings and giving up a staggering six runs.  The Indians seemed to be out of ideas in the hitter's box, eeking out three runs in that time but stranding guys on base, even a critical bases loaded/one out situation where we failed to score.  Indians radio announcer Tom Hamilton clucked his tongue and asked us to remember this inning, certain that it would be a tone-setter for the rest of the game.

And if it was any other team than the 2017 Cleveland Indians, Hammy would have been right.

With my team down 6-3 in the third inning, I asked my friend Jeryl, also a lifelong Indians fan, if Rally Tequila was a thing -- because I'd just poured myself a big glass full.  It was at least a little bit of a comfort as the score stretched to 8-3 by the 5th.  But, still, I sat there on the edge of my seat, soaking in each pitch, listening to the Cleveland crowd respond to the action, listening to the frustrated edge in Tom Hamilton and fellow announcer Jim Rosenhaus' voices, sipping my tequila and glancing forlornly at my official Jim Thome Bobblehead Doll, a gift from my college roommate Corey.  Jeryl and I wrote back and forth on Facebook, keeping each other positive, reminding ourselves that this was a best of five, that we didn't have to sweep, that our team was the comeback kind, be it in that game or in the series.

And the Indians didn't disappoint.

Enter the bottom of the sixth inning.  Yankees starter C.C. Sabathia (formerly a Cleveland starter -- so I have a lot of love left over for this teddy bear of a man) walked first baseman Carlos Santana to start things off.  Outfielder Jay Bruce lined out next and then Chad Green came on in relief.  His first act was to get outfielder Austin Jackson to fly out before giving up a double to catcher Yan Gomes after a crazy at-bat, advancing Santana to third.  Outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall came on to pinch hit and got on base after being struck by a ball.  So now with the bases loaded and two out, here comes short stop Francisco Lindor.  Hammy had just finished saying that Lindor's stats with bases loaded were a piddly .100 when the young shortstop did what he'd done so many times already during his career:  he saved the day by cranking a grand slam.  Bases clear.  Four score.  Progressive Field lost its mind. 

Frankly, so did I.  I was running around my room, screaming in disbelief.  Did that just happen???

That just happened.

And Jeryl?  Jeryl quipped that maybe my Rally Tequila was working.

But as exciting as that was, Lindor's grand slam made the score 8-7 -- the Yankees still had the advantage.

No problem for the Indians, though, as our killer bullpen got the job done keeping the score as-is, allowing outfielder Jay Bruce to go ahead and tie things up with a solo shot in the 8th, driving this game deeper and deeper into extra innings until Yan Gomes came through once more in the bottom of the 13th when he hit a single down the third baseline to score Austin Jackson from 2nd base.

To say it was an exciting finish to an unreal game would be the understatement of year.  After the game, manager Terry Francona said that theirs was a team that wasn't about one or two key guys -- but that every man on the roster contributed, mattered, and delivered, day after day, and that's why they'd had the success they've had during the regular season as well as the start of this postseason.

Have I mentioned how much I love Tito and how having a calm, level head like his at the helm is the key to this team's success?  Because, hello...

As the game ended, clocking in well over five hours, my social media and my text messages erupted as a host of us all checked in on each other, giddily sharing our relief that we'd come out of this one with a "W."  The best message, though, came from my 10-year-old nephew Landon who asked if I was going to write another book about this postseason.  Last year, I put together a group of blog posts I'd written about the postseason specifically for Landon, as well as his brothers, so they could always remember that historic run, so it made my already exploding heart grow ten times in size that Landon was hoping for the sequel.  

Of course, I am a realist:  we are only two games into the 2017 postseason and there is still a lot of baseball left to play.  But if last night's game was the "tone setter" that Hammy and Rosie saw it as, I am feeling good about our chances, at least in the ALDS.  We'll worry about what's next when we get there.

Day off today, which is good.  My nerves need it.  My forearms, tight from five straight hours of hand-wringing, really need it.  Thank goodness my friends and co-workers humor my baseball fervor, especially entertained by my regaling with the tale of last night's epic come-from-behind victory, proving that not even slam-range keeps the best team out of the win-column.

What better day to sport the WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWIndians shirt?

Originally posted on the Inspired in 2017 blog on October 7, 2017.

Still One Win Away

Well, we lost Game 3 of the American League Divisional Series.

I went over to my friend Lauren's to watch the game -- or attempt to watch the game, as the case may be -- and so before I get into the nitty gritty of what turned out to be a stellar nine innings of baseball, I have to gripe about these games being "blacked out" by services like MLB-TV.  Like, guys, it's right there in your name:  YOU ARE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.  YOU ARE MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL TELEVISION.  Why in the name of all that is good and holy do you not stream playoff games??? These are arguably the most important, desired-to-be-watched games of the season and they aren't available through your service?  Even when you offer a Postseason Package?  It's bananas!  I love listening to Hammy and Rosie call the game and use the televised visual as a nifty instant replay (since the video feed often lags a few seconds behind the radio broadcast), but I am not happy that it's made impossible to watch my team in the playoffs, even when I am willing to pay for it.

