100 Wins

Yesterday afternoon the Cleveland Indians won their 100th game of the year, beating the Minnesota Twins 5-2.  The Tribe got another terrific starting pitching performance, this time from Carlos Carrasco, who pitched 8 shutout innings, struck out 14 batters, and now stands at 18-6 on the year.

usatsi_10313296_1506620201223_11256969_ver1-0100 wins is a nice round number.  It’s also an historic achievement of sorts.  This is only the third time in their 100-plus year history that the Indians have won 100 games in a season, and it took an historic winning streak to do it.  And in baseball generally, 100-win seasons don’t necessarily happen every year.  Eight teams in the big leagues have never won 100 games, and  these days the economics of  the game tend to discourage team owners and general managers from assembling the combination of talent that can win 100 games, because it’s going to be expensive and there’s a good chance that lots of the players will be moving on, leaving you to rebuild from scratch.  Better to aim for those teams that can consistently win 90 games and that you can hold together over a few years.

In our modern world, we tend to measure every athletic team by whether they won it all, and regular seasons are eclipsed by the playoffs, where short series and bad breaks can bring down dominant teams.  Many 100-win teams haven’t won the World Series, and this year — because both the Dodgers and the Indians have reached that number — there will be at least one more 100-win team that doesn’t win it all.  That’s just the way the ball bounces in baseball.

But, for the true fan, what happens in the post-season shouldn’t detract from what happens during the regular season.  Baseball is a marathon, and winning 100 games takes focus, careful management, and meaningful contributions from everybody on the roster.  It’s a true team accomplishment, because during those 100 wins different players are going to have to step up and make the big hit, or the tremendous fielding play, or the crucial pitch to allow another W to go into the record books.

2017 has been a remarkable year for the Cleveland Indians, and a marvelous year for those of us who are long-time fans of the Tribe.  Here’s hoping it continues!

Only 39 Years To Go

Last night’s World Series finale was an instant classic.  Long after the clocks on the east coast passed midnight, and those of us working stiffs were wondering just how long we would be able to stay up to watch the spectacle, the Chicago Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians, 8-7, in extra innings.

img_3061-1I’m tempted to add “of course” in that last sentence, because beneath my seemingly normal, rationalist exterior lurks a dark baseball fan soul filled with twisted corridors of gloom and doom, jinxes and bad breaks, lowered expectations and grimly anticipated disasters. When you’ve been a fan of a professional sports team for your entire life, and that team has known nothing but ultimate heartbreaks and bitter defeats on the yawning cusp of victory, it’s virtually impossible to think and feel anything else.

But maybe the Cubs’ victory signals that failure is not inevitable, and that fortunes for star-crossed teams like the Indians and their fans can change.  With their gutty victory last night, the Cubs ended their 108-year period of misery.  That leaves Cleveland’s soon to be 69-year run without a World Series championship the longest streak in American professional baseball.  Perhaps the Tribe and their fans have only another 39 years to go before they, too, can know the thrill of hoisting the World Series trophy.

In the meantime, hats off to the Cubs and their loyal cadre of fans, who rooted like crazy and helped to will their team to victory.  And hats off to the Indians, too, for an unforgettable season.  I was proud of the Tribe’s grit, their unwillingness to let a series of crucial injuries thwart their season, and their improbable comeback to tie game 7 in the eighth inning against one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.  A tip of the cap, too, to Terry Francona for being a managerial wizard who pulled every string along the way.

And, hey — this year I got to see my team win the opening game of the World Series with my son and my brother.  That’s something that I’ll always remember with great fondness, even if the Series itself didn’t end up as we all hoped.

Counting On The Klubot

The last two games haven’t worked out very well for the Cleveland Indians.  After surging to a 3-1 lead in the World Series — and being a tantalizing one game away from the World Series title that has eluded the Tribe since 1948 — the Indians lost a close game in Chicago and then had a train wreck last night in Cleveland.

