The Cleveland Indians are in the playoffs. The real playoffs, not that Wild Card tease like we got in 2013. No, the Indians are in the ALDS for the first time since 2007 and have a real chance to hoist the city’s first major sports championship since… since, well, since June.
This isn’t how the Indians intended to get to the postseason, though. The Indians teams that are most indelible in the minds of Cleveland fans are the offensive powerhouses of the 1990s: names like Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, and Sandy Alomar Jr. will live forever in the annals of Cleveland sports lore, but there are very few pitchers on that list. Those teams were built to beat the opposition into submission, and they very nearly did that in two separate years. The 2016 Indians, by contrast, were supposed to live and die by their pitching. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar were destined to form the best Triumvirate since the nascent Roman Empire.
Alas, fate doesn’t always work out the way we want or hope. One arm strain to Salazar, one broken hand to Cookie Carrasco, and one groin pull to the Klubot later, and the Indians rotation is looking mighty thin. The Tribe still had a proficient offense – they were second in the AL in runs scored, by the way, but that’s not the engine that drove the Indians into October.
But there’s no use crying over spilled milk. Kluber will be okay (we hope), and will pitch in game 2. Danny Salazar is said to be recovering ahead of schedule and might make the ALDS roster after all (though most likely as a reliever), but the Cookie has crumbled, and the rotation is still thin. Trevor Bauer will start game 1 against Boston and (gulp) Josh “The Little Cowboy” Tomlin will start game 3 at Fenway Park.
Most people know I’m not a big fan of Josh Tomlin. In fact, I’m probably one of his biggest detractors. There’s a draft of an article somewhere on the WordPress servers that I wrote detailing how it’s no coincidence that the one time the Indians had success prior to this season (2013) was the only season Tomlin didn’t take the mound at any point in the season. Suffice to say, I’m never going to own a Tomlin jersey.
But all of that criticism goes by the wayside now that we’re in October; now that the season may very well rest on Tomlin’s shoulders.
I’m done worrying about his flat, Driving-Miss-Daisy slow fastball, his propensity to give up massive home runs, or just his general mediocrity. Because none of that matters.
What the Indians have before them is the ultimate small sample size. Their postseason run is going to last 19 games at absolute most, and they could win a title in as few as 11 games. Anything can happen, and anything might happen. We’ve seen it before, and we’ve seen it on a Cleveland Indians team in the 90s: in 1997 Chad Ogea became one of the key cogs in a team that should have won the championship.
Chad Ogea retired with a 4.88 career ERA, which is somewhat worse than Tomlin’s 4.58 ERA. In 1997, Ogea had a ghastly 4.99 ERA, while Tomlin had a 4.40 ERA this season, which includes his disastrous August that saw him pulled from the rotation for a brief moment. None of that mattered when the Indians called on Ogea in game 3 of the ALDS (sound familiar), and he pitched 5.1 innings of 2-hit, 1-run baseball (in a loss, but we won’t talk about that).
Ogea actually picked up two losses in the ALCS against Baltimore, but he pitched well in both games, he put up a quality start in Game 1 at Baltimore (6.0 IP, 3 ER) and he was stupendous in Game 5 (8.0 IP, 2 ER). The reason Ogea is famous in Cleveland, however were the two victories he recorded in the World Series (of all places). He allowed just two earned runs over 11.2 innings in Game 2 and Game 6. In game 6 Ogea went 2-2 at the plate with 2 RBIs in a 4-1 Cleveland win, which basically mean he won the game all by himself.
What I’m saying is: there’s no use worrying about Tomlin at this point. He has at most a handful of starts left this season, and he is entirely capable of being the best pitcher on the planet (at least as far as results go) for a handful of starts. The Indians didn’t intend to lean on the Little Cowboy in October, but now they have to, and we have to believe that anything is possible.
I would never (ever!) buy a Josh Tomlin jersey, but if someone handed me one prior to game 3, I’d wear it with pride. And if Josh Tomlin can channel the ghost of Chad Ogea even a little bit, I’ll never say another bad word about him again.
…until he gives up 3 home runs in a start against the Tigers or something silly.