If there’s one thing the strong Cleveland sports teams of the last half century have in common – besides, y’know, not winning a championship – it’s finding themselves a good nemesis.
An opponent your fan base hates, usually led by a commercially viable figurehead we’d all like to see fall off a windmill.
John Elway instantly comes to mind, who, like Peter on the morning of the Crucifixion, three times denied Jesus a trip to the Super Bowl. Similarly, Michael Jordan bounced four spunky Cavs teams from the postseason in a five-year stretch.
Aside from the New York Yankees, who have been the archenemy of all that is good and pure in the world since 1921, the Indians have generally avoided being nagged by a Scut Farkus.
For the Indians, the Detroit Tigers have become their Man in Black. Their Moriarty. Their Voldemort. Their Darth Vader. Their General Zod. Their name the villain and insert it here.
And not in the fun, let’s-develop-a-rivalry-and-make-an-ESPN-documentary-about-it kind of way, but more along the lines of Biff Tannen and George McFly.
This week, just like at the beginning of Back to the Future, the Tigers rolled into town, wrecked the Indians’ car, blamed them for it, then forced the Tribe to finish up their reports and run them over first thing Saturday (but not too early, because the Tigers sleep in on Saturdays).
With two more lopsided losses – followed by one of those it’s-a-long-season-and-it-had-to-happen-eventually Tribe wins in Wednesday’s matinee – the Indians dropped to 3-9 against Detroit this season. And even worse…15-35 over the last three.
If there’s an Achilles’ heel of the Terry Francona era, there you go. A .565 winning percentage against everybody else but just a .300 winning percentage against Detroit.
Not that the 2013-2015 Indians era is going to be remembered all that fondly in the years to come. Nor that the Tigers prevented Cleveland postseason glory the way Elway and Jordan did.
But, take away their head-to-head matchups last year and the Indians snag a wild card spot.
Take them away two years ago, they take the division.
Take them away this year and the Tribe is over .500, within striking distance of first place.
Like a desperate gambler down to his last handful of chips (here’s lookin’ at you, Pete), we’re all pinning our hopes on the law of averages. But even if that kicks in through the teams’ final seven matchups of the season, it’s unlikely the Tribe takes more than two of them.
Because the Tigers are simply, unequivocally the better team. Just as they were last year and the year before.
Which, in a way, makes it easier to accept than the Elway/Jordan tarantellas the Browns and Cavs suffered through in the ‘80s. Take either one of those guys away from their teams and our guys smoke those clowns.
And while Miguel Cabrera is approaching a level of ownership of a Cleveland sports team that even Nick Mileti never dreamed of, even if you take him out of the equation, the Tigers are still unquestionably the better team.
So with the Tigers finally now off the Tribe’s radar for two wonderful months, the Indians can get back to the business of flailing around like a drunk in a wave pool in a desperate attempt to get back to .500.
But now there’s a ticking clock – they have until Labor Day weekend, when they’ll face the Tigers seven times in ten days.
At which point we’ll all cover our eyes again and pray that the Indians can remember the safety word.