Hail To The Chiefs

Last night the Cleveland Indians beat the Detroit Tugers to clinch the American League Central Division and a spot in the playoffs.  Russell went to the game up in Comerica Field in Detroit and snapped these pictures after the last Tiger was retired and the Tribe’s celebration began.

We’ll have to see how the Indians fare in the playoffs — their most reliable starter, Corey Kluber, left last night’s game with an injury, making him the third key starter to fall prey to jury in recent weeks — but for now we can enjoy a win by a team that has been fun to watch.  The team’s success is attributable to young players who have really blossomed, vets who have come in and played well, good team chemistry, fine starting pitching, and a bullpen that just keeps putting zeros on the scoreboard.  Behind it all is manager Terry Francona, who has done a masterful job.

Go Tribe!  Bring on the playoffs!

The Jinx Is Alive And Well

Before this season began, Sports Illustrated apparently picked the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series. Every true fan of the Tribe immediately reacted as if they had been stung by every worker in a colony of colossal poisonous wasps.  There was no need to even read the article, because we knew that disaster lurked dead ahead.

We know what happens when Sports Illustrated picks you.  To be blunt, and somewhat vulgar, it means you’re irretrievably cursed and you’re going to suck.  And that has exactly what has happened with the Tribe this year.  They’ve blown chunks, and in particular they’ve been humiliated and beaten like a rug by their big purported rival the Detroit Tigers.  Some rivalry!  The Tigers beat the snot out of the Indians, and the Indians go home with covered with shame and embarrassment.  Hell, the Indians have even been thumped by the Chicago White Sox.  What could be more embarrassing than that?

Sports Illustrated, thanks a lot!  April isn’t even over, and already the Indians have shown beyond dispute that they aren’t a contender and haven’t a chance.  So what are we supposed to watch between now and football season?  Golf?  Soccer, for God’s sake?

Hot Time In Browns Town

We’re up in Cleveland tonight, to watch the Browns take on the St. Louis Rams — it still feels wrong to type that — and the City By The Lake is hopping.

IMG_4716The Indians play Detroit at home tonight, and the Tribe faithful is desperately hoping that the team can salvage one win in a four-game series that has featured two soul-crushing losses.  (UJ, incidentally, holds me personally responsible for the losses because I wrote about, and then watched, the games.)  East Ninth Street is torn to shreds for a resurfacing project.  It’s steamy outside.  The weekend beckons, only a day away.

The confluence of events is such that the Cleveland police actually issued a warning to people, advising that with the Tribe and the Browns both playing at home, downtown is likely to be packed and locked tight tonight.

We don’t care.  The NFL has returned, and tonight Russell and I get to see what kind of view we have from our new season ticket seats.

The Tribe And The Tabbies

Tonight the Cleveland Indians start a huge four-game series against the Detroit Tigers.  It comes at a crucial point in the season, with the Tribe three games behind the Tigers and both teams playing well.  Detroit has won 12 of its last 13, and the Indians have won 10 of their last 11 games.

Unfortunately, this year the Tigers have beaten the snot out of the Tribe.  They’ve won 9 of 12, and in many of those games the outcome wasn’t close.

As a Cleveland fan, I’ve given careful thought to how I personally, through my own actions, can cause ripples in the karma and help the Tribe win.  Like every true fan, I know that jinxes, and reverse jinxes, and lucky shirts, and rally caps really do make a difference.  The fickle sports gods sense these kinds of things and adjust results accordingly.  A routine grounder to short might hit a pebble and ricochet past the fielder to bring home a key run.  A fine bunt might take an abrupt left turn and go foul.  A sudden gust of wind might keep a game-winning homer in the ballpark.  In such ways do the gods dictate the outcome, after carefully studying every lucky charm, evil spell, confident prediction, and other instance of fan behavior and adjusting the cosmic scales accordingly.

I’ve refrained from writing about the Tigers and the Tribe because I didn’t want to jinx the Cleveland nine.  Obviously, that didn’t work.  So I’m going with the George Costanza opposite approach.  I’m writing this post about this crucial series to try to change the fates, and tonight I’ll watch the game even though that usually means bad luck will befall the Indians.  What kind of fan would I be if I didn’t try something to help bring home a victory?

ETA:  My carefully laid plans obviously failed to account for the Curse of Chris Perez.  After the Tribe took a 2-0 lead into the top of the ninth, their unpredictable closer got bombed for four runs and the Indians lost, 4-2.  The gods are unkind, indeed.

The Tribe Hangs In There

I’m trying not to get my hopes up about the Tribe, but they’re making that difficult.

The Tribe played well at the beginning of the year, then hit the skids big time.  They lost a bunch of games and plummeted in the standings, and I thought the season was probably over.  But somehow, some way, they pulled it together and scraped out some stunning, last-minute wins.  Today Justin Masterson pitched a beautiful game, shutting out the White Sox 4-0.  With the win the Indians completed a four-game sweep of the Sox, in Chicago, and moved into a tie with Detroit for first place.

