Tuesday, November 7, 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.

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