Lauren had run into this issue in 2015 when her beloved Mets had a killer postseason run right to the World Series (only to lose to the Royals) and MLBTV had let her down, but she'd gotten herself a single month subscription to Sling TV which let her tune in, no problem.  So she suggested I come over and we try this option out.


It was beyond frustrating....  But luckily, Lauren is a true baseball fan and a good sport, so we did it up like I do at home:  MLB Radio streaming Hammy and Rosie with GameDay on the computer showing the pitch by pitch.

And what we got to enjoy was one helluva game that turned out to be an epic pitchers' duel:  Carlos "Cookie" Carrasco vs Mashahiro Tanaka.  These two dudes came to win and they walked right in stride with each other, each working into the sixth inning and beyond (Carrasco was lifted in the 6th with the bases loaded and two out for reliever Andrew Miller while Tanaka remained in until the 7th).  Both pitchers struck out seven, both gave up only three hits, both left the game without giving up a run.

In fact, there was only one run in the entire ballgame:  a 7th inning home run by Greg Bird off Andrew Miller, who had worked out of that bases loaded jam in the 6th only to start things off in the next inning by giving up what turned out to the winning run.

The Indians did have chances:  early on, Kip hit a triple with one out and we couldn't get him home.  Frankie Lindor skied a ball to center field that rookie sensation Aaron Judge leaped up right at the wall and grabbed, straight up robbing our shortstop of a two-run homer.  And even in the 9th inning, we managed to get two on before Carlos Santana (who put up a fantastic at-bat) popped out to end the game.

This was a game about the pitchers -- it was another shining example of what the sport is all about.

Yeah, my team lost this particular rumble, but I am proud of how hard they played, especially now at Yankee Stadium where the fans are horrific examples of sportsmanship -- even booing manager Joe Girardi when his named was announced with the starting lineup.  

OK, this is a sidenote, but let's get into this for a hot second...  Why did the Yankee fans boo him?  Because it turned out there was a controversy regarding the Lonnie Chisenhall hit-by-a-pitch scenario in that insane Game 2 eventual win for my guys.  In case you need a refresher:  picture it -- 6th inning at Progressive Field, Indians trailing the Yankees 8-3.  There were already two men aboard for reliever Chad Green when Chisenhall's pinch hit at-bat ended when it was ruled he was HBP.  Listening to this call on the radio, I had no idea it was controversial or anything but a "routine" take-yer-base.  The next batter up was Frankie Lindor who cranked a grand slam that brought the Tribe within one run of the Yankees and undoubtably changed the tide for the team.  What I learned later was that there seemed to be some question if Chisenhall had been hit or if he had foul tipped it into the catcher's glove for out number three.  Had Girardi challenged the call, the inning might have ended right there, no grand slam, no Cleveland comeback.

But the simple fact is that he didn't challenge the call, the game moved on, and Frankie did what he did.  Splitting hairs over shoulda-coulda-woulda in a situation like this is a tough road to walk and Girardi should focus on other things.  Yeah, he could have challenged the call, but maybe it wouldn't have been overturned.  I, myself, haven't seen this footage and since my team was on the benefitting side of this HBP call, I see no reason to delve into it, personally.  I'm sure Yankeefans feel differently and have poured over it in excruciating detail.  But here's the other thing:  Green gave Frankie a ball he could hit outta there.  Girardi didn't challenge the call or make a big deal about it because he looked at the information and saw that his pitcher should be able to record an out with this guy and let him do his job.  Green couldn't get the job done -- just like Miller couldn't get the job done last night for my team.  It happens.  I'm certainly not going to lambast my players or my manager for making an educated guess or for making a mistake.  

Of course, I am not a spoiled Yankeefan.  I see the game very differently.  It made me sad and a little angry to hear that Girardi had been booed by the at-capacity Yankee Stadium when he'd gotten this squad to the postseason and to this position in the first place.  Late in the radio broadcast, Hammy was talking about this situation and also how a fan tweeted something unfavorable about Girardi that Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman had "liked" only to "unlike," so Hammy reported, clearly unfamiliar with this social media business, and apologized to his skipper for drawing attention that way.  That does show some humanity on Chapman's part and I'm glad to hear he recognized how unprofessional that behavior was, but even so.  I can't imagine being part of a chorus of booing someone from my team, especially during the playoffs.  The fact that Joe Girardi had to prepare his children for the fans' predictable contempt against him is disturbing.  But I guess that's what it's like to be part of the New York Yankees legacy.

Digression over.

