The Year That Was – The 2013 Cleveland Indians

It was not business as usual for one of the three professional sports franchises in Cleveland in 2013.

What a year it was for the Cleveland Indians and their fans, at least those who still supported the Dolans and their franchise. Say what you will about the final results, the team took a gigantic step forward in 2013, improving their record on the field by 24 wins with an exciting new-look team and a brand new brain trust in the dugout.

Did The Tribe Win Last Night was there every step of the way and covered all of the highs and the lows throughout the season, with a few fun projects along the way.

The excitement for the 2013 season could be felt almost instantly just three days into the new year, when the club introduced free agent acquisition Nick Swisher in a memorable press conference on January 3rd. The move, which had been reported just prior to Christmas and was pending a physical, did much to complement the addition of manager Terry Francona in October of 2012, immediately injecting character, veteran leadership, and energy into the young ball club.

Swisher’s four-year, $52 million contract would not be the beginning or the end of the team’s roster shuffling. The “Tito Effect” had already helped the team add slugger Mark Reynolds and pitcher Brett Myers. General Manager Chris Antonetti had made a pair of trades to improve the bench and the bullpen.

With a substantial amount of money spent, it was thought the team was done spending big money. Smaller minor league signings, including veteran project pitcher Scott Kazmir and bench option Ryan Raburn, rounded out the early 2013 transactions. Just prior to Spring Training, the team brought in several additional players on minor league contracts, but the surprise of the bunch was Jason Giambi, who was thought to be a long shot for the roster with his age and the team’s limited roster flexibility.

Cleveland had one more trick up its sleeve, as it pulled a rabbit out of its cap by sneaking in and signing another Scott Boras client, Michael Bourn, to a four-year, $48 million contract. The move capped off a wild and uncharacteristic expenditure by the Tribe and also forced the club to surrender a second unprotected draft pick in the summer’s amateur draft. Their protected first pick would be used in June on high school player Clint Frazier.

The presence of the charismatic Swisher, Francona, and even the veteran Giambi provided an almost immediate benefit to the roster. Starting in March, some of the effects of the new blood in the clubhouse became quite evident as the team engaged in a series of events that promoted the new roster and the new attitude on the team. A comical, if not bizarre, “Harlem Shake” video was released, as were a series of “Tribe Town” radio and TV commercial spots, and a “TERRi” Siri spoof featuring Francona, Swisher, Jason Kipnis, and Vinnie Pestano, among others.

In Arizona, the Indians took their first damage of the spring as the team prepared for life without several of its roster candidates for 2013. Six players were slated to represent their respective countries in the World Baseball Classic, but closer Chris Perez suffered a subscapularis strain in his pitching shoulder and missed the tournament.

With rosters set, the new era of Cleveland baseball officially started on April 2nd as Justin Masterson outdueled R.A. Dickey to a win over the border in Toronto, 4-1. A blown save by Perez marred a solid start from Ubaldo Jimenez two days later, but an eleventh inning blast from Reynolds saved the day. The remainder of the six-game road trip to open the season was not pretty, but ended on a high note with the defeat of another Cy Young Award winning pitcher, Tampa Bay’s David Price.

The Indians’ home opener was spoiled by their former slugger, Travis Hafner, who drove in four runs in his first game back at Progressive Field. The Indians would finish the first homestand of the season with a 2-6 record, swept by both New York and Boston. The highlight of the stay came on April 12th, when Swisher’s walkoff single to right on a chilly night in Cleveland secured a complete game 1-0 victory for Masterson.

The Tribe’s investment on Myers did not pay off. He was shelled early and often and quickly found himself on the disabled list, never to return. Kazmir, however, filled the fifth spot in the rotation and became one of the better acquisitions of the offseason after a suspect first start of the season against Houston and some occasional ineffectiveness. After his long road traveled, he finished the season 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA. A free agent after the year, he signed a two-year, $22 million deal with Oakland in December.

