On To The LCS!

It was a struggle — particularly in the ninth inning, which seemed like it would never end — but the Cleveland Indians have moved on to the American League Championship Series.  The Tribe improbably swept the Boston Red Sox and now advance to play the Toronto Blue Jays.

Kudos to the Sox and David Ortiz for a great season and great career . . . but the Tribe is moving on.  Let’s see if our secret weapon, by the name of Terry Francona, can carry the Tribe on to the World Series.

Go Tribe!  Keep us from thinking about the presidential election a while longer!

Cleveland And Cribbage

The Tribe won Game 1 of their five-game series with the Boston Red Sox tonight.  It was a fabulous, tight game, brilliantly managed by Indians skipper Terry Francona.

SONY DSCThe key point in the game was Francona’s decision to go to his bullpen in the fifth inning.  It was a ballsy move that could have blown up in Francona’s face — but it didn’t.  Yes, lefty Andrew Miller had to pitch more than normal, but the bullpen held the lead, Cody Allen closed the door for the save, and the Tribe has a leg up.

I had more even confidence about Francona’s managerial skills when I read this article about Francona’s relationship with his players.  Sure, he’s a deft manager — but it also turns out that he plays cribbage.

Cribbage?  Hell, no wonder he’s a good manager.  Anybody who plays the greatest card game of all, with its intricate strategies and maneuvering, is bound to have a good eye for figuring out how to win a ball game.

So the Tribe has a 1-0 lead in the series.  I’ll take it.  With the Cribbage King to set the strategy, I think more good things are to come.

There Are No Jinxes

There are no jinxes.

Repeat after me:  There are no jinxes!

When the Cleveland Cavaliers came roaring back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA championship this year, and finally brought a championship to Cleveland sports fans after a 52-year drought, they buried the Cleveland sports jinxes once and for all.  Even UJ has declared it.  So today I’ll write what I really think about the Cleveland Indians’ chances in the MLB playoffs, without tying myself in knots about whether by writing, speaking, or even thinking about the Tribe I’m somehow upsetting the lurking karma.  It’s wonderfully liberating, after years of being shackled by deep-seated jinxing fears.

img_2445The Tribe won the AL Central this year thanks to very good starting pitching, a superb bullpen, and a surprisingly robust offense.  For a while, the Indians easily had the best starting pitching in baseball, but then injuries took their toll and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer had their struggles.  Now the team advances to the playoffs without Carlos Carrasco, with their most consistent starter, Corey Kluber, dealing with a nagging quadriceps strain, and with Danny Salazar available only in the bullpen.  The Tribe will need to start Bauer in game one against the Boston Red Sox and hope that Kluber recuperates in time to start game two.  Tomlin, who was removed from the starting rotation after getting repeatedly battered but who has pitched better since being reinstated as a starter after the injury to Carrasco, will start game three.  If the Tribe hopes to prevail, it will need all three of those starters to pitch well.

Some experts think that the Indians’ first-round opponents, the Boston Red Sox, are the team most likely to win the World Series this year.  They believe the Sox are the most balanced team in the playoffs, with good pitching and a very potent offense.  And, the Sox have the sentimental favorite storyline going for them, with the chance to win another World Series ring for retiring slugger David Ortiz, who had a fantastic year in 2016.  The Sox also won the season series against the Indians this year.  Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that none of the pundits and baseball GMs seem to be picking the Tribe to win.

I think the key question in this series is whether the Tribe’s hitters bring their bats.  This year, the team at times has had to scratch and claw for runs, but they’ve also been good at getting timely hits.  In 2016 we’ve seen the emergence of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Tyler Naquin, and Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana have supplied the power.  Lindor and Napoli were slumping at the end of the season.  Tribe fans hope that they are revived by a few days off before the series starts on Thursday.

The Red Sox offense is going to score some runs; I’m not expecting a bunch of 1-0 games.  The issue is whether the Indians can also put some runs on the scoreboard.  If they can, I like their chances for one reason:  Terry Francona.  I think he’s one of the very best managers in the game, and he has used his bullpen spectacularly this year — including the game that Russell, UJ and I saw live, where Carrasco was injured on his second pitch and Francona threw a different pitcher out there every inning to improbably shut out the Tigers and win, 1-0, in 10 innings.  It was a magical, never to be forgotten performance.

Any manager and bullpen that can do that against a good offensive club like Detroit is something special.  If the Cleveland batters bring their lumber, and if the Tribe’s starters can keep the Sox from getting runaway leads, Francona and the bullpen could turn 2016 into something special for the Tribe and their long-suffering fans.

Damn Yankees!

The New York Yankees are in Cleveland to face the Indians.  Last night’s contest was a good illustration of why I — and countless other baseball fans — hate the Yankees with every fiber of our beings.

The mighty Yankees, who have won more World Series titles than any other franchise, have the best record in the American League.  Last night they put C.C. Sabathia, one of the best pitchers in the majors, on the mound, and their lineup features all-stars and future Hall of Famers, like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson.  The valiant Tribe, which has surprisingly scratched its way to a small lead in the AL Central on the strength of fine pitching and some timely hitting, started pitcher Carlos Carrasco and their standard lineup of largely unheralded players.  Sabathia, the rumpled giant with his trademark cockeyed cap, pitched seven hitless innings while the Yankee bats got to Carrasco, and the Yankees won, 9-2.

Of course, Sabathia used to be an Indian, where he was one of my favorite players.  He developed into a great pitcher in Cleveland, but the Tribe couldn’t afford to keep him — just like they couldn’t afford to keep Cliff Lee, and Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome, and many other excellent players who came up in the Cleveland farm system.  Major League Baseball will never have true competitive balance while small-market teams like the Indians must sign untested players to long-term contracts and hope they develop into quality major leaguers, only to see them leave for more money when those contracts are up — whereas ultra-wealthy franchises like the Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Phillies, flush with TV and merchandising money, can afford to sign every proven, high-priced free agent to add even more punch to their lineups.

Damn Yankees!

Obscure Bands And Great Songs: The Standells And Dirty Water

The Standells were the classic garage band.  Although their only hit was about living in Boston, the band was actually from Los Angeles.  They played for years — including playing themselves on an episode of The Munsters, oddly enough — but lightning struck only once, with the song Dirty Water.

The backstory about Dirty Water is interesting.  The song was not written by a member of the band, but by the band’s new producer.  As the band went to work on the song, it began to take shape.  The band’s guitarist, Tony Valentino, contributed the irresistible opening guitar lick, the singer, Dick Dodd, did some memorable improvising (“Ah, but they’re cool people.”), and the  echoey production values made it sound like the song was actually recorded in a garage.  It’s hard not to like the humor of the song; you get the impression that the songwriter really loves Boston, with all of its quirks and dangers.  It’s no surprise that the song is played after home victories by the Boston Red Sox and other Boston professional sports teams.

The Standells didn’t do much after Dirty Water, and broke up before the ’60s ended.  During their brief existence, however, they recorded a classic.