By the eighth inning of tonight’s game, I was starting to feel pretty dejected. It had been coming on slowly, inning by inning, missed opportunity by missed opportunity, up until that moment. I was still standing, still cheering from my seat in right-center field, but I had the slow sinking feeling of a balloon slowly deflating. At that point, I noticed some commotion in the section next to me. A fight had broken out, likely between people who had far surpassed their alcohol tolerance level and who were probably just about as frustrated with the game as I was. Nobody seemed to be stopping the fight though, it’s like there were no ushers or police to be seen in the area. It just kept going and going – at one point a fan leaned over the outfield railing and tried to get the attention of one of the police officers on the field. Still nobody came, and still the fight seemed to drag on. One of the guys involved was so drunk, he could hardly stand up…it seemed like it would be easy enough to detain someone who could hardly stand, yet it never seemed to happen. Oddly enough, it served as a weird metaphor for this game in my mind. The Indians had some fight in them – they were getting hits and getting runners on base. Yet there was never that one person to step in and take charge of the situation. It seemed like they had Alex Cobb staggering on the mound at one point, yet still couldn’t neutralize him. Just like the fight in the next section over, they let Cobb remain standing and remain in the game.
I think what disappointed me the most about tonight’s loss is that the Indians went out with a whimper, not with a bang. After the drama and excitement of the prior 10 games, a thrilling end to the season to propel them into the wild card game, tonight was just anti-climactic and dejecting. I said continuously that I just wanted one playoff game at home, and I would be thankful for that. And I am…trust me, I enjoyed tonight even if the outcome of the game wasn’t what I wanted to see. To see Progressive Field not only full to the rafters, but with a tuned-in, amped-up crowd was very exciting. After so many games this season of having almost an entire section to myself, it was nice to see people in the seats and having a good time. And that was what was frustrating about tonight too – even after the Delmon Young home run, the crowd stayed excited. Even after Tampa Bay went out to a 3-0 lead, the crowd stayed pretty excited. When everyone really seemed to deflate was when the Indians would get themselves in a position to get back in the game, and they would stumble and fail. Asdrubal Cabrera’s double play to end the bases-loaded one-out threat in the bottom of the fourth took a noticeable toll on everyone’s spirits. Then when everyone started to get back into the game, the Indians turned right around in the bottom of the fifth and blew a two-on, nobody out scenario.
What really killed the Indians tonight was that the guys they needed to carry them – the big three at the top of the lineup – utterly failed them. Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Jason Kipnis went a combined 0 for 12, and a combined 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. Asdrubal Cabrera was the only other person to put up a goose egg in the lineup; he went 0 for 4, and 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position. When I first saw Lonnie Chisenhall in the lineup tonight, I thought “Oh…Okay.” Terry Francona had been going with Mike Aviles much more often lately, but I could see him wanting to try Chisenhall with a right-handed pitcher on the mound. The decision paid off – Chisenhall was one of the stars of the night. He went 3 for 4 and made a nice defensive play at third (even though he also had an error at third later in the game). The bottom of the lineup in general did a nice job tonight – Yan Gomes and Chisenhall would set the table, and the big three at the top of the lineup would fall flat. The Indians actually outhit the Rays, but the stranded nine on base, and went just 2 for 9 as a team with runners in scoring position (the two hits with RISP went to Michael Brantley and Chisenhall). I know that Cobb was a very tough pitcher, but there were opportunities available to take control of this game. That’s what stings.
There was debate over whether or not Danny Salazar could handle the big stage, and while he wasn’t spectacular it certainly wasn’t a disaster. If your offense isn’t going to score you any runs, it doesn’t matter if you allow one run or twenty, you’re still going to lose the game. The bullpen did a nice job after Salazar left the game, and held Tampa Bay to just the three runs until they added a fourth in the top of the ninth inning.
So you may have noticed that I didn’t completely finish my story about the fight during the game. I never saw any type of authority figure come to take charge of the situation in the end (unless I missed it once the game started back up). Eventually Slider waddled over to the area, and was trying to diffuse the situation and break up the fight. Maybe they should have tried to pinch hit for Cabrera in the fourth with Slider? He seemed to be the only person that got results, that I saw anyway. I’m watching Slider shaking his belly at a bunch of angry drunks, frustrated and disappointed that this game hadn’t turned out like I hoped. Then I notice on the edge of the crowd watching the fight, a kid wearing a Kevin Slowey jersey. The first thing that popped into my mind was “Wait, they actually bothered to make Indians Kevin Slowey jerseys?” Then “Wait, someone actually paid money for a Kevin Slowey jersey?” Then I got to thinking – Kevin Slowey was considered a viable pitching option as recent as last season. We’ve come from a point where we were hoping that Kevin Slowey could be our savior after Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez got arrested, to watching a wild card playoff game in Cleveland in just a year’s time. So even though this is disappointing, and it didn’t end the way any of us would have liked, you really have to step back and smile about what happened here this season. Playoff baseball came back to Cleveland for the first time in six years, if only for a night. Not as much as we would have liked, but still more than 20 other teams in major league baseball got to experience. We showed up, we cheered hard, and we have a lot to be thankful for. I know I’m already excited for spring training.