So here's where we stand:  the Indians lead the series 2-1 and are one win away from moving on to the American League Championship Series.  The Astros/Red Sox series is in the same boat, with the Astros up 2-1.  Both the Yankees and the Red Sox are very capable of tying their respective series up, especially since both clubs are now playing at home, so it's really anyone's guess as to how this will all shake out.  It's rainy here in the Northeast today, so it'll be a wait-and-see if either game can be played.  Things are scheduled to get underway in Boston at 1pm today and at 7pm tonight in New York.  According to my weather app, at 1pm, there's a 15% chance of rain but by 2pm, it's 55% and climbing all the way through until 9pm.  In New York, there's a 65% chance of rain at 7pm that holds through also until 9pm.  So will there be Game 4's today?  Wait and see, baseball fans...  Wait and see.

May the best team win.  May that team be from Cleveland.  Amen.

Originally posted on the Inspired in 2017 blog on October 9, 2017.

Sometimes You've Gotta Wait Until the Bottom of the 9th

Last night's Indians v Rockies game is a great metaphor for patience.  The two teams set up for their interleague play in Cleveland and it turned out to be a pitcher's duel:  Indians Ace Corey Kluber vs young Rockies up-and-comer German Márquez.  Kluber gave up a second-pitch-of-the-game home run to center fielder Charlie Blackmon and that remained the difference all the way until the 9th inning.  Kluber, aka "Klubot," pitched a beauty besides that unfortunate HR in the 1st, striking out 11 batters in the full nine innings pitched.  I watched this game wishing for a miracle, saying out loud, "It really would suck if Kluber got the loss on this game -- complete game, essentially perfect except for the one mistake..."  If you've never watched Kluber pitch, you guys, you really should.  He's a monster, a machine.  He just remains calm at all times, rarely giving up walks and rarely losing the game.  He deserved this win.  But would he get it?

Márquez left the game for the Rockies after the 6th and the bullpen parade that came after him proceeded just like he had: consistent, confident, rarely working into jams.  But still -- it was a one-run game.  We just needed one run to tie it, even, just to give Kluber the chance for his tenth win of the season.

Bottom of the 9th, the Indians were down to their final three outs -- it was do or die time and they'd have to do it against Greg Holland, one of the best closers in baseball this season.  The first batter up, Jose Ramirez, popped out.  Then Edwin Encarnacion drew a walk, which lead to substituting Brandon Guyer as a pinch runner.  Carlos Santana struck out to leave the Tribe down to their final out.  Bradley Zimmer drew Walk #2 of the inning, positioning runners at first and second.  My guys were making Holland work -- which is always the key, especially for closers or any bullpen guy whose job is usually to throw as few pitches as possible.  The more these guys have to labor, the harder it is for them to be effective.  Holland had already thrown something like 25 pitches when up to bat comes Austin Jackson who bloops a single, bringing Guyer home to tie the game.

I was on my feet, doing a dance, so psyched, but barely even had time to soak that in before Yan Gomes hit one of the first pitches he saw into the bleachers for a walk-off 3-run home run.  Final score: Indians 4, Rockies 1.  Ballgame.

It. Was. So. Fucking. Awesome.

There's something so memorable and special about these 9th inning victories -- all of Progressive Field still packed to the gills with screaming fans there to watch Gomes get mobbed at home plate.  It's its own brand of exhilaration, especially when Gomes says in a post-game interview, "We had to find a way to win it for Kluber."  It's connected, it's social, it's the fusion of goals, it's teamwork.  I listened to a podcast once where someone referred to baseball as the only "individual sport team sport," and a game like last night's very beautifully illustrates this point.  Clearly, if it was so simple to hit home runs or even just play small ball to get guys across home plate, the scores would be astronomical -- it wasn't like the Indians weren't trying to get those runs across earlier in the game to give Kluber -- and the team -- the big W.  But the energy had to be right, the momentum had to be in their favor for the Jackson/Gomes one-two boom game-ender.  

It's a good reminder that sometimes you have to wait for those victories -- you've got to be patient and steady and constantly working.  It won't always end like last night's game did (somewhere a poor Rockies fan is blogging the opposite of this, for example), but having memories of things like this in my back pocket are true nuggets of "everything will be ok."  Sometimes you've got to power through inning after inning after inning of maintenance before the most exciting thing possible happens.  

Thank you, baseball, for being this constant source of uplifting inspiration.  It helps me play my figurative nine innings every day.  Keep these great moments comin'...

Originally posted on the Inspired in 2017 blog on August 9, 2017.

Here's Why Baseball's Cool

A simple look at the final score -- 5-4 -- might make last nights Indians vs White Sox game seem pretty hum drum, but it was a pretty wild ride.  