So now the Series is knotted, 3-3, and tonight’s game will determine the champion.  After the last two games, Chicago Cubs players and fans have regained their swagger and are expecting to be the first team in years to win after trailing 3-1.  Tribe fans, on the other hand, are hoping that a team that has been riddled with injuries to key players can somehow win just one, last game.

World Series Cubs Indians BaseballTonight Cleveland will be banking on pitcher Corey Kluber — known to some as “Klubot” because of his unchanging expression and apparently unflappable demeanor.  The hope is that Kluber can hold the Cubs’ powerful lineup in check and the Indians’ struggling hitters can produce enough runs to get a lead, and the bullpen can eke out a win and finally get Cleveland that long-dreamed-of World Series title.

Kluber has pitched brilliantly in the playoffs and in the Series so far, but he’s pitching for the second time in a row on three days’ rest.  That means he won’t be following his normal routine, and it also means that Chicago batters will be facing him for the third time in only a few days.  They’ll be looking to make adjustments in how they approach Kluber in view of those two very recent experiences — and we’ve seen in the Series, and in last night’s game particularly, that the Cubs are perfectly capable of changing their approach to Cleveland pitchers.

It’s a lot of pressure to put on Corey Kluber, with the hopes and fervent aspirations of generations of long-disappointed fans riding on his arm — but we hope that, if anyone can handle that pressure, it is the calm, cool, and collected “Klubot.”  Go Tribe!

Series Shots (III)

There’s a lot of hoopla at any championship game, and the World Series opener is no exception.  The crowd got to the game early, with the Chicago Cubs being well represented, and by the time a giant American flag had been rolled out and the National Anthem sung, the fans of both teams were ready to play ball.  The last few minutes before the first pitch seemed to last forever, but then the hoopla ended and a pretty good ballgame broke out.

Series Shots (II)

There were some protesters on the Ontario Street side of the ballpark, advocating for changing the Tribe’s name and Chief Wahoo.  I agree with them about Chief Wahoo, and I get the point about the name — but it’s hard to imagine a Cleveland baseball team being called anything but the Indians.  And, I think “the Tribe” is a pretty cool and inclusive nickname.

The protesters look like they have an uphill battle, as the photo below suggests.  Chief Wahoo was seen pretty much everywhere.

Series Shots


Russell, UJ, and I had a blast at Game One of the World Series last night.  Downtown Vleveland was packed before the game, and the area between the ballpark and the Cavs’ arena — where the Cavs were to play, and win, their season opener — was especially jammed.  Two big screen TVs were set up to play season highlights and get both the Cavs fans and the Tribe fans fired up.

Clash Of The Lovable Losers

Tonight the Chicago Cubs face the Cleveland Indians in the first game of the 2016 World Series.  For most of recent baseball history — say, for the last 60 years or so — if you’d predicted that even one of those teams would make it to the Series, people would have laughed at your brashness.  Predicting that they both would make it would have been viewed as compelling clinical evidence of insanity.

chicago_cubs5That’s because the Cubs and Indians have an unmatched record of futility in major league baseball.  The Cubs haven’t been to a World Series since 1945, and they haven’t won a Series since 1908.  The Tribe, on the other hand, last won a World Series in 1948.  When you’re looking back to the Truman Administration, or the Roosevelt Administration — as in Theodore Roosevelt, not Franklin — for your last Series triumph, that’s pretty frigging sad.  For decades, generations of fans of both teams have experienced unrelieved heartache and losses, have believed in jinxes, and have been convinced that the fates are against them and they and their teams are cursed.

