Someone once asked Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby what his plans were after the season. The fiery infielder nicknamed “Rajah” simply replied, “I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
I, for one, plan to abide by Hornsby’s rule: I’m waiting for spring.
The Indians romantic baseball story torn right out of the pages of a Ray Kinsella novel came to a bittersweet ending on Wednesday night, capping off one of the most improbable playoff runs in recent memory – perhaps in all of history.
They dodged-and-weaved and often times dominated with a bubblegum-taped club held together by ungodly clutch-hitting, a burgeoning superstar shortstop, one starter, three relievers, and some of the finest damn managing I’ve ever seen in my 30-plus-year love affair with the game.
The postseason run itself – a series sweep against Boston in the ALDS, routing the Blue Jays four games to one in the ALCS, and taking the best team in baseball down to the brink of elimination – was on the scale of The Iliad and The Odyssey. And I will forever be grateful that the Indians took me on this journey.
From the beginning on the year it looked like the chips were already stacked against the team. And the odds continued to mount as the season continued.
Veteran outfielders Marlon Byrd and Abraham Almonte both got popped and subsequently suspended for performance-enhancing drugs just weeks apart in Spring Training. Michael Brantley, easily one of the club’s best everyday players and an MVP-candidate in 2014, sniffed the lineup card just 11 times thanks to a wonky shoulder, hitting a paltry .231/.279/.282. Yan Gomes got off to a horrid start, batting a lowly .167/.201/.327, before a separated shoulder knocked him out of action in mid-July. Of course, that was promptly followed up by a non-displaced fracture in his right wrist while on a rehab assignment. And it’s impossible to forget about the losses of ace right-handers Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, both of whom went out around the same time as Gomes’ second injury.
Yet…there they were. The Indians playing on a night reminiscent of an early spring evening. On the second of November. In the World Series. Game. Seven.
It’s almost remarkable to look back at just how dominant Cleveland was through the first two-and-a-half rounds of the playoffs: they outscored Boston 15-to-7, limited Toronto, the sixth best offense in baseball, to eight runs in five games, and went toe-to-toe with the best team in baseball for one of the most remarkable Game 7 finishes in baseball history.
And the moments – oh, those I’ll tell my kids about – were magic.
The nail-biter in Game 1 against the Sox where Cody Allen forced the city of Cleveland towards whichever vice they try and avoid. Lonnie Chisenhall, who owns a career .237 batting average against lefties, roped a laser down the line for a homerun that would eventually lead to David Price’s demise. The gutty performances by Josh Tomlin, Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen in the clincher.
But you can’t forget about Corey Kluber outdueling the entire Blue Jays staff in the ALCS. Or Andrew Miller’s ridiculous dominance. Or that damn drone attacking Trevor Bauer’s right pinky as blood oozed all over his pants and cleats. Or the bullpen that picked up the slack. Or that baby-faced 24-year-old southpaw Ryan Merritt, who bedazzled Toronto’s big boppers with mid-80s fastballs and a dazzling array of off-speed pitches.
And then the World Series…
Corey Kluber setting or tying records: fanning eight hitters in the first three innings of Game 1 and making three starts in a seven-game series. Winning the first World Series game in Wrigley Field since Truman was in office. CoCo Crisp repeatedly coming up big. Rajai Davis’ jaw-dropping, tear-inducing game-tying homerun.
Enough words can’t be written – or spoken – to convey the masterful job future Hall of Fame manager Terry “Tito” Francona orchestrated throughout the run. In short: it was revolutionary.
Never before have we seen closers swapped with setup men and enter before the eighth inning. It was truly a bullpen by committee – a composed symphony of post-starting pitcher dominance. Miller-to-Shaw-to-Allen, or Shaw-to-Miller-to-Allen, or Shaw-to-Allen-to-Miller. Beethoven would have been impressed.
And so am I. And the rest of Cleveland.
Thank you for revitalizing Indians baseball. Thank you for taking me along one of the most memorable rides in my life – the highs, the lows, the moments shared with the one I love, the memories made by yelling and cheering with random fans, the thrilling wins, the painful defeats.
Thank you for making me love the game of baseball more than I did at the end of the season.