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.

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Daring To Hope

This is for the Cleveland sports fans out there.  Anyone else is welcome to read it, but they won’t really fully understand it.  They can’t.

I know how you’re feeling.  You want to buy in to the Cavs, full-bore and without reservation, and go into the game tonight with supreme confidence that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and the other members of the Wine and Gold can win and pull off the most improbable comeback ever and, for the first time in NBA history, bring a team back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA championship.

141204-clenyk-11But something’s holding you back.  We Cleveland sports fans don’t like to admit it, but it’s fear, and also guilt.  Fear, because we feel like we’ve seen this story before, and when we open our hearts to one of the Cleveland teams, our hearts always get broken.  I don’t need to recount all of those instances to you, because they’re engraved on our very souls.  The saying is “once bitten, twice shy,” and we’ve experienced that a hundred times over, to the point where we’re cowering in the corner when our teams do well or hardening our hearts by predicting failure in advance, thinking that if we do so and failure does come it won’t hurt quite so much.  That doesn’t work, by the way, because even under the hard, calculated public veneer there always lurks a delicate blossom of hope, fresh and unguarded, ready to be crushed anew.

Everyone — even non-Cleveland fans — can understand the fear component.  What they don’t get is the weird sense of guilt.  Every Cleveland sports fan I know personalizes the losses and believes, deep in the pit of their being, that they honestly are the cause of 52 years of misery.  Maybe it’s because they watched the game on TV, or because they didn’t.  Maybe it’s because they didn’t wear the right shirt, or because they didn’t go to church, or because they feel that they haven’t always been a good person.  I guarantee that, as I write this, hundreds of Cleveland fans are doing nice things for their spouses and kids and friends and are hoping that their good deeds might cause the cosmic tumblers to click into place for the Cleveland sports team, just this once.

It’s the professional sports version of the Butterfly Effect.  We know that we can jinx the Cavs because we have jinxed the Cleveland teams in the past, over and over again.  We routinely get accused of jinxing by our friends and family.  (I’m looking at you, UJ!)  I’m probably jinxing things by writing this, or I would have jinxed things by not writing it.

So we live our lives by these curious rules that make us watch games from a particular chair or eat a particular snack or send text messages to particular friends, hoping that we don’t do or say anything that brings it all crashing down around our heads.  We’re so bound up by our superstitions and fears and guilts that we can’t just enjoy it, ever.

I can’t change you, any more than I can change myself.  It’s just how I am, and it’s how we all are.  Because we’re all in this together, aren’t we?  We Cleveland sports fans are linked together in ways that fans of successful franchises can’t possibly imagine.

So, I wanted to wish all of my fellow Cleveland fans well, and tell you that I’m all in.

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?

The Appalling Cruelty Of It All

I watched the first half of the Browns game today, and they sucked — thoroughly and completely.  With the score 27-3 in favor of the hated Steelers, the cause was hopeless.  Rather than waste the day watching a disaster, ranting incoherently at the TV set, I decided to do something else.  So, Kish and I ran an errand.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple.  I got a tantalizing text from Russell about how the Browns coaching staff had done some good work at halftime.  Hmmm.  Could the Browns at least be making a credible showing in the second half?  We were on the road, so I turned on the radio, and heard that the Browns had closed the gap to 27-17.  We ran our errand, and when I came out the score was 27-20.  Then, as we pulled in to the driveway, the Browns tied it at 27, and Russell sent another text:  “You watching this?”

And that was the decision point, right there.  Watch, and hope?  Or don’t watch, fearing that I would jinx the comeback?  I mentally flipped a coin and decided to watch.  Of course I did!  The evil demons of sports knew I would.  They knew I would invest my soul in hoping for a win, and the chances for tormenting me would be virtually endless.  So once I sat in the chair, the Browns offense basically ground to a halt, and things started to go wrong.  A missed assignment on a fake punt.  A chance to down the ball on the 1 that was muffed.  A last series that saw the Browns lose yards and hand the Steelers great field position.  And then, inevitably, some completions and a game-winning field goal for the Steelers as time ran out, and a final, parting shot of a grinning Ben Roethlisberger.

What could be more cruel?  I wouldn’t have felt more violated if I’d been kicked in the crotch by an angry dwarf.  So, after vowing that I wouldn’t lose my temper, with my insides scourged once again by the results of a game, I raged and cursed and frightened the dogs.  And the demons smiled, knowing that they had done a good day’s work . . . again.

Bad Fan

I admit I was a bad fan last night. I watched the OSU-Michigan State basketball game, but when the Buckeyes fell behind by 17 points with less than 10 minutes in the game I concluded it was a lost cause. Rather than stay up late and grow increasingly frustrated by the conclusion of a blowout, I snapped off the TV with a curse or two and went to bed.

When I woke up this morning and checked the final score, I was amazed — and ashamed — to learn that the Buckeyes had come roaring back to tie the game and send it to overtime before losing. Amazed, because the team that played while I was watching was a turnover machine that seemed to be playing without much punch or purpose. Ashamed, because I had given up when the players clearly didn’t. I felt like a quitter who let the team, and Buckeye Nation, down. It’s embarrassing.

Because I am a superstitious fan, I now wonder whether Ohio State came back precisely because I turned off the TV. We all know, from the Butterfly Effect theory, that the smallest action may have profound consequences. Maybe my watching the Buckeyes is a jinx? Maybe it would be better for the team if I didn’t watch Ohio State basketball at all this season.

I’ll watch the next Buckeyes game, but you can be sure that if they fall behind and are playing sluggishly, I’ll be tempted to snap off the TV in hopes of provoking a comeback.

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.

Enslaved By Fear Of Jinxes — Revisited

Last week, flush with success and heedless of the risk, I wrote an insufficiently veiled post about a certain team’s success and my fear of jinxes.

The Fates don’t appreciate such temerity.  They become infuriated when puny mortals rise up and stick a thumb in their eye.  They know when the time has come for a beat down and aren’t shy about relentlessly punishing those who don’t quite know their place.  The only surprise is that, having been a sports fan for many decades now, I would need to relearn that lesson, painfully, yet again.

Since I’ve written my little piece, the team in question has lost five out of six, been pulverized by divisional foes, and fallen out of first place.

Don’t believe in jinxes?  I’m just askin’.