For instance:  It's the bottom of the seventh.  Score's tied.  Starter Corey Kluber leaves the game with runners on 1st and 3rd with only one out.  In comes Andrew Miller, our ace set up guy, who does what he does best: scare the shit out of everyone.  The first batter he faces, Yoan Moncada, he hits, which loads the bases.  Then comes Matt Davidson who has another wild at bat vs. Miller when Miller wins the day on a controversial call by the homeplate umpire, after Davidson was maybe hit by the ball.  At first, the umpire made no ruling at all before declaring it a strike, saying Davidson's bat made contact with the ball.  That got the White Sox manager out of the dugout and in the ump's face until play resumed with the call standing, eventually leading to Miller striking Davidson out -- and then striking out Kevan Smith, the next batter, getting Miller out of quite a jam.

And that's just a for instance.

Last night's game was a real gem where the Indians eventually got the go-ahead run after loading the bases and having a pinch hitter -- poor Brandon Guyer -- get drilled by a pitch, which brought in the winning run.  Let's not neglect to mention that reliever Gregory Infante had hit Yan Gomes to load the bases for Guyer and had walked the previous batsman, all with two outs.  This is the kind of thing that makes fans go nuts.  Like, what the hell are you doing, man???

But that's why I love baseball.  It's high drama.  It's real skill.  It's vulnerable.  It's unpredictable.

I wish I had time to write more, but that's my time for today.  More baseball thoughts soon, I'm sure.

Originally posted on the Inspired in 2017 blog on July 30, 2017.

Opening Day

Baseball's BACK, baby!

For those of you who are new to the program, I am a rabid, diehard Cleveland Indians fan.  Ask me how my October was?  OCTOBER WAS FUCKING FANTASTIC.  And even though my team fell short at the 11th hour, losing Game 7 of the World Series to the Chicago Cubs, it was still some of the best baseball I have ever witnessed in my life.  I ate, lived, walked, talked, slept, was Cleveland Baseball for the entire playoff season last fall and it really fed my soul.  It'd been many years since my team had given me much to give a hoot about and since none of my current friends (well, I should say "very few" of my current friends) even know there are nine innings in a game, it's been hard to keep up with the action.  Living in Boston where it's Red Sox Red Sox Red Sox all spring, summer, and fall, it's even harder to know what my Cleveland team is up to.  Thank goodness for social media and the At Bat app.  But it's not the same as watching every game (which is what I used to do back in Ohio every spring, summer, and fall), so having the entire month of October to plan my life not only around what yoga class I was taking that day but what time the playoff game was just revved me up.  My friends stared at me like I was a curious beast.  "I had no idea you even liked baseball," my friend Elliott said repeatedly, shocked at how many Indians t-shirts and tank tops I owned.  Well, ya learn something new every day, and my yoga-friends learned for about thirty straight days what a maniac I am about the sport.  

So, yes, I'm a tinge excited about Opening Day.

Here in Boston, the Red Sox are playing at Fenway and the weather is gorgeous -- sunny, 50's, perfect.  But my attention will be paid to the Indians who are opening up their season in Texas.  Boy oh boy, I can't wait to see how they get this going.  It's a long season full of ups and downs, but I have a good feeling.  I'll keep up with the daily scores and the standing and the news.  I listen to the Cleveland Indians podcast now so it'll be easier to learn all the key players and the key plays that move the season along.  I am excited.  This is pure joy.  Let's play ball!

And for those of you who might be interested (#shamlessplug alert), I put together a book that recaps my 2016 playoff viewing experience as a gift for my baseball-loving family that I have made available to, well, the world when a few folks requested it.  It's available in paperback here.  Get YOUR copy today!  

OK, #shamlessplug over.  And now it's time to sing the National Anthem and get that first pitch across home plate.  Will it be a ball or a strike?  Will it be a swing and miss or a foul or contact that puts it into play?  What will happen next?  I don't know about you, but I'll be following the action. Go Tribe.  

Originally posted on the Inspired in 2017 blog on April 3, 2017.

In Tito We Trusted

"Nearly all of last year's playoffs was a blast.  We were all in it together and for awhile, it was as good as it gets.  It was like a dream.  The city embraced us and we fed off the energy.  When LeBron and the Cavs showed up for the games, it was icing on the cake.  While the dream came crashing down at the last minute, it was a great ride and we are better for it.  Now it's a new postseason, and this team believes more than ever in what we can do.

We're better prepared and we've been tested.  We've proven to ourselves that we're a special group that is going to take everything we've been through together -- last year's World Series, this year's winning streak -- and put all of those lessons to use.

We believe we can write a better ending this time.

We know it.

We've already seen one miracle this year.

And that was us just getting started.  Believe me.

The winning streak was only a dry run.

You ready for the real thing?"

~ Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians Relief Pitcher

The Indians beat the Yankees last night in Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series with a final score of 4-0.  Who's pumped?

