I was downtown around 5:30. Walking around 4th street, people filled the streets, rocking their red. The civic pride that we Clevelanders hold so dear was on full display. It was like a scene out of Major League when everyone in and around the city was walking past each other, holding up their #1 finger and saying “Go Tribe.” The buzz downtown was something special. We all wanted that feeling to continue. Nobody wanted it to end.
That is what makes last night’s 4-0, season-ending loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in the win-or-go-home Wild Card game extra painful. Everyone who is a Cleveland fan knows – opportunities like this one don’t come around every year. So when they do, you have to make the most of them.
43,579 people came out loud and strong to support this team. You could see the amazement in the players faces as they stepped out of the dugout for their first at-bats. Many, including Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher, looked around as to soak it all in. One guy who didn’t have that look was Danny Salazar. The Tribe’s starter came out and retired the Rays 1-2-3 in the first, striking out the last two. Unfortunately the crowd was at its peak after that top of the first. Tampa’s Alex Cobb did his best to take the air out of the building, mixing and matching his fastball with wicked off speed stuff. The clubs traded zeroes until Delmon Young, who has a history of hitting against the Tribe, hit Salazar’s first pitch in the third deep over the wall in left field to put the Rays on top.
I had said all day, the key to this game was getting ahead early and keeping the crowd hyped and into the game the way the Pirates had done a night before. But Joe Maddon’s group had a plan and it worked.
The Rays were patient and were sitting on Salazar’s fast ball. The 1-0 deficit was not that big of a deal, but in the fourth, they would hand Salazar what would turn out to be the death blow. With two outs and two on, Desmond Jennings stepped to the plate. Normally the Rays leadoff man, the sore-legged Jennings was moved down in the order to sixth. The big spot found him and he laced a double past the diving Lonnie Chisenhall at third, scoring two Rays. With the way Cobb was dealing, a three run lead felt like 10. The Tribe’s offense certainly did its part to help Cobb.
They wouldn’t say so after the game, but it was obvious that some guys were pressing and trying to do too much. The Indians had several chances to get on the board against Cobb, but time after time, they couldn’t come through with not just the big hit, but even the little things like moving runners of hitting a sacrifice fly.
Ryan Raburn was left stranded at second after a two-out double by Asdrubal Cabrera, who lined out to end the inning in the second. Chisenhall never moved after a one out single in the third. The fourth inning though was the one that will stick in all of our collective craws for a long time.
With one out, Carlos Santana doubled to the corner in right. Michael Brantley, who has been so clutch all year, sent a grounder back up the middle that looked like it was going to get through, but somehow Ben Zobrist dove and blocked the ball from getting to the outfield. Brantley reached on an infield single, but Zobrist saved a run. Raburn would walk to load the bases for Cabrera. I hated to think this way, but I have watched almost every inning this team has played. I just knew what was coming next and sure enough, it did. Cabrera jumped ahead in the count and didn’t wait for a strike, swinging at a pitch off the plate and grounding into an absolutely killer 3-6-1 double play.
So while the Rays took care of their few chances with runners on base, the Tribe was squandering them. But it didn’t stop in the fourth.
An inning later, Yan Gomes doubled in front of a Lonnie Chisenhall single. Once again the Indians were in business with two on and nobody out. Michael Bourn was next. All the Indians needed was a ground ball to the right side or a fly ball. Bourn did neither, striking out swinging. All night long Cobb baited him with his curve ball and Bourn could not lay off of it. Swisher, who seems averse to hitting against the Rays1, also could have delivered a sac fly, but instead grounded the ball right to Loney who stepped on first for the second out. Gomes scampered back to third. The last chance was Kipnis, who was ahead in the count 3-1,then swung at ball four, grounding out to second to end the inning.
How many more chances like the last two were the Indians going to get? The worst part about it was this crowd was BEGGING to explode.
The last big one came in the seventh. With one out, Gomes and Chisenhall both singled. The bottom of the order continued to do their job, but could the top do theirs and drive in some runs? Nope. Bourn again failed, flying out to center field. Maddon then pulled Cobb for his best right-handed set up man, Joel Peralta to face Swisher. Swish swung as hard as you will ever see at the first two pitches, trying to tie the game with one swing. He nearly screwed himself into the ground at the third pitch he saw, leaving two more Indians on base.
It was as close as the Indians would get as Peralta, Jake McGee, and Fernando Rodney closed out a 4-0 shutout as the Rays advanced to the AL Division Series in Boston.
It was fun while it lasted, but three hours and 40 minutes just wasn’t nearly long enough. While I know this was a season where the Indians exceeded expectations and advanced to the playoffs for the first time in six years, I can’t help but have that sinking feeling that a golden opportunity was wasted last night. The Tribe had recaptured the city, albeit briefly, and another week plus of Wahoo talk would have been huge for the city and for the organization. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be as the bats went silent at the worst possible time. The top of the order – Bourn, Swisher, and Kipnis – along with Cabrera were a combined 0-16.
“Salazar did what he had to do,” said Bourn. “This is on the offense. Not on the offense, really, we hit, but we didn’t hit with runners in scoring position. That cost us tonight.”
Make no mistake, this team will be back.
“I just told them that, as much as it’ll sting tonight — and it will, it hurts — that once we get past that, for however long that takes, I want them to remember how much [for] me and the staff, it was an honor to go through the season with them, and [remember] how much we care about them,” Francona said. “That’s what I’ll remember more than anything.”
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)
- did I really see he was 2/53 against them? [↩]