We knew this was coming.
The Indians were able to gain some serious ground on the Twins coming out of the All-Star Break, by fattening up their record against the league’s tomato cans. They caught up to the Twins and even took the lead briefly last month in the American League Central Division after taking three of four in Minnesota. Since then, they’ve fallen back – which wasn’t entirely unexpected. They faced a tougher schedule and the Twins faced an easier one.
The Indians dropped two of three to the Red Sox, split a four-game set with the Yankees and got swept by the Mets before righting the ship by beating up on the Tigers and Royals. But they got swept by the Rays and split at home against the White Sox, including Thursday’s shellacking, which puts them six and a half in back for the division lead, and a game back for the second wild card spot.
I’m not going to make any dire pronouncements, because a lot can change in the remaining month of the season. But I’m not going to lie, this week had an air of finality to it – because it eerily mirrored the way the 2005 season ended.
That year, the Indians stumbled out of the gate and were in fourth place in the Central by Mother’s Day. But they got hot in August (coincidentally, right around the same time I moved back to Ohio from my first job out of college in Pittsburgh) and played blistering baseball, winning at a .700 clip, finishing the month by winning 10 of 13.
In September, their torrid pace continued. They won seven games in a row, and then after a loss to the Athletics, went on a six-game win streak. The White Sox had been in command of the Central for the entire season, and appeared poised to break the Twins’ three-year streak as division champions. Now all of a sudden, the Indians were breathing down their necks.
On the penultimate Sunday of the 2005 season, the Indians were just a game and a half back of the White Sox and leading the wild card as they were hoping to put the finishing touches on a sweep of the lowly Royals, who had already lost 100 games that year. They threw their ace, Zack Greinke, but he gave up three runs in the first inning and the Indians were cruising. The Royals tied the game in the sixth and took the lead in the seventh, but the Tribe managed to push another run across in the top of the ninth.
Bob Howry came on to pitch for the Indians in the bottom of the ninth, facing the bottom of the Kansas City lineup. Remember Bob Howry? Because I sure as hell don’t. Angel Berroa singled to lead off the inning, and Joe McEwing bunted to move him over. Paul Phillips hit a fly ball to center field for what should have been the second out of the inning. Grady Sizemore saw the ball go up into the sun – and never saw it come down. He couldn’t track it, and it fell at his feet, allowing Berroa to score the winning run.
The loss, coupled with a White Sox win, put the Indians two and a half back in the division, and trimmed their wild card lead to a half-game. But surely, they could make up the ground? They had three against the Tampa Bay Rays – then the Devil Rays, and the dregs of the American League East – and finished the season with a three-game series against the White Sox. All six games would be at Jacobs Field, and there was nothing like home cooking, right?
The Devil Rays took two of three, and by the time the White Sox came to town, the Indians needed a sweep to force a tie with the White Sox. They lost every game. Not only did they not win the division, they finished out of the wild card as well. That year, the White Sox went on to appear in their first World Series in more than 40 years – and win their first since World War I.
The Indians had lost six of their last seven games – five by one run.
“Somebody has to be a winner,” Coco Crisp said. “It wasn’t us.”
Photo: Morning Journal/David Richard