Cleveland suffered through lengthy losing skids early on, but rebounded with several strings of wins to balance out their record. A six-game losing streak in mid-April was followed by a six-game winning streak at the end of the month. Four, three, and five-game winning stretches in May were erased by a five-game bender at the end of the month and a dismal eight-game string against Tampa, New York, Detroit, and Texas in June.

Despite the obstacles in the way, the Indians continued to find magical ways to win all season long, including Drew Stubbswalkoff double off of the wall in left center against the Minnesota Twins in ten innings on May 3rd.

Two weeks later, the Indians dealt the Seattle Mariners a four-game sweep in improbable fashion. Kipnis delivered a two-out, three-run home run over the wall in right field in the tenth inning to give Cleveland a 6-3 win in the opener. The next afternoon, an infield single by Reynolds pulled the foot of the Seattle catcher off of the plate, allowing Kipnis to score the winning run in the ninth after a blown Perez save. Masterson outdueled another former Cy Young winner in Felix Hernandez on Mother’s Day, 6-0, and backup catcher Yan Gomes joined the walkoff parade with a three-run home run in the tenth to give the Tribe a 10-8 win and their second of seven four-game sweeps on the year. The Indians would finish the year 25-8 against the AL West.

Masterson and Jimenez teamed up to become a solid one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Masterson (14-10, 3.45) put himself in a prime position for a contract extension or a bigger pay day come free agency after the 2014 season. For Jimenez, working with new Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway seemed to unlock the Jimenez of old (13-9, 3.30).

While the rotation, thought to be the weakness coming into the season, was playing at high levels, the presumed strength of the club, the “Bullpen Mafia”, was faltering. Neither of Perez and Pestano was pitching to past expectations. Both would spend time on the disabled list. Perez was unceremoniously booed after his blown save against Seattle. After an arrest for a shipment of marijuana that arrived to his home in the name of his dog in early June, Perez would lose more respect from the fan base. He would ultimately lose his closer role and be released after his tumultuous season. He has since signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, leaving him with the third-highest total of saves (124) all-time with the Indians.

The team was dealt injury after injury over the course of the season but always seemed to overcome. In addition to Myers, backup catcher Lou Marson missed the remainder of the season after injuries sustained in a home plate collision in the first week of the season. Masterson, Kazmir, Perez, Pestano, Corey Kluber, and Zach McAllister all missed time with a slew of injuries of their own. Swisher dealt with a sore shoulder that plagued his power production throughout the year, and Bourn missed time after sustaining a laceration to his hand when he was cleated at first base.

The team’s effort on the field was a roller coaster ride. Offensive production was hit and miss at times and the bullpen was ineffective. Starting third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall was demoted to Triple-A Columbus and Reynolds fell into a slump, lost playing time, and was released in August. The starting pitching, however, kept the team in ball games, thanks to consistent contributions from Kluber and McAllister at the back end of the rotation. Backup catcher Gomes made the most of opportunities afforded him.

Kipnis got his second game-winner of the year on June 14th when a sharply hit smash to first was fielded and thrown to the plate, scoring the speedy Stubbs with a slide. He found out a few weeks later that he and teammate Masterson, already owner of three complete game shutout victories, were selected to represent the American League in the annual All-Star Game. Masterson did not play, but Kipnis got an opportunity and delivered an RBI-double to left field and made the catch of the final out of the ball game.

With the second half of the season underway, the Indians found themselves within playoff striking distance and played as such. On July 26th, Raburn burned Texas with a three-run bomb to the home run porch in the eleventh inning. Three days later, the ageless veteran Giambi sent a pinch-hit souvenir into the trees in center field to lead off the bottom of the ninth for a win over Chicago. The White Sox would get another turn two days later as Carlos Santana drove a 3-2 pitch over the wall in right to give the Indians a 6-5 walkoff win in ten.

The team stayed relatively quiet at the trading deadline, acquiring lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski from St. Louis. To make room on the roster, the fan favorite Pestano was sent to Columbus to recover his prior success.

