April 23, 2014

Not Being Afraid To Fall

Jason GiambiThe Cleveland Indians are two wins away from playing postseason baseball. It’s been a long road to get back into this position from 2007. A long, winding, heart-wrenching, apathy-setting, attendance-floundering, ownership-bashing, core-altering, regime-changing road. No one knows what the next two days (or more) are going to bring. It could bring two wins, some help from Toronto and/or Los Angeles, and a wild card home game. It could just as easily bring two losses, heartbreak, and signoffs for the year. As a fan though, talking to other fans, my only advice at this point is to enjoy it to the fullest and take it in for the intensely memorable stretch run that’s it been.

I still remember 2007 like it was yesterday. Sure, I remember 1995, 1997, and all the rest, but I was 13 the last time the Tribe made the postseason before ’07. I was in college now, I could drink (as a 19 year old at the time, I’ll let you fill in the blank), and I still remember the Raffy Betancourt celebration when they clinched the division. Every postseason game on campus was an event for my close-knit group of friends. I can still recall watching the games, partying afterwards, and staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning to finish pumping out a blog that at that point only my closest friends and family would read when I texted them and said “Hey, read this.”

I joined WFNY in March 2011, and we all know there has not been a Cleveland postseason appearance since then. There has been a lot of hard work, a lot of analysis, predictions, reaction, raw emotion, and critiquing, but no postseason recaps. We were hopeful, cautiously optimistic even, heading into the season, but no one expected this. I was the high man in the prediction piece with 86 wins and “staying in the wild card battle until the final week”. My “The Price is Right”-style win aside, even I didn’t envision what has transpired. 90 wins with two to play.

I didn’t envision Jason Giambi being the emotional and clutch leader of this team. I didn’t envision Yan Gomes being the backup catcher, or the part-time catcher, or the full-time catcher who hits in the heart of the order and has become a must-start guy behind the dish. Nor did I think Ryan Raburn would rebound to his pre-2012 days and give this team a huge asset off the bench with his flexibility. I had no idea Corey Kluber would emerge from floundering starter depth to #2 or #3 starter. And I CERTAINLY didn’t think Ubaldo Jimenez would emerge to be the second-half Cy Young that he has been. It can’t be overstated how much the smart offseason moves have influenced this return to respectability.

On Wednesday night, I made the pilgrimage up to Progressive Field from Gahanna. Despite having to be into work at 5 am the next day, knowing I would be completely wrecked, I made the decision that I just had to be there. I left work two hours early to get up there early, meeting my uncle from Maumee up there along with a group of friends. I sat and watched the season highlights play on the scoreboard from the home run porch. I met up with #JakeyStats  post-game and we both kind of had the look on our face like “this could actually happen”. I sat in the Gateway garage as horns blared. My head hit the pillow at 2 am in Gahanna and rose off of it at 4:20 am. On my long drive back home, the thing that kept me awake was the thought that what I had just done was totally worth it that I would do it all over again.

The Indians at first glance don’t look like a team that would make much noise if awarded with a ticket to October baseball. Their closer is unknown. Their supposed ace is in an indefinite state between bullpen weapon and postseason starter. Their lineup doesn’t boast any Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder that keep opposing pitchers up at night. They’re a collection of young guys playing over their head, are past their prime, or aren’t playing up to expectations. The eye test alone would give Oakland, Detroit, Boston, Tampa, or Texas a clear advantage.

I’ll tell you what the Indians do have, though. They have a complete TEAM. This isn’t the first time that this has been mentioned by us on the site or elsewhere, but it shouldn’t be the last either. On offense, they have a collection of All-Star caliber players underperforming (Cabrera, Swisher, and Bourn), guys that have been through the fast starts of the last two years and are part of the young nucleus (Kipnis, Brantley, Chisenhall, and Santana), and offseason moves that have helped change the culture of the team (Giambi, Gomes, Raburn, Stubbs, and Aviles). Opposing pitchers don’t know who to pitch around, because they’re all equally capable of hurting you. They all have a little pop, a little speed, a little patience, and a lot of balance and clutch performances.

This team has won a lot of one-run games (30-17 record). They have a great record in extra innings (10-2 record). They make winning looks so difficult, but they still do it. They have a manager that’s been through it all and has navigated them through some serious low points. This team looked lifeless after a 12-16 August that included a 5 and 6-game losing streak, yet here they are.

I’ll conclude with this. Baseball isn’t basketball or football. Having the best player on the floor doesn’t automatically get you through to the conference finals. Having home field advantage doesn’t give you the same type of edge it does in football. In football, seldom does the less-talented team come out on top, after lining up hat on hat for 60 minutes. In baseball, you can get jammed and still get a single. You can hit a ball as hard as possible and have it find someone’s glove for one or even two outs. Your best player only gets to bat one out of nine plate appearances for the team or gets to start only one out of four games or pitch only one or two innings in each game. The depth and the team dynamic are so crucial. Events in baseball are sometimes harder to explain. I can’t explain why I’m not scared of what the Indians’ ultimate fate may be, but I’m just not. It doesn’t mean I think they’ll win it all or anything, but I’ll think they’ll keep showing up and playing, winning at the margins, and giving whoever’s on the other side of that field a hell of a fight. And after so many rough seasons, so much apathetic baseball in the months of September past, that’s something to take in all on its own.

When we used to call my grandma after an Indians win, she’d answer the phone “WAHOOOOO!!!”. Grandma’s been gone since February, but it’s been my rallying cry on Twitter all season long, Let’s hope after tonight or tomorrow that I’ll be sending it out again on Twitter after a Tribe celebration of a postseason berth.

#Wahoo

(Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)

  • cleveland_endures

    This article expressed why I love this Indians team so much, and Cleveland sports in general. We’ve been through a lot (more than any other fanbase), which makes the rare winning years so special….. especially this Indians team, which I think we’ve all buried numerous times this summer, but they just kept plugging along and fighting. No quit in this team.

    I have no idea what the playoffs hold, but my guess would be beating Tampa in the Wild Card and then losing to Boston, which would still make for an amazing season.

  • Alex Ralston

    Damn good article Kirk. I think it got a bit dusty in my apartment towards the end there. Wahoo.

  • Bremze

    Awesome photo. Fun team.

  • mgbode

    great write-up man.

    I will say any team with the SP, speed, and defense can make noise in October (yes, our IF defense has been hit-n-miss….needs to be more hit than miss).

    Also, thank you to Toronto, which not only allows 19yo’s to legally drink but also gave Tampa a loss today.

  • Scooter

    Wahooooo!

  • Clefan4life

    Great article! Thanks for tying in memories of your grandma. Mine has been gone since 2007 and I would visit her at the assisted living facility and watch games together. There’s something about the Indians and family that make this team and game so special. There ‘a also something about this team. Whatever happens, it’s been a fun ride .

  • Schmata

    Nice piece. May your Grandma’s memory always be a Blessing for you.

  • or pick a name

    Thanks, Kirk, for this nice piece. You got me even more excited for whatever happens in MN today. Go Tribe!