Surviving the Indians’ Postseason Hangover
Bob Toth | On 07, Nov 2016
More than half a week has passed since the Cleveland Indians played in the last game of the Major League Baseball postseason. I felt it was finally time to address that fact.
I write everyday, in case you happen to be a new visitor to the site and haven’t noticed my name plastered all over the place. The Cleveland Indians have been a part of my life as far back as I can remember, but over the course of the last 13 months as the managing editor of Did The Tribe Win Last Night, they have been an every day obligation for me, one I have embraced with open arms. The ride for me during this fifth year of writing for the website in our sixth year of operation has been beyond compare.
I stepped back for a few days after writing the Game 7 recap, wanting to take a few days to collect my thoughts, drained of most words necessary to describe how I felt. The season was long, longer than I could have even dreamed of. But instead of looking back on the events as they unfolded and relishing and suffering through the memories, I found myself busy working my primary job a lot (which happens far more often than I care to admit) and distracting myself with every other task imaginable.
As of now, I still haven’t fully processed what transpired last Wednesday night, or even what has occurred over the course of a very surreal seven months of incredible baseball played during the 2016 season by the Cleveland Indians.
But I know that it’s time to rip the band-aid off of the wound and return to reality, to accept those things that I cannot change and to begin to make peace with what is lost. I can only hope that what I find underneath does not resemble the bloody and stitched mess of Trevor Bauer‘s lacerated right pinkie, one left in our collective conscience during the American League Championship Series.
I spend a fair amount of time on social media platforms. I don’t engage as much as I used to, but I’m an efficient lurker and saw the wide range of emotions in the minutes and hours and days that have followed the Indians’ Game 7 defeat on Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram. After enduring the images of the waning moments from Progressive Field, I turned away from the action, unable to watch any celebrations take place in a stadium I lovingly refer to as my home away from home. I couldn’t bear to take in that sight and did my best to avoid images of Chicago’s revelry and their parade, wanting to instead leave Cleveland’s June parade as the one stored in the front of my memory banks. My voice was muted online, as I just could not find words that would help me heal or help others with their own hurt.
As would be expected, there was plenty of hurt and a wide range of other emotions expressed by those dropping a line in one of those locations.
I’ve seen shock that the team could not seal the deal with a 3-1 lead and three games to secure just one win.
I’ve seen anger for much of the same reasons and questions about the team’s inability to close out one of the biggest games in franchise history. I’ve watched as those with less ability or desire to regulate their emotions lashed out at others for feeling anything less than rage.
I’ve seen pure sadness, disappointment, and even heartache from those who understood the struggles of the team, the difficulties that they were going to face in bringing home the first baseball title since 1948, and feelings that one just slipped away.
I’ve seen acceptance, that the underdog Indians overachieved down to the very final moments of the season, overcame nearly every obstacle tossed in their tracks, and still took baseball’s best team within a win of elimination.
I’ve seen pride. Pride that our city was once again on a national stage, in a championship bout, going toe-to-toe with the nation’s favorite lovable losers, the Tribe once again overlooked and underappreciated. In doing so, they reminded the world that the city of Cleveland does not back down and give up, despite years and years of sports media outlets reminding all comers of a burning river, “The Drive”, “The Fumble”, “The Shot”, Jose Mesa, and so on.
But in northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned.
Cleveland was the center of the sports universe for the second time in a year and was the host city for one of the most epic and memorable games in World Series history. It seemed impossible to imagine this time one year ago. It felt even more improbable after watching the Indians lose player after player before the team had even vacated their spring home in Goodyear, Arizona, yet they still stood up tall to the task and nearly completed the whole darn thing.
In the end, the dream was left unfulfilled. There was no amount of pinching that would wake you. It was a nightmare ending and the worst case scenario as the Party at Napoli’s was crashed by the Cubs before one momentous grand finale could be constructed by the Tribe. Despite Rajai Davis‘ best efforts with the incredible and unbelievable late inning heroics provided by his two-run home run that has become etched into the city’s memory forever, the drought was forced to continue on for another year. The target on the Indians’ backs grows to 69 seasons, now the longest such drought in the national pastime.
Losing a Game 7 sucked. The loss was unlike the losing clinchers in 1995 or 1997 or even 2007 against the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS in a series that was more exciting than the World Series sweep that followed by Terry Francona‘s club against the Colorado Rockies. Given everything that the Indians team went through to survive and to make it to the World Series, it almost felt as though the Tribe was on borrowed time; the hope was that there were just enough grains of sand in the hourglass to provide Cleveland with one more miracle.
Fate was not on the city’s side this time, much more familiar to the city that I grew up rooting for. But we did see a rare piece of history – just the sixth World Series in team history and the third Game 7. Unfortunately, those to see the clinching game of the best-of-nine World Series in 1920 are no longer here to tell their tales. Being on the wrong side of history, however, doesn’t take the pain away.
Looking back some now, the season is a blur, the postseason a hazy whirlwind of tear-jerking emotions, excitement, anxiousness, highs, lows, suspense, heartache, and despair.
I had said it a month prior to the World Series and again in the moments that followed elimination on Wednesday that this Indians team reminded me very much of the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers team that fell in six games to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. That Cavs team lost two-thirds of its big three with playoff injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, yet hung around and gave those Warriors a scare. That Cavs team was an underdog, even with the best player on the planet suiting up on a nightly basis representing both Cleveland and northeast Ohio as a whole.
The Indians fought a similar battle, going head-to-head with the best team in the league, down Carlos Carrasco and Michael Brantley for the entirety of the playoffs and missing Danny Salazar for everything but a reduced relief role in the World Series. That Indians team took the Chicago Cubs to the brink.
So just as the Cavaliers got the job done again over the course of the 2015-16 season, raced back to the playoffs and the Finals, and were once again underdogs to a Warriors club that established a new NBA single season record for wins, that team, with LeBron James, with Irving and Love back in the fold, with a strong starting five and quality role players and better coaching, was able to stun the world and bring home a title to Cleveland for the first time since 1964.
The Indians may just be able to do the same, to replicate the feat with an underdog title and a revived roster. Just think, if that banged up and bruised Indians team did everything this season without some of its most important parts contributing, what could it do with a healthier and hungrier bunch?
It was an incredible ride for the Tribe. But it’s just the first of many journeys to come. They will be better. They will be stronger. The proverbial “window of opportunity” appears to be thrust wide open for the next half decade. They have the experience of postseason play now under their collective belts, but now too will covet achieving baseball’s top honor and a place among the game’s immortals after coming so frustratingly close to doing so in one magical and unforgettable season.
For the fans, the pain of this hangover will linger for some time. But unlike failed seasons of the past, the deep playoff run leaves spring training one month closer than normal, providing a glimmer of hope for the city’s loyal denizens. In a little over three months, the pennant chase begins again, with the Indians owning the title of reigning American League Champions.
The Party isn’t over…it’s just getting started.
Photo: Elsa/Getty Images