Me.  I'm pumped.  I'd also like to say I knew we'd get that first win out of the way on Day 1, but I am superstitious about my baseball to the extent that I not only won't say such a braggy thing, I won't think it, either.  Did I like our chances?  Sure.  My guys won the regular season series against our opponent and we're arguably "the hottest team in baseball."  But it's the playoffs and all of that stuff goes somewhat out the window as things like nerves and it's now or never come into play.  You know how all year you might roll your eyes at your baseball-loving friend, partner, co-worker and say, "It's not, like, Game 7 of the World Series -- relax."  Well...  We're not there yet, but we're close enough that there's no eye-rolling allowed in the presence of someone who is into their postseason groove.

Before the start of last night's game at Progressive Field in Cleveland, the media and fans alike were puzzling a bit over Tribe manager Terry Francona's decision to have Trevor Bauer take the mound instead of our "ace" Corey Kluber, who's starting Game 2.  It's typical for the best pitcher to take the ball in the first game of the series to lock down that win, a strategy that's only faulty in that both teams take the same approach.  And according to modern day baseball rules, the game can't end in a tie, so someone's plans are doomed to be thwarted.  Now, I don't know exactly why Tito went with Bauer for Game 1, but I can guess a few things came into play:

1.  His club would face the team who won the Wild Card spot, which means that they'd likely have used their "ace" in that game, so such "matchups" were more or less irrelevant.

2.  Pitching Kluber in Game 2 kept our guy on his regular rotation with rest dayskeeping him on his regiment, something that has been a key to his success all season.

3.  This set the Indians up to have Kluber available to start Game 5 of the ALDS, should all five games be necessary.

4.  Oh yeah.  Trevor Bauer went 17-9 with an ERA of 4.19 during the regular season.  Seventeen wins ain't nothin' to sneeze at.  

5.  Terry Francona knows what the hell he's doing.  Relax, everyone.  In Tito We Trusted.

That's right.  It was five years ago today that the news broke that Tito was going to be managing the Indians.  I got the news via text, first from my friend Shane and then from my brother Joshua.  Everyone who knows baseball understands how significant it is to get a manager like Terry Francona to steer your club.  He's simply the best.  And while some of his decisions might seem a little head-scratch-worthy, I know -- without a doubt -- that Tito is putting in motion the best possible plan the moment can offer and that his confidence in his guys is what propels them even more into greatness.

What's that, you say?  You'd like another example?  Roll the Jason Kipnis footage:

Yeah, that's just Kip making a airborne diving catch in the third inning last night.  Kip, who spent big chunks of the second half on the disabled listed with a hamstring injury, made it back on the roster late in the season, though he'd essentially lost his spot at second base to Jose Ramirez who'd filled in while he was away.  J-Ram and Frankie Lindor's double play dance was not to be disrupted, so Tito sent Kip back in time to his college days where he'd played in the outfield.  Sure, it'd been awhile since he'd done it, but Tito gave him the month of September to try it out and it all seemed to be going well.  But last night's jaw-dropping catch was beyond anything Kipnis had to do during that trial month, which only shows that Tito was right to trust his defensive abilities in center field.  

What a beautiful moment in last night's game.

But even more beautiful was Bauer, going 6 2/3 innings, striking out eight, and giving up just two hits and zero runs.  Clearly, Bauer came to play and made his boss look pretty smart in the process.  

Reliever Andrew Miller wrote a piece that came out yesterday about the this year's win-streak and what it was like to lose in Game 7 of last year's World Series, and how all of these things have bonded this team in undeniable ways.  I highly recommend you give the whole piece a read (it's linked up top) -- it gave me chills, partially because of the subject matter and partially because, hello, Miller is a writer, too??  He and I should probably hang out.  But, anyway, the point is that he is describing a fearless, driven, capable team, a team that understands its components and works best together.  He's right:  this is Believeland and his team has captured our attention in full force.  

Will the Indians make it back to the World Series?  Tito'd be the first one to tell you that's not a question that's on the docket today.  Today's game is the only thing that matters.  Win or lose, they only need to be the first ones to get three total wins to move on to the American League Championship Series.  We'll take this in stages.  We'll focus on the first pitch at 5:08pm today, once again at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario in Downtown Cleveland, Ohio.  

May the best team win.  May that team be from Cleveland.  Amen.

Originally posted in the Inspired in 2017 blog on October 6, 2017.


You.  Guys.  This:

Where my Tribe Fans at?  High fives to you all.  Our team is en fuego.  And in the best possible way.

Yesterday was a historic one with my beloved Cleveland Indians winning their 21st game in a row.  That beats the previous American League record of 20, set by the Oakland A's back in 2002 and ties the Major League baseball record of the 1936 Chicago Cubs.  The only other technicality standing in the Tribe's way is the 1916 New York Giants who didn't lose for 26 straight games, except that one of those games was a mysterious tie that used to happen in our great-grandpa's baseball.  But the other technicality is that the Cleveland Indians' win-streak is the longest in "modern" baseball history since both the Cubs and Giants records were set before the league became integrated -- Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.  Arguably, Major League Baseball didn't truly begin until the world's elite players of all races and ethnicities were playing the sport together.

Regardless of your stance on any of these finer points, a twenty-one game winning streak is fucking impressive, no matter how you feel about baseball.

And while this sport (of all sports) can be pretty flukey, it really hasn't been for the Indians during this run.  They've been playing like beasts, firing on all cylinders, with heart-stoppingly good starting pitching to highlight reel defense (can you say....Gionvanny Urshela?) to patient-yet-aggressive at-bats that lead to smart base running.  

During this win-streak:
- The Indians have outscored their opponents 139-35.
- They have only trailed in four innings out of 189 played.
- Tribe starters (#1 in the American League) have only given up 25 earned runs and have an impressive earned run average of 1.7. 
- Starters have also gone 19-0....largely because in 18 of the 21 games, starters have given up two runs or less, including seven shut outs (meaning the opposing team did not score any runs).
- The Indians have scored first in 19 of the 21 games -- in the first three innings, my guys have outscored their opponent 68-13.
- Tribe hitters have combined for 41 home runs during the streak -- and not just "the big guys," but a lot of recent call-ups and not-typically-power-hitter guys have gotten in on this action.
- The Indians hitters are batting .305 as a team and slugging .566.

And according to the statistics website FiveThirtyEight, the Indians aren't even living up to their potential with these kinds of numbers!  Read that full article here (and I recommend you do -- it gave me the chills), but what the data suggests is that the 2017 Cleveland Indians could and should and can do better than what this win-streak is showing America right now.  That if you're looking to jump on bandwagon, the CLE one might be the best destination for your desire to back a winner at this exact moment.  We've still got key guys, name reliever Andrew Miller (maybe the biggest reason the Indians made it to Game 7 of the World Series last season), outfielder Michael Brantley, and second baseman Jason Kipnis on the disabled list -- not to mention that streaky starter Danny Salazar has been streaky-in-a-bad-way during this winning stretch and should he figure his shit out, oh my sweet baby jesus.  Basically, if the Indians' rotation -- especially Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer -- can stay healthy and remain this locked in, for get a bout it.  The 2017 Cleveland Indians are even more of the real deal than this historic run even suggests.  That is saying something pretty major.

So, what's next.  The Indians open a four-game series at home against the struggling Kansas City Royals, who once had a hot streak of their own this summer that threatened to overtake Cleveland in their run for the Central Division Pennant (I haven't forgotten, KC) then hittin' up the West Coast for a series against the Angels, followed by the Mariners, before returning home to close out the regular season against the Twins and the White Sox.  If we check out this chart:

...we see that the Royals, Mariners, and Angels are not technically out of the hunt for the Wild Card  (but probably all three are) while the White Sox have been outright eliminated from play-off potential.  Theoretically, the Indians could continue to waltz all the way through that 26-game technical win-streak set back in 1916.  But at this point, who cares?  The Indians are playing great baseball that's really fun to watch -- even some of the games they've lost this season have been incredibly dramatic and full of great surprises, so while I'd love love love (who am I kidding -- I'd fucking love it) if my team removed all doubt and shattered that 1916 NY Giants record, I also am happy just to watch them play well day in and day out, remaining consistent and playing smart, clean, productive games.  

This is where Terry Francona's leadership is shining through so brilliantly -- every word out of his mouth is about today's matchup and nothing else.  He started this leveled way of talking about his team when they were staring a long, unbreakable stretch of games without a day off (I think like was like 26 days in a row), all against incredibly tough teams -- like Boston and New York and the then-mighty Kansas City and Minnesota -- much of those games on the road on top of that -- but Francona didn't let anyone's eyes drift past this game today and the result was a cool-headed, relaxed, focused, driven team that just kept getting better and better until......history was made.

If you were to ask me what I'd rather: the Indians breaking this win-streak record or the Indians winning the World Series, I'd laugh heartily in your face.  Obviously, a brilliant postseason -- including World Series rings for all -- is what all baseball fans want for their team.  But (I just knocked on wood) why can't we have both (knocks on wood again)?  Thinking back to that FiveThirtyEight article we all took the time to read, the Indians are in a great position, better than other teams with similar success (namely the A's), to continue to be successful as the regular season finishes up.  Check out this chart:

My oh my, the numbers don't lie.

And neither do I as I tilt my head up to the sky and yell "GO TRIBE!"

Yeah, this win-streak is making my rhyme in my prose.  Deal with it.  And deal with this:

It's Believeland or Bust.  I love you no matter what....but in the words of Lou Brown, "Let's give 'em all a nice big shit burger to eat."  Go Tribe.

For a recap of all 21 of the games in the streak, click here.

Originally posted in the Inspired in 2017 blog on September 14, 2017.