The roller coaster season continued, as the team concluded an eight-game winning streak by beginning a six-game losing streak just three games later. While the gap in the AL Central grew and grew, the team was still a player in the Wild Card picture, despite the loaded AL East and AL West divisions. But the team concluded the month on a five-game skid and suddenly, hopes dimmed on the shores of Lake Erie.

The Indians did not give up. Instead, they ripped off 21 wins in 27 games despite losing Masterson to start the month. Everyone got in on the fun. Swisher and Cabrera hit their strides, each driving in 17 runs. Five other players drove in eleven runs or more. Even a late season callup joined the party, as Matt Carson skipped a single under the glove of Houston’s second baseman on September 19th to drive in Gomes with the winning run in the eleventh. The win would be the first of a ten-game winning streak to conclude the regular season.

The most impressive and maybe important and dramatic winner in recent Cleveland memory occurred on September 24th. With the Indians very much in the mix for a postseason berth, Perez gave up a pair of solo home runs to Chicago in the top of the ninth for another blown save. Giambi stepped in to the box with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, trailing 4-3. A swing and a bat flip later, Giambi’s majestic blast into the night gave the Indians their eleventh walkoff winner at Progressive Field.

The Indians would clinch the AL Wild Card spot and home field advantage with a 13-strikeout performance from Jimenez on the season’s final game. Because every last game counted down the stretch, the Indians could not rest their best available healthy starting pitcher (Jimenez finished September with a 4-0 record and a 1.09 ERA while Masterson was limited to a bullpen role) and instead started impressive rookie Danny Salazar, who had appeared in just ten games with limited pitch counts throughout the season.

A packed house watched the Indians fall behind early and ultimately lose their first playoff game at Progressive Field since 2007 by a 4-0 final.

The postseason was over, but the offseason was just beginning for the Indians. Francona was recognized in November for the team’s improvement and second place finish in the AL Central, one game in back of Detroit, with the AL Manager of the Year Award. In the last two months, Cleveland has signed outfielder David Murphy, infielders David Adams and David Cooper, and closer John Axford, while they have lost Kazmir, Joe Smith, and Matt Albers to free agency and traded Stubbs to Colorado.

Over the course of the year, Did The Tribe Win Last Night ran several special stories of note. The year began with the culmination of the “Eighteen Crazy Nights” series, chronicling the 1997 Indians’ playoff run. Throughout the entire year, interviews conducted with Major and Minor League players past and present, including recently posted interviews with legendary fan favorite Omar Vizquel, television announcer and former outfielder Rick Manning, playoff hero Dave Burba, and former 1980’s All-Star third baseman Brook Jacoby, were shared with the viewing audience.

In September, Did The Tribe Win Last Night debuted a spinoff project, in addition to the daily work done by all of the writers of the website. With dreams of yesteryear and playoff hopes in mind, several writers collaborated on a modern-day retelling of the 65th anniversary of the last World Series title won by the Cleveland Indians in 1948. The story appears on the webpage and incorporates extensive use of social media forum Twitter to tell the story even further. For more information on the #48Replay project, follow any of the cast of characters at the following Twitter locations: @didtribewin1948, @Lou_Boudreau, @Bob_Feller19, @Bob_Lemon21, @Ken_Keltner6, and @RChristopher48.

Following the season, a series of stories addressed the ongoing attendance woes that have plagued the organization, with the exception of the Perfect Storm run through the late 1990s, and a variety of potential reasons behind the lack of attention given the Indians in person on a nightly basis.

It was an incredible year for Cleveland, even with its highs and lows, and may indicate that the team is a year ahead of schedule. While this offseason has been quieter than the year before, there is still excitement surrounding the Indians as they pursue another playoff berth and maybe even a chance at taking the division crown from the defending Tigers. There is plenty to root for at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, even if you are supporting the team from the couch!

Thank you for spending your 2013 with us in support of the Indians organization. From everyone at Did The Tribe Win Last Night, we wish you a safe and Happy New Year. Just as importantly – GO TRIBE!

Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

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