I don’t know how the Tribe is doing it — I really don’t.  They don’t have a star-studded lineup filled with potent hitters, and lately their bullpen has really struggled.  They’ve gotten pounded by the stud teams in the American League.  But these guys find a way to beat the bad teams, and so far that’s been good enough.  The fact that Detroit has fallen on hard times hasn’t hurt, either.

I’m still not expecting a lot from the Tribe this year — I’m really not.  But now we’re moving into July, the Indians have shown some admirable fortitude, and baseball remains worth watching for Cleveland fans.  Not bad!

Early season Tribe Talk

Don’t look now, but the Cleveland Indians are playing some pretty good baseball . . . and they’re fun to watch, besides.

The expectations were low for the Tribe this year, and the season is still young, but this team seems to be a lot better than anticipated.  Amazingly, right now the Tribe is one of the best slugging teams in the majors.  Their starting pitching and bullpen have been solid, and they have some guys who know how to play in the field, too.  They just swept a four-game series with Oakland, and they’ve got an interesting collection of players — as well as an experienced manager, Terry Francona, who appears to be touching all the right buttons so far.

This weekend will be a bit of test of just how good this Cleveland nine might be.  The Tribe travels to the Motor City to take on the Detroit Tigers, the overwhelming consensus choice to win the AL Central and contend for the American League slot in the World Series.  Beating the Athletics is one thing, but duking it out with the mighty Tigers is another thing entirely.

Keep an eye on this team.  They might crash and burn, as has happened the past few years — or they just might surprise you.

The Tribe Limps Home

The Cleveland Indians’ 2011 season is ending — as have many such seasons — without a pennant or a playoff appearance. Yet still, there is cause for optimism.

The Tribe started the season like a house on fire.  At one point early in the year, if I recall correctly, they were 15 games over .500 and well ahead in their division.  Since then, however, injuries have hit the team hard, and the Tribe has struggled mightily.  They now sit one game below .500, looking up as Detroit has clinched its playoff berth.

I applaud the Tigers, who played exceptionally well down the stretch to clinch a playoff berth. But I also must give credit to the Tribe.  The Indians were a young team that dealt with injuries and stayed in the thick of the race until they wilted in September, with no consistent offense to sustain them.  I don’t believe in moral victories, but I do believe that this is a team that has made considerable progress.  Although the Tribe has ended the season with a whimper, and unfortunately not with a bang, there may yet be cause for optimism.  In Cleveland, that is worth clinging to.

The Tribe, In The Dumper

I’m sorry to declare it, because I hoped I wouldn’t have to — but I think the Tribe has hit the wall and is now officially in the dumper.

It’s too bad, really, because this has been an interesting season for an overachieving team.  After sprinting out to a big lead and then hanging on, winning games by hook or by crook, the Cleveland Indians stood only 1.5 games behind division leader Detroit only two series ago.  Alas, they were swept by the Tigers, then lost three of four to the woeful Mariners.  Now they are below .500 for the first time in months and have fallen into a tie with the White Sox, 6.5 games behind the Tigers.  Their trades haven’t worked out.  Their stout pitching has faltered.  Their defense has given up errors and unearned runs that they can ill afford.  And their hitters, for the most part, look timid and sphincter-clenched at the plate, like they are hoping desperately for walks.

It’s been a good season — but I’m calling it.  The Tribe is done.  There is no way the Tribe can possibly recover to compete for the division championship.  There is no way the mighty Tigers will give up 6.5 games in the few weeks between now and the season’s end.  We Tribe fans are just going to have to live with that harsh reality.  Wait until next year!

Goodbye To Sparky

I was sorry to read of the death of Sparky Anderson, the long-time Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers manager.  I never rooted for the Reds or the Tigers — I have always been and will always be a Cleveland Indians fan — but it was obvious to anyone who was paying attention that Sparky Anderson was a good manager and a good person.

Anderson managed The Big Red Machine during its glory days in the 1970s, and he was fabulously successful.  The team won four pennants and back-to-back World Series crowns in 1975 and 1976.  During those years the Reds had one of the greatest lineups in baseball history, and Anderson handled them — well, like a well-oiled machine.  Although the Reds had incredibly talented players like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez, the team seemed free of the personality conflicts and antics that characterized other talented teams of the era, like the Yankees and the Oakland Athletics.  I think Sparky Anderson had a lot to do with that.    Anderson then left the Reds and went on to manage the Detroit Tigers, whom he led to another World Series title in 1984.

Anderson had white hair throughout his managerial career, so he seemed like an ageless figure during his decades in the big leagues.  I was surprised, and saddened, to read that he was only 76 at his death.  He will be missed by baseball fans everywhere.