Indians Have Faced and Overcome Adversity All Season
Bob Toth | On 19, Sep 2016
A respected and revered Cleveland sports journalist informed his readers that on September 17, 2016, the Cleveland Indians’ playoff run had effectively ended before the calendar had even flipped to October, with the team “eliminated from serious postseason advancement.”
While he was busy writing the epitaph on what has been an exciting and memorable, but albeit undoubtedly challenging, season for the Tribe, it seems presumptive to assume all is lost.
Don’t get me wrong – the loss of Carlos Carrasco hurts. Badly. Most Tribe fans likely experienced a brief collective twinge of fear when Carrasco’s pitching hand became a baseball magnet as the liner off of Ian Kinsler’s bat just two pitches into Saturday’s contest displaced fans’ playoff dreams while non-displacing his fractured fifth metacarpal.
Yet ten innings of shutout baseball and eight pitchers later, the Indians walked off on a bases loaded single from birthday boy Jose Ramirez and the Tribe endured again in most improbable of fashion.
So goes the Indians’ 2016 season and life for a Cleveland fan, in case that Larry O’Brien trophy in June made the diehards forget the prior 52 years of suffering with one beautiful parade. Did you somehow think that a championship would be easy? Or have you forgotten that the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals?
It has been a bad week, without a doubt, as the Indians were dealt not one, not two, but three bad hands (one of which was broken) over the course of the span. None of the losses – not Carrasco, not Yan Gomes, and certainly not Danny Salazar – will put the Indians in a position to be better suited for playoff baseball in October. All are devastating blows to some extent or another, nightmares, to the Indians’ World Series dreams.
But this is nothing new. The Indians have had to survive these emotional roller coasters all season long, right from the first moments of the season while it was still in its infancy.
Michael Brantley appeared on track for a return far ahead of schedule, only to have his train derail after eleven games. No Lonnie Chisenhall for the first few weeks of the season left the outfield with two question marks on its corners, with an unknown in center field, Tyler Naquin, trying to turn a strong spring camp into a Major League debut to remember.
Brantley’s loss for, in essence, the whole season would have been a death sentence for some clubs, but the Indians survived. Losing an All-Star, a former third place finisher in the AL MVP voting just two seasons ago, and the three hitter in their lineup is no easy bit of production to replace.
In his absence, Ramirez and, to a lesser extent, Rajai Davis, filled the void. And for that, the Indians prevailed in the face of adversity.
Carrasco went down with his hamstring injury covering first base in Detroit in April with Roberto Perez injured less than a week later. Carrasco’s loss compounded the ineffectiveness of starter Cody Anderson, but Trevor Bauer stepped up and stepped back into the rotation and did everything that the team could have asked in that moment.
Gomes’ stick was broken long before his right wrist, with a separated shoulder in between. The shoulder forced a quicker-than-anticipated return of Perez from his rehab assignment. It took some time for the numbers from both Tribe backup backstops (including Chris Gimenez) to amount to something productive, but they have gotten there. The most recent loss of Gomes to a broken wrist on a hit by pitch just an at bat or two from completing his rehab assignment at Double-A Akron during the Eastern League Championship Series was an unwelcomed hit, but one the team could perceivably survive.
Are the Indians getting a level of production similar to their past Silver Slugger winner and a one-time borderline All-Star? No. Is it better production now than they were getting from Gomes when he was hitting .165 with a .198 on-base percentage in the lineup with eight homers and 32 RBI? Yes. Adversity faced, head on.
As it was, the loss of Salazar was going to be a setback for the Tribe’s rotation. With Bauer giving the Indians some good innings (and the occasional bad ones), the thought of him filling in as the third option in the rotation behind Corey Kluber and Carrasco made the loss a little easier, but the unknown efforts to be gotten from Mike Clevinger and Josh Tomlin made the thought of longer series in the postseason a little more unsettling. Even if Salazar is able to return in October at some point, it is tough to forecast what, if anything, the team could get from him and if he would be able to get stretched back out to be used in a role as anything more than a couple inning option in postseason play.
The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com’s story from Paul Hoynes is bulletin board fodder, no question about that. If I write something similar, no one on the team cares. I’m a blogger. I know it. I own it.
But for a man to write and share such a powerful opinion after more than 25 years on the beat, after seeing far more bad baseball in Cleveland than good, after being around that team and in that clubhouse all season long while the Tribe has survived such devastating setbacks throughout the entire season, is all the more damning of a statement. And it is made all the more powerful because it comes from a familiar face that, prior to Sunday’s article, was one of the more recognized and respected media members to enter that locker room on a daily basis.
Now, Hoynsie may be a leper in that sanctuary. He might not get another quote or quality interview of substance the rest of this season. He knew that before he submitted that story, he’s been in the business long enough to know how negatively his words and his opinion would be perceived by the same men that he relies upon for stories year round.
But if his words light the fire under the behinds of the men in that locker room, helping to ignite them to step up for their fallen comrades and to leave every last ounce of effort that they have in their bodies on the field in the pursuit of the American League pennant and a World Series title, we will all owe Hoynes a big thank you down the road.
If you believe that the players did not take notice to his words, that they live in a protective bubble free of criticisms, you would be wrong. It likely spread like wild fire throughout the underbelly of Progressive Field before many of the players even parked their cars prior to Sunday’s game.
Jason Kipnis noticed before the lunch hour, in a reply to a tweet from Hoynes’ personal Twitter account.
Then don't bother showing up the rest of the way… Can write from home if you already know how this one plays out! https://t.co/RmjFCQeAcB
— Jason Kipnis (@TheJK_Kid) September 18, 2016
Trevor Bauer noticed, too, and did not refrain from taking a substantial shot at the longtime writer.
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) September 18, 2016
It should be little surprise that the two most active Indians players on social media would take note of the story. But even the Indians’ Twitter account took a jab in a tweet (shortly before retweeting Kipnis’ comment) by sharing “Whaddya know, the season didn’t end: We play again today!” with a copy of the Sunday lineup.
The postseason dreams of the team took a substantial hit, and it would be foolish to consider the losses of Brantley, Salazar, Gomes, and Carrasco as anything less. It would be safe to say that, from a national perspective, the odds might be stacked a little higher against the Indians now than at any one point throughout the last six months.
It’s next man up time in Cleveland. As the team sits seven games up in the American League Central with a magic number of seven with 13 games left on the docket to play, everything that the Indians have fought for and played for this season is on the line. And they know it.
It won’t be easy. It will be harder than it would have been just a week ago or a month ago but injuries operate outside of the constructs of convenience. The Indians are once again tasked with something that feels nearly insurmountable, but as history has shown time and time again, anything can happen once a team reaches postseason play. The team is not carried by any one man. A true team is the sum of its parts, and the Tribe roster has embodied that mentality all season long under Terry Francona‘s guidance. The Indians team that has taken the field has seen struggles from its rotation, its bullpen, its defense, and its offense throughout the year, and yet with two weeks left to play, remains in a prime position to capture its first AL Central crown since 2007.
Will the Indians add to Cleveland’s story book 2016 with another magical run deep into the cooler October nights?
Or will this season, laced with adversity and tribulation, be just a building block for an even better year in 2017?
I’m hoping for another long chapter from this fairy tale year.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer