Indians Could Become First Major Cleveland Sports Team to Clinch at Home Since 1964
Bob Toth | On 31, Oct 2016
Sometimes, it’s a matter of perspective.
There was disappointment on Sunday night when the Cleveland Indians dropped a nail biter to the Chicago Cubs, 3-2, at Wrigley Field in Game 5 of the World Series. The win prevented the Indians from ending its 68-year title drought and forced the series to return back to Cleveland for the final two games of the Fall Classic.
While it would have been satisfying to clinch the championship and not worry about any potential collapses, it is important to take a few things into account.
The Chicago Cubs are a good team. It is remarkable that the Indians even created the opportunity for themselves to be able to play a clincher on the road in just the fifth game of the series. This is the same banged up, injury-depleted team that has defied the odds all season long, but taking down a juggernaut of a team like the Cubs, one running out their best players every night, one that won 103 games during the regular season, shouldn’t be an easy task.
It hasn’t been. But the Indians have played as a team and found ways to win more often than not.
The Indians stole two games from the Cubs on their home field. Chicago was 57-24 (.704) during the regular season, the best team in the Majors when playing in front of their home crowd. Few teams entered Wrigley Field over the course of the season and won a series from the Cubs, let alone swept one in that ball park. Colorado took two of three back in mid-April. San Diego won a three-game set in the middle of May. The Cincinnati Reds took two of three in the first week of July, and the Milwaukee Brewers won three of four in the middle of September at Wrigley.
Only the St. Louis Cardinals, who see the Cubs 19 times a year, swept them in a home series, and that happened back in June.
It’s hard to sweep a team as good as the Cubs, yet the Indians missed out by the smallest of margins on Sunday night.
So baseball will return to Progressive Field once again as the Indians prepare for Game 6 and another opportunity to host another playoff game. It’ll be good for the players, good for the fans, and especially good for the city of Cleveland to be in a positive limelight from a national perspective. Any positive publicity for the city is good publicity, and playing in the playoffs in any of the big professional sports is some of the best that there is to find.
What makes these upcoming games, Tuesday for certain and Wednesday hopefully deemed unnecessary, special is that it provides the fans with an opportunity to experience something that fewer and fewer Cleveland fans have witnessed over the course of their lifetimes – the chance to see the city’s proud sports representatives bring a championship to the long-suffering shores of Lake Erie.
Major Cleveland sports teams have not had an opportunity to win a clinching title game within the city since 1964, when the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts met at Cleveland Municipal Stadium for the NFL Championship Game.
Those Browns were not the new Browns and actually knew a thing or two about winning. The Browns were champions of the AAFC in their first four years of existence before the merger with the NFL. They won a fifth consecutive championship in 1950 under Paul Brown before losing three straight from 1951 to 1953. They won again in 1954 and 1955, suffered their first losing season in 1956, and then lost in the championship game in 1957, their tenth trip to the title game in their first eleven years.
Things thinned out for the Browns for a half dozen years or so, as they lost in the divisional round tie-breaker in 1958 before a five-year playoff drought (despite winning records each year). They returned in 1964 after going 10-3-1 in the regular season in their second year under Blanton Collier. They won the East Division during the East’s year to host and welcomed in the West-winning Colts, who went 12-2 in the regular season and sported the best point differential in the NFL. The Browns pulled off the upset, putting up 27 points in the second half to knock off the league MVP Johnny Unitas and company, 27-0, from downtown Cleveland.
The rest of the Browns’ story is fairly well known after that. At 11-4 the next season, they returned to the NFL Championship Game (the last championship in the NFL before the Super Bowl began) against the host Green Bay Packers (12-3-1), who won 23-12 in the last title game for the Browns franchise before a lot of bad football.
The Cavs, in their third title series, won the NBA Finals in June on the road in Oakland, defeating the Golden State Warriors after what felt like an insurmountable hole out of which to climb.
The Indians lacked home field advantage in the 1995 and 1997 World Series trips, when they lost in six games and seven games respectively, on the road and unable to clinch in Cleveland. The 1954 Indians lacked home field advantage and lacked wins in a sweep by the New York Giants.
The last time the Indians had a chance to clinch the title of world champions at home was in Game 5 of the 1948 World Series against the Boston Braves. Up three games to one, Bob Feller allowed seven runs on eight hits in six and one-third innings in the final game of the year in Cleveland. The Tribe clinched the following day in Boston.
The Indians have won the final game of the postseason at home once, winning Game 7 of the best-of-9 1920 World Series, 3-0 from Dunn Field (League Park) against the Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers).
The Tribe coming home to Cleveland will be good for all affiliated with the organization.
Now, some notes for some positive reassurance.
The Indians have played six home games in the playoffs this season. They are 5-1. The pitching staff has a 1.50 ERA, best in the Majors, and a healthy 1.06 WHIP. Those to take the mound have combined for 70 strikeouts at Progressive Field, nine more than the second place Cubs in two fewer games. They have allowed just ten total runs, tied for the fewest allowed at home by a team to host more than one game this postseason.
The Cubs come in with just a 4-3 record on the road. Their staff has a 4.22 ERA with a 1.34 WHIP. Chicago pitchers have allowed the second-most runs this postseason on the road (17) and the most hits (50) in a Major League-high 72 innings played away from their friendly confines.
The home offense has been just as strong for the Tribe. In those six games at Progressive Field, they lead the Majors in postseason home runs with eight. They are second to just the Cubs in home hits and runs scored. While the Cubs have scored the most runs on the road of any postseason participant, they also did it against the staffs of San Francisco (3.68 ERA) and Los Angeles (5.20 ERA), two teams whose bullpens combined to complete one save in four opportunities.
Through 13 games, the Indians bullpen is 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, and seven saves in eight opportunities in 52 innings of work, striking out a Major League-high 69 batters while allowing just eleven total runs.
To state the obvious, the Giants and Dodgers bullpens had nothing on that of the Indians.
Tuesday, the Indians will resume their hunt for the crown. They will have two chances to do something not done in Cleveland in 52 long years.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images