The Cleveland Curse

I was fully expecting to watch baseball all the way through the month of October, maybe even into early November, and so now I'm a little lost.  I probably read thirty articles yesterday about the ALDS that my Cleveland Indians lost to the New York Yankees, and while some of them offered interesting insights, they mostly just bummed me out.  Especially the articles about the guys who are potentially free agents, each and every one of them very emotional about wanting to stay with the Cleveland baseball organization.  "Indians Not Ready to Tackle Uncertain Future" was the most heartbreaking, especially this section:

First of all, Santana sat alone at his locker while everyone crowded around Jay Bruce is just such a sad image...  Carlos Santana got his Major League start with the Indians and has been part of this team for eight seasons.  He's been one of the most dedicated, driven guys on the team, playing every day, playing through minor injuries, turning into a really good defensive first baseman -- and, oh yeah, he can hit.  They don't call him "Slamtana" for nothing.  It's hard to imagine this team without him.  He's part of the brotherhood that makes watching this team so fun.  It's no wonder Santana -- and Bruce and Brantley and Tomlin and Shaw and the rest of them -- want to remain part of this squad.  The bond is real in that clubhouse -- the leadership is respected -- and these guys know they're winners.

So what the hell happened?

Obviously, what happened is they played sloppy baseball, especially in Game 4 but also in Game 5.  There seemed to be a lot of questions about roster decisions and starting pitching decisions in the articles I read -- a few of the questions I had as well, the main one being why start Trevor Bauer on short rest when you've got Josh Tomlin (the predicated starter for Game 4) or even Danny Salazar (the only pitcher not used in that epic Game 2)?  Tomlin did pitch for two innings in the Friday night game, so I'm not entirely sure if that left him not able to start, but at least one article I read said he was available.  We had a bullpen half full of starters -- so maybe starting Bauer was a tactical error.  But at the time, I am certain that Terry Francona wanted to go with the guy he thought could finish off the Yankees and so he gave the ball to Trevor.  Trevor got beat, but he wasn't helped by third baseman Gionvanny Urshela's throwing errors, either.  Other articles questioned Tito's call to put Urshela on the postseason roster in the first place when Yandy Diaz had played third base most regularly all season and was a little more dependable offensively (one article called Urshela an "easy out" -- ouch).  But I am one fan who was thrilled to see Gio make the roster and get that start at third.  Have you seen the defensive show this kid puts on?  It's thrilling!  If I were in Tito's shoes, I would have done the same exact thing.  You never know how a really green player will respond to the postseason spotlight -- look at Yankee rookie sensation Aaron Judge and his whopping sixteen strikeouts during the series, setting a new postseason record.  It's not just Indians players who cracked under the pressure -- it's just that an organization like the Yankees is better equipped to deal with it.

If you think about the 2016 postseason, the Indians came in as the underdogs.  Sure, they won the Central, but, well, how competitive is the Central?  ((I mean, it can be pretty competitive, but I'm just standing in as a snobby 'Wait-there-are-other-teams-besides-the-Yankees-and-the-Red-Sox???' baseball 'fan'))  In the ALDS, my guys were pitted against the winners of the East, the almighty Red Sox, winner of three World Series Championships in the last twelve seasons.  It was David Ortiz' last season as a player -- everyone was rooting for Big Papi to add another ring to his jewelry box.  But the Indians, plagued with last minute injuries to key starting players (especially pitchers), weren't even considered to get out of that first round.  But the Indians swept the Red Sox in three straight games, turning the heads of everyone in Major League Baseball.

Then it was on to the ALCS against the Blue Jays.  Honestly, this was the least interesting part of the playoffs for me because I have no interest in the Toronto Blue Jays.  There are some teams I find unexciting -- probably there are people who feel that way about my team, so hold your fire, I'm just expressing an opinion -- so it was just a matter of, "OK, let's beat these guys."  The Blue Jays got into the postseason as the Wild Card and I forgot who they even beat to move on to the ALCS (it was the Texas Rangers, just looked it up)....and actually, as I'm writing this, I'm realizing it worked out exactly the same this year:

2016:  ALCS was #2 Seed Cleveland Indians vs Wild Card Winner Toronto Blue Jays.

2017:  ALCS is #2 Seed Houston Astros vs Wild Card Winner New York Yankees.

Well, that gave me chills.


Anyway...  The Indians cleared out the Blue Jays, winning the series 4-1.  So if we think about this... the Indians weren't favored in Round 1 and Round 2 was against a team that isn't exactly polarizing.  Again, the pressure was off.  And then when it came to the World Series, it was just a cake moment.  Whodathunkit that this was even possible?  While the Indians came out strong with an early 3-1 lead in that series, we all remember how they eventually lost in that incredible Game 7.  Even though they lost, it was such a treat for Indians fans to have our guys there in this crazy-historic event featuring the two teams in baseball with the longest World Series Championship droughts.  It was exciting and captured the attention of the entire country.  Suddenly, all eyes were on the Cleveland Indians.  Is that what lead to their collapse right at the finish line?  Could be.  Who knows?  That Game 7 was one of the best baseball games I have ever witnessed, so it's hard for me to feel bad about that missed opportunity.  For me, it's the effort and the passion that matters -- that if the "W" isn't possible, at least the team did its best to be successful.

