Prior to the season, if you would’ve told me that the Indians would be all but out of the pennant race in early August, I probably wouldn’t be surprised. It seems as if most seasons, they exist just to disappoint their fans. Even with the collapse of the Red Sox late last season, I figured they’d bounce back this season to contend as they always do. I probably would be surprised to learn that they were almost out of it in early August. If you told me that the Indians would manage to pull off a win against Boston in early August thanks to Brent Lillibridge and Zach McAllister, I would’ve laughed in your face. You remove those two players from this game, and the outcome could have been quite different. There were a few hard-hit balls early off McAllister and he had to dance out of trouble in the fourth inning. Other than that, he managed to shut down what could still be a very potent Boston lineup. McAllister was aided on the offensive end by Brent Lillibridge; the man designated for assignment by Boston after he arrived there via the Kevin Youkilis trade. They chose Will Middlebrooks over Youkilis, and then released a very poor performing Lillibridge. Middlebrooks ends up with a broken wrist, and the very next night Lillibridge comes back to haunt them.
It wasn’t until Lillibridge’s final at-bat that I even realized how close he was to the cycle. A friend had joked about the fact that he was the major trade deadline deal after his big home run, but he just kept hitting after that point. I kept saying it over and over, because it just seemed so hard to grasp – Brent Lillibridge has the chance to hit for the cycle. As he went 3 for 4 with 2 RBI, he finally brought his average up over the Mendoza line (.202 to be exact). Drew even joked on our Facebook page that “the possibility that he may have hit for cycle is so hard to fathom that in its occurrence that the world would finally be at peace.” That quote prompted me to think of this scene from Ghostbusters, even though the clip focused on chaos rather than peace…still trying to wrap my head around a monster night from the player cast aside by the Red Sox (and the White Sox for that matter).
While I’ve had my share of criticisms of Manny Acta this season, the one thing I truly love about him is his eagerness to go with the sacrifice squeeze in big situations. In this case, he used it in the seventh inning to give the Indians a two-run cushion over the Red Sox. I was a bit nervous about Chris Perez after his disastrous outings against Detroit and Minnesota recently, but other than a Dustin Pedroia single, he was flawless. I know that everyone makes mistakes now and again, and that everyone had their share of gaffes during that massive losing streak. I think years of Bob Wickman and Joe Borowski, coupled with the Jose Mesa blown save that we all unfortunately remember, have made me a bit gun shy of Indians closers. The Indians are now guaranteed at least a split against Boston this series.
After the recent losing streak, pretty much every win seems somewhat precious and special to me. Tonight’s game was special for another reason though – it was also the Hall of Fame induction ceremony for the Indians Hall of Fame. This year the Indians inducted three people – Gaylord Perry, Jack Graney, and Jimmy Warfield. Almost everyone is familiar with the colorful Perry, and the numerous stories about his habit of doctoring the baseball. Less well known are Graney and Warfield; Graney made his mark with the Indians almost two generations ago, while Warfield spent time behind the scenes as a trainer for more than three decades. I had the opportunity to sit in a suite tonight thanks to the gracious invite of Barbara Gregorich, author of Jack and Larry: Jack Graney and Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog, a book about Graney and his terrier mascot. Born in Canada, Graney was a member of the 1920 World Series team, and in many of the pictures fans can see Larry posing in team photos. Graney was also the first ballplayer to step into the broadcast booth after his days as a player ended, calling games from 1932 to 1953. Being the first player to move to the broadcast booth was just one of his many firsts – he was also the first player to wear a number on his jersey, the first to face Babe Ruth as a pitcher, and the first to get a hit off of Babe Ruth. I’m president of our local SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) chapter, and our local group is even named for Jack Graney.
Earlier in the day, the Indians hosted a Hall of Fame luncheon in the Terrace Club to benefit Cleveland Indians Charities and the Baseball Heritage Museum. Gaylord Perry, Sam McDowell, Mike Hargrove, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Kenny Lofton all chatted about their favorite Indians memories with the fans in attendance. Even though Lofton is one of my favorite players of all time, I have to admit that McDowell stole the show. At one point even Lofton joked that the event was “the Sam McDowell show.” He told funny stories about his playing days, and joked about the fact that former general manager Gabe Paul was cheap. (He initially said he wouldn’t mention the “cheap” GM’s name, but in the same breath added that it was Paul.) When the conversation shifted to Perry’s penchant for doctoring baseballs, McDowell joked that “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”
Overall it was an awesome day, and a good opportunity to see some of the Indians’ greats. It felt good to see a win (I’ve had bad luck with games in person lately) and to see Lillibridge step forward and fire up the offense.