Thursday, October 13, 2005

51. 'Collapse' sums up Tribe

Maybe the day off before the last homestand gave them too much time to think about it.

Had they really won 92 games, and were they really just a couple of wins away from their first playoff appearance since 2001?

Whatever happened, or whatever they thought about, the Cleveland Indians proceeded to go out and lose 5 out of 6 home games (6 out of 7 overall) and eliminated themselves from the playoffs.

It was as though they looked to the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, their competitors for the last playoff spot, and said, “No, please, by all means, here is the invitation to the playoffs, take it.”  Perhaps the Indians felt guilty, after all, the Yankees and Red Sox invest millions more than they in hopes of reaching the playoffs.  If that is not enough, their fans are serious, they want to win championships…period, end of story, no kidding around.  And Major League Baseball loves these teams too, because when they play, a lot of people are interested, and when a lot of people are interested- Major League Baseball makes a lot of money.  In this sense, maybe it was the polite thing for the Indians to do- step aside, and do what is best for the game.

Possibly the Indians were jealous of the other Cleveland teams that have that notorious “one-word” to describe heartbreak.  Not that the Indians have not tried before, there was the 1997 World Series after all.  But the Browns have “The Drive,” and  “The Fumble,” and, of course, the Cavaliers have, “The Shot.”  Apparently, the Indians thought this might get them “The Collapse.”  It was an unoriginal attempt however, because last season they moved within a couple games of the first place and then lost nine in a row.  But that was in August, and not enough people noticed.  Perhaps they thought this would be a bit more dramatic.  Give them credit, this was big, the whole country witnessed their display in futility.  It was on all the sports channels, in the newspapers and on the Internet- seems nobody could explain it.  I mean really, if it means that much to them, they have my vote.

In the world of collapses, it is as though the Indians and Cavaliers were in some type of disturbing competition to see who can disappointment their fans the most.  The Cavaliers, with similar type collapses, have narrowly missed the playoffs the last two seasons.  The competition, however, is over- the Indians have won this thing hands-down.  The title, “The Collapse,” with all assumed rights and privileges, now belongs to them.

Interestingly though, the Indians, not unlike a modern political organization, immediately began damage control.  I may have even caught a glimpse of Karl Rove leaving Indians headquarters Saturday afternoon. The organization, from its announcers to its manager, quickly began trying to spin the negative into a positive.  I may have even heard manager Eric Wedge emulate the popular 2000 presidential debate rhetoric of “it’s hard work.”

The Indians lost two out of three games to Tampa Bay, who has a record of 67-94 (27-54 on the road) and then was swept by a Chicago team that lacked incentive and whose lineup included many second string players- including seven on Friday night.  The Indians pitching staff had a string of 33 innings during the homestand in which they allowed only two runs.  Think about that, 2 runs in 33 innings- and they lost 5 out of 6 games.  During the homestand, the offense was 6 for 50 with runners in scoring position.  The offense, despite the credit given to the opposing pitching, showed its inexperience, and was clearly rattled by the pressure.  They were anxious, swinging at bad pitches and failing to move runners along.  Wedge was also rattled by the pressure and managed the games like ordinary regular season games, rather than ones that controlled the team’s postseason fate.  Despite having the best bullpen in baseball, he left pitchers in too long, and he refused to “make something happen” to help his flustered offense.

The organization dealt with “The Collapse,” by talking about the “signs of progression,” and that they were, “one hit short.”  Wedge said that it was “more about the opposition,” and that they will “do better next time around.”  Broadcasters resorted to clich├ęs such as “one step at a time,” and “that’s baseball.”  The only spin missing was that Tampa Bay and Chicago had weapons of mass destruction and that they were harboring terrorists.

Really, “more about the opposition,” and “do better next time around?”  Are you kidding me?  What opposition?  Tampa Bay, Chicago’s triple A team?  Six home games, in front of a packed Jacobs Field?  And you have the best pitching staff in the American League.  How much better does Wedge and the Indians think it gets?  Maybe three games each against Midview and Amherst would be more to their liking?  And “do better next time around?”  Regardless of the success that may come in the future, I do not get the point in just throwing away opportunities.  This year was a special year and one never knows how many opportunities are out there.  For example, the Indians started the same five pitchers all year.  No one faltered; no one was injured.  That is very rare these days in baseball; it cannot be an expectation going into next season.

I do not know how the Indians would have done in the playoffs.  But, that is the experience they needed, not the experience of handing away a great opportunity.  Two years in a row, the Indians’ organization complained that the fans were not supporting them.  However, times when the fans began to support them, last August and this September/October, they not only failed, they failed miserably.  And as harsh as it might be, the fans that packed the stadium this week left extremely disappointed, if not angry, and it will be that much more difficult to get them back next year.  And I can also assure you that most of them do not want to hear about “signs of progression,’ and that it was “more about the opposition.”  They want to hear the truth and the truth is that this team blew a “golden” opportunity to make the playoffs, this year.  Those excuses and that line of reasoning would not work with the fans in Boston and New York, so why should we accept it?  We are baseball fans just like them, and we want to win… period, end of story, no kidding around.  

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