Carson: I’m fine, it’s fine, the Indians are fine
Alex Carson | Monday, November 7, 2016
At some point, the reminders will go away. The local news stations will stop running ads congratulating the Cubs, the O’Neill stall notes will stop making jokes about Cleveland, kids will surely but slowly stop wearing Cubs hats and jerseys to lunch at South Dining Hall.
Today is not that day, tomorrow likely won’t be either, and as the next few weeks, months and probably years drag on, I’ll continue to see things that force me to recount Wednesday night. The frustration of defensive errors leading to two Cubs runs in the fourth; the elation of watching Rajai Davis — still, how? — taking Aroldis Chapman deep to tie the game in the eighth; being resigned to our fate when Ben Zobrist put the Cubs ahead in the 10th.
I’ve now accepted that the emotions of those moments will live with me forever. But I also feel confident that I am, and will continue to be, fine.
Because there’s a certain amount of perspective required.
The Indians are a small-market team in a league without a salary cap — there is no way around that, nor will there ever be one. At the start of the year, the Tribe had baseball’s seventh-smallest payroll; of the 12 teams with opening-day payrolls under $100 million, Cleveland was the only one to even make the postseason.
And while most of us felt there could, and perhaps would, be something special about this Indians team this year, those feelings were always plagued with the always-familiar thoughts that no matter what, it wouldn’t all come together. Like it didn’t in 1995, when the 100-44 Indians couldn’t seal the deal in the World Series; nor in 1997, when the Tribe entered the bottom of the ninth three outs away from breaking the city’s then-33-year title drought; nor when the Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the 2007 ALCS to the eventual world-champion Red Sox.
Behind Corey Kluber, Michael Brantley is probably the Indians’ second-best player. The outfielder, who finished third in the AL MVP vote in 2014, appeared in just 11 games this year. That alone probably should’ve been enough to do the Indians in.
But, of course, it wasn’t.
When Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, Cleveland’s second- and third-best starters, went down in September, it was supposed to be the death knell. The Indians would still win the AL Central, sure, but the team’s readiness for playoff success was predicated on the strength of the rotation more than anything else. The nation pondered how a team needing to throw its No. 4 and 5 starters could possibly get through that great Red Sox offense, let alone the Blue Jays’ bats if they somehow survived.
Then when Trevor Bauer — you know, that No. 4 starter who shouldn’t have been needed more than a couple times all postseason — cut his finger trying to repair his drone, that was also supposed to be it. When he was pulled in the first inning of his start in Game 3 in Toronto, the Blue Jays would gain the momentum against the Tribe bullpen, winning four games from five to secure their spot in the World Series.
Perhaps all of that thrown together is what makes this a little easier to process than it perhaps should be. Because at the end of the day, last Tuesday and Wednesday showed a team that finally ran out of gas. A team that finally found the odds to be too heavily stacked against it. A team that showed, believe it or not, that it’s difficult to win a World Series with your fourth- and fifth-best starters pitching games on short rest.
The past Cleveland heartbreaks focused on one notion: that it should have happened. The Indians were baseball’s best team in 1995 and, failing that, 1997 and 2007 each really should have produced a World Series title in Cleveland.
Unlike those past chances, though, this one probably never should have happened.
Right now, I’m a little sad. For a while, I’ll continue to be. But I’m not letting that emotion overwhelm me. Because if I ever fell out of love with baseball — and I probably never did, to be fair — this summer and fall served as a perfect reminder of what makes the sport so special.
In February, Indians pitchers and catchers will report to Arizona for spring training. We’ll come back with Carrasco and Salazar in the rotation, and Brantley in the lineup. And it will mark, once more, the start of our annual quest for “next year.”
But 2017 will actually be our “next year.”
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.