Every time the Cleveland Indians clinch a playoff berth, it’s coupled with team radio broadcaster Tom Hamilton making his famous claim that the city “will have an October to remember.”
Speaking for myself, the fans and, heck, probably the players in the clubhouse, I’m praying we all forget this October as soon as humanly possible.
Looking to redeem themselves after one of the most brutal World Series losses in recent memory, the Indians instead got bounced in the ALDS by an upstart New York Yankees club. They did so despite holding a 2-0 series lead. They did so despite having their ace on the mound for Game 5 in front of a home crowd.
As a result, a season full numerous successes ended in colossal failure.
As time passes, people will stop talking about the 102 victories Cleveland notched this season. There may be fond memories of the record breaking 22-game winning streak here and there. The same could be said for the Cy Young award many expect Corey Kluber to bring home this winter.
It’s a shame, too. All of these were remarkable accomplishments, combining to make for a thrilling regular season.
But that’s not what determines a successful year. No matter what happens from April through September, all anyone ever cares about is how the postseason ends.
For Cleveland, it ended in the first round. It ended with a World Series favorite playing three of the worst games of the entire year when all it had to do was win once.
An ending like this all but erases any of the good memories from the regular season. What those fun times will be replaced by is a long list of letdowns, both at an individual and team-wide level.
Instead of remembering 2017 for 102 wins, we’ll see it as the year two of the team’s best players – Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez – were postseason no-shows. Cleveland’s middle infielders combined for just four hits, 13 strikeouts and just four RBIs (all of which came from a Lindor grand slam). Their inability to come through with any clutch at-bats down the stretch absolutely crippled the Indians offense.
Instead of looking back fondly on Jason Kipnis‘ heartfelt season-opening column on The Players’ Tribune, we’ll wonder if it was worth it for Terry Francona to make him his starting center fielder. The move was made to take advantage of Kipnis’ bat, which he used to frequently swing and miss at pitches practically rolled to home plate.
Instead of getting excited about Kluber’s potential Cy Young award, we’ll wonder just what the hell happened to Cleveland’s ace in the postseason. After a year in which he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the majors, Kluber wrapped up a postseason giving up nine runs in just 6.1 innings despite being on full rest and – as of this writing – giving no indication he was playing hurt.
And, instead of seeing the 22-game winning streak as a precursor for a monumental playoff run, we’ll remember the 2017 Indians for putting forth three appallingly bad games in a situation where they only needed one victory. They scored five runs in the final three contests. They tallied seven errors in the final two. Their last at-bats featured players watching multiple strikes going right across the middle of the plate without lifting the bat off their shoulders.
As you can see, there’s no getting around the fact the 2017 Indians will be remembered for epic failure. Last season, they somehow eked their way to the final out of the World Series with a makeshift rotation and a patchwork batting order. This year, with a pitching staff at full strength and a significantly improved offense, they won two games.
Once again, another Cleveland season can be summarized with “failed to win one game despite getting three chances to do so.” Last year, it was because the team’s imperfections caught up with it.
This time around, it was because the Indians just plain flopped. Where the 2016 outcome was easier to defend, this season’s finale was inexcusable, a blatant waste of a golden opportunity.
Maybe these Indians got cocky. Maybe they saw all of Francona’s questionable calls pay off last year and assumed it would just happen again. Maybe they figured being a trendy pick to win it all meant such an outcome was a formality.
It wasn’t. As a result, they can enjoy another offseason of being painted as the league’s biggest choke artists.