But this year, one of those teams, by definition, is going to win the World Series.  One of those beleaguered fan bases is finally (finally!) going to see their favorite ball club hoist the championship trophy, setting off a celebration that will never be forgotten.  I’m guessing that this year the TV ratings for the Series will be through the roof, not because there are enormous numbers of Chicago and Cleveland fans in America, but because the prospect that one of these lovable losers is going to bring an end to decades of outright failure is just too intriguing to miss.

cz7jxepAnd by the way, it should be a pretty good Series if you’re a baseball fan.  The Cubs are the heavy favorite to win the Series and the overwhelming choice of ESPN’s panel of experts.  That’s not dissing the Indians, but rather recognizing that, this year, the Cubs were easily the best team in baseball, from start to finish.  They won more than 100 games, had a bunch of their players make the All-Star game, have a powerhouse lineup of hitters and pitchers, and have a guy in the bullpen who throws 103 m.p.h.  And, unlike the Tribe, they haven’t seen their roster of starting pitchers decimated by injuries and drone accidents.  If you watched the way the Cubs mauled the Dodgers in the last three games of the National League Championship Series, you’d pick the Cubbies to win, too.

As for the Tribe, they’ve been the scrappy underdogs all year, and the World Series will be no different.  The Indians have made it this far because Terry Francona has managed his tattered pitching staff with historical deftness, and the starters and relievers have performed brilliantly when called upon.  The Indians batters collectively hit just .168 in the American League Championship Series, which is well below the Mendoza line — but the few hits they got were timely hits, knocking in just enough runs to hand the game to the bullpen after the fifth inning.  And, unlike the Dodgers, for example, the Tribe played stellar defense and helped the bullpen make sure that those one- and two-run leads held up.  It was the kind of baseball John McGraw and Tris Speaker would have appreciated.

I’m convinced that tonight’s game is a crucial one for the Tribe.  They’re facing Jon Lester, who was 19-5 in the regular season and has already won three games in the playoffs, and are going with their best remaining pitcher in Corey Kluber.  Given the anemic performance of the Indians’ offense this postseason, the Tribe simply can’t afford to fall behind and count on big innings to catch up late.  Kluber will need to somehow quiet the Cubs’ powerhouse offense, the Indians will need to scratch and claw for a few runs, and the bullpen will have to come through once again.

It should be a great Series.  Go Tribe!

The Series In The Family

Our family has a bit of history with the World Series.

leaguepark-panoramaIn 1920, the Cleveland Indians squared off against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series.  My grandfather, Gilbert Neal, then a mere lad of 22, told me decades later about taking the train from Akron to Cleveland to catch one of the Series games at old League Park.  The Tribe won the Series — which in those days was a best of nine affair — to give Cleveland its first professional baseball championship.  Grandpa’s favorite player, Stan Coveleski, won three of the games to help put the Indians over the top.

In 1976, Dad and I went down to Cincinnati to watch one of the World Series games between the Cincinnati Reds and the New York Yankees in old Riverfront Stadium.  We weren’t really Reds fans, but when you get a chance to see a Series game, how can you say no?  That was the right call, because it was an electric atmosphere and a game I’ll always remember.  It was the apex of the Big Red Machine years, with Rose and Morgan, Bench and Perez, Foster and Geronimo.  The Reds won that game, and they swept the Yankees to complete a year that causes some people to argue that the ’76 Reds were right there with the 1927 Yankees in the debate about which was the greatest baseball team of all time.

During the first half of my life, the Tribe was frequently terrible and at best mediocre, and never came close to the playoffs.  But then their fortunes turned.  The Tribe finally made it to the World Series again, in 1995 and 1997, but I didn’t go to any of the games.  I was busy at work, the kids were little, and of course the ticket prices were exorbitant.  And I guess I thought that, with the Indians turning the corner in the ’90s, we were likely to see another World Series in Cleveland in short order.

bn-qj049_1019in_gr_20161019190617Of course, that didn’t happen — until this year.  And when the Indians improbably beat the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays to make the Series, I told UJ and Russell that we had to go to a Series game up in Cleveland.  How often do you have the chance to go to the World Series and support your team, watch a game with your son and brother, and experience that unique thrill of being at a championship event?  This year, I was determined not to have the opportunity pass us by.  So Friday I went on line, groaned at the outlandish scalpers’ prices being demanded for seats at the initial games in Cleveland, and then sucked it up and bought three seats together in one of the nosebleed sections of Progressive Field for game one of