Indians Await Opponent as Cleveland Sets Sights on a Second 2016 Title

As Carlos Santana closed his mitt around that wondrously stitched white orb that had fallen perfectly to him in foul ground at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday night before he dropped to his knees with arms raised as a victim of his own indescribable emotions, I couldn’t help but to be at a loss for words. Moments later, I screamed “YES!” and probably something belligerent along the lines of “We’re going to the World Series!”

I stared at the TV screen, still very much in a surreal state of disbelief, lost in some dream state, needing someone to pinch me to ensure that this moment was occurring in real time and in real life.

This is Cleveland. These things don’t happen in Cleveland.

But this is 2016. The old rule was broken. Chaos now reigns supreme. Cleveland is a city of champions.

For the second time in the calendar year, the city of Cleveland will be represented on the national stage in one of the big three sports. The Cavaliers brought home the NBA title exactly four months earlier in June, ending 52 years of championship agony that had plagued the loyal denizens for a lifetime.

The Cavs were underdogs. The Golden State Warriors broke records – 73 wins in the regular season. The Cavs, meanwhile, fired their coach and seemed to have some issues gelling together. Yet down 3-1 in the NBA Finals, they brought home the Larry O’Brien trophy and 1.3 million fans filled the streets for a parade unlike anything the city had ever seen.

I’m ready to immerse myself in that glorious madness all over again.

I may not have grown up within the limits of Cleveland, but I grew up near enough to it that it is my home. It has made me who I am. My sports suffering has hardened me. The Fumble. The Drive. The Shot. Tony Fernandez. Jose Mesa. The last 18 years of Cleveland Browns “football”.

Things changed when the drought dried up, courtesy of The Block, The new Shot, and The Stop.

A legend around these parts once said, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned.”

The Indians have earned this moment. Nothing has been given to them this season. They lost Michael Brantley. They lost Yan Gomes. They lost Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar, and then Carrasco again. Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd were suspended. Trevor Bauer’s finger was eaten by a drone.

But guys stepped up. The next man up mentality of the Cavs or of another Ohio-based championship organization, the Ohio State Buckeyes, permeated the locker room. Corey Kluber put the rotation on his back. Bauer became the pitcher fans have been waiting for while stabilizing the unit. Josh Tomlin got back up on the horse after a rough August to ride strong for another month and a half now. Jose Ramirez…where would this Tribe team be without its little fan favorite? Jason Kipnis, Mike Napoli, and Santana put up career numbers. Tyler Naquin made a legitimate case for a Rookie of the Year Award and his walk-off inside-the-park home run will be something forgotten by few. Francisco Lindor became a national name. ALCS MVP Andrew Miller did too for his ridiculous and criminal actions on the mound.

The team has a synergy beyond compare. The team is truly greater than the sum of its individual parts. Thank you, Terry Francona, for being the glue and tape and staples and rubber cement that makes the whole thing stick together and function properly. Clear off some space on the mantel for that second AL Manager of the Year Award, it’s in the bag. His team, your team, our team, brought home the 2016 American League pennant for the first time since 1997.

While the Cavs will hoist their championship banner on Tuesday night, the Indians will be preparing for a celebration of their own right across the small plaza separating Quicken Loans Arena from Progressive Field as Game 1 of the World Series will kick off that same evening. The Tribe will get games on Tuesday and Wednesday next week before three games played on the road in either Los Angeles or Chicago over the weekend, where either team may be deemed the favorite over the banged up, bruised, stitched up, and bloody Indians rotation and a lineup devoid of national stars…at least yet. Depending the outcome of those games, baseball could return to Cleveland for two final games the following Tuesday and Wednesday as the calendar page flips to November.

I say, let the Tribe be underdogs. The city relishes in the role. The team thrives in it. Ask Paul Hoynes. Count this team out. Let the national pundits make National League pick after National League pick for the world’s championship. Let some overpaid, underperforming Jose Bautista-type flap his jaw instead of flip his bat and talk some trash about the Tribe. Fill up that locker room bulletin board with all the hate, all the doubt, all the fuel that could ever be needed.

And then…well then I guess there’s only one thing left to do…

…win the whole f’ing thing.

Photo: AP Photo/Mark Blinch

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