I think we all can agree that the 2017 Postseason had a different feel to it.  The Indians came into October with the second best record in all of baseball (the Los Angeles Dodgers ended their season with 104 wins compared to the Indians' 102) and were widely considered to be the best all-around team in the majors.  Best starting rotation, best bullpen, best defense, strong, patient offense...  We've gone over many of these stats already.  We were also almost exactly the same team as 2016, so postseason experience was on our side, too.  But when you get into a scenario when the national media is saying things like, "The Cleveland Indians are heavily favored to defeat the New York Yankees in this first round..."  Well...  That does a thing to a person.  True, the Yankees are in something of a "rebuild" year, just barely squeaking into the postseason at all.  But they're still the Yankees.  That name drives fear, dread, and loathing to all baseball fans outside of the Bronx.  Even though, on paper, the 2017 Cleveland Indians were superior in almost every way to the 2017 New York Yankees, you still have to play the games in real time and maybe those pinstripes worked their psychological impact on our hitters, especially.  Starting pitching sort of is what it is in the postseason -- and that is to say it is outstanding -- so the real challenge is who can get the offense going against these elite pitchers?  The Indians choked in the batting box.  Our big guys, especially, barely turned on the faucet.  If I had to listen to Tom Hamilton woefully call "strike three" or "it's a dribbler to first base" one more time, I was going to scream.  Where was our offense?  I think we left it back in September, back in the safety of the regular season where we closed out the year against teams not having great years, like the Chicago White Sox and the Seattle Mariners.  Had we faced the Red Sox that last week -- or the Yankees, even, or the Astros, maybe we would have been sharper come October.  But that's how the schedule shakes out -- you don't know on Opening Day which teams are going to be in it come the end of the season.

I think most people assumed the Indians would be in exactly the position they were in on the last day of the regular season.  I think most people thought the Indians would make it back to the World Series.  I don't think anyone -- except for Joe Girardi and his team -- thought the Indians would fail to advance beyond the ALDS.

And I'm starting to wonder if that is exactly why the Indians imploded like they did.

As good of a manager as Terry Francona is (and he is undeniably the best in the business -- thank you, baseball gods, for bringing Tito to Cleveland -- we've got him for three more years and I hope many more after that), he can't erase the "small market mentality" that is part of the Cleveland tradition.  He can try to impart his wisdom and give his team tools to cope with the big stage, but he can't get up there and swing the bat for them or field those balls or make those pitches.  The players have to do that themselves.  I keep thinking about something Jay Bruce said a lot when he first came to the Cleveland dugout in August -- how "Cleveland was more his speed" than the super high pressure of the Mets.  That he liked things a little tamped down.  And while I can appreciate how desirable it might be to have a chiller clubhouse and fan-base and media presence...  Isn't having a ferocious setting what elevates some of these teams and keeps them ready to win every day, no matter the pressures or criticisms?  Of all of these things, I think it's likely the media that gets to these guys the most.  Having cameras shoved in your face demanding you explain yourself or people tweeting about you or whatever it might be.  Maybe it was lack of preparedness for this national attention that got to the Tribe this postseason.  Maybe it was the expectation that they'd easily beat the Yankees, piddly Wild Card winners that they are, that did mean things to the insides of our players' minds.  I honestly don't know.  But now I've got a lot of time to wonder and suppose, so this is where I'm at right now.

Cleveland "niceness" may be just the thing that curses us.

Chew on that for a hot second.

Chew on that for an additional hot second because how can we ever "fix" this?

Maybe what we should all hope for in 2018 is a solid but unremarkable Indians season that lands us once again on top of the Central, slipping quietly into the postseason without any fuss or fanfare.  If we can make it easily through the ALDS then we can hope to be facing a hum-drum team like, say, the Rays or the Rangers or even a fun-for-us showdown with the Twins.  Oooohhh, tantalizing! ...said no one ever.  And once we cruise through that series, we'll be back where we want to be, facing a team who will undoubtably be favored to win since the Indians have such a history of coming unglued in these situations and we can prove it by having the longest championship drought in the majors, giving us our favorite "underdog" status and maybe then...maybe then...we can finally win it all.

Sneak in through the back door, 2018 Cleveland Indians. That's my advice for you.

One thing's for sure:  I'll be there, cheering for you all the way, sucker that I am for this team and this city and this chance to see a "nice guy" win.

Originally posted in the Inspired in 2017 blog on October 13, 2017.