October 17, 2017

What Happened to the Cleveland Indians?


“A lot of people expected better from us,” said catcher Roberto Perez, who was charged with another of the Game 5 errors, for catcher’s interference. “But the last three games, we didn’t play well.”

They had played exceedingly well before the postseason, running off a 22-game winning streak that did not end until the middle of September. It was the longest streak of its kind in American League history, and even after the Indians lost, they turned right around to go 11-4 to close out the regular season and roll into the playoffs.

They shut out the Yankees in Game 1 of the division series, and rallied from five runs down to win Game 2. But somehow, that was it for the Indians, and they never looked imposing in the three games that followed.

So what happened? Was it just the Yankees grabbing the series away from them? Or did the Indians peak too soon? Did the winning streak add to the pressure they felt to break the long championship drought? Maybe that pressure explained some of the sloppy play and tight at-bats that scuttled their season so abruptly.

Perhaps, after seven decades of futility, the Indians are just destined to fall short. The Cubs, the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox all had to live with that kind of reputation before ending a long championship drought. The Red Sox did it in 2004 (after not winning since 1918), the White Sox in 2005 (1917) and the Cubs last year (1908).

Now it is Cleveland’s turn to be the team that has gone the longest without a title and to deal with all the anguish that comes with watching each successive failure heaped on the previous one.

“We love our team,” reliever Andrew Miller said after Game 5, “and the fact that the guys in this clubhouse were able to win 22 in a row and win 102 in the regular season — it says a lot about the ability of this team to win the World Series. But there are no guarantees.”

Cleveland’s recent failures are starting to take on a life of their own. The Indians held a three-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series against the Red Sox in 2007 and lost the final three games. They held a 3-1 advantage over the Cubs in last year’s World Series and lost three in a row again. And now, against the Yankees, three more losses in a row.

“I don’t know if there is an exact science to closing out series,” Bruce said. “But we just couldn’t get it done.”

“It’s baseball,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said in a refrain that was echoed across the Indians’ quiet clubhouse late Wednesday night. “You’re not going to win every game. It just so happens that the past two years we went on a three-game losing streak to finish the season.”

After Cleveland came from behind to win Game 2 in 13 innings, it seemed that Manager Terry Francona was once again outfoxing his counterpart, this time Joe Girardi. But Girardi overcame his own mistakes in that game and came out on top, in part because Francona’s ace, Corey Kluber, was ineffective for a second time in this series in Game 5 and in part because Cleveland’s best hitters fell flat.

Jose Ramirez was 2 for 20 in the series, and Lindor, who hit a grand slam in Game 2, had only one other hit. He finished 2 for 18, and the Indians, over all, batted .171.

“We win together and we lost together,” Francona said. “It was an honor to go through this year with these guys, and there’s times it hurts, like tonight. But it’s quite a group, and I feel like a better person for going through the year with them.”

Miller, who surrendered the home run to Greg Bird that decided Game 3, said the players knew all too well how much Cleveland fans were aching for a championship, for a celebration in the downtown streets that were so quiet and empty late Wednesday.

“We’re busting our tails trying to find a way to get that parade,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen this year. But you’ve got to like our chances next year.”

Of course, that’s what the Indians said last year, too.

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