I’ve joked throughout the year that Cleveland’s luck would be to field a great, fun, competitive baseball team that even went so far as to make the AL Wild Card game, only to come up agonizingly short. Following a script we’ve all read before, they’d lose the play-in game in some nut-punching fashion, fans would argue about whether or not the team had “REALLY made the playoffs”, in-fighting and finger-pointing would begin, and we’d once again be back where we always seem to get with this baseball team. A good story, but not good enough. A smart front office, but not smart enough. Just not enough, never has been and never will be.
All this terrible prognostication was a funny joke to tell because of course it wasn’t really going to happen. Not the nut-punching part—god knows that would happen—but the making the playoffs part. I pegged the Indians as an 83 win team coming into the season, and that was considerably more generous than most in the national media. So yes, they’ll probably screw up their Wild Card game was on-par with the Browns hypothetically losing the AFC Championship game this season: a thought experiment for the mildly perverse and not a whole lot more.
The Indians won 92 games, the fourth most in the American League, and they’ll host the Wild Card game on Wednesday night. I’m not sure if Cleveland has fully infected me yet or not, but the joy of making the playoffs has already largely been offset with the incipient fear of losing in the playoffs. Losing meaningless games is hard on the soul, as we’ve learned over the last five years; but losing meaningful games can be hard on the heart—especially for towns like ours, where the infrequency of these opportunities makes coming up short all the more crushing .
And let’s not mince words here: the Indians are likely to go home losers this season. The odds are stacked against them, as they are for every team who makes the post-season tournament.
So why the hell am I so happy, in the face of all this gloom?
I don’t exactly know the answer to that, other than to say that what I remember most from that 2007 team isn’t how it all ended, but how it felt before it ended. I remember the city dripping with baseball for two straight weeks. I remember the Bug Game, when Fausto willed himself into a hero and Pronk walked off against the Evil Empire. I remember Mark Shapiro, smiling that big, chicklet-toothed grin on national TV, sopping up the praise like an extra helping of gravy. I remember Victor and Grady and C.C. and even that stupid Javid Delichaels out-making-platoon-bot. Most of all, I remember our baseball mattering, in a way that it hasn’t since.
Until now, of course.
On Wednesday night, I’ll be in the same place I was in 2007. I’ll wear red and I’ll cheer like a maniac and I’ll eat more nachos than is good for me. And I’d like to think that for a little while, at least, I’ll recognize how much fun it is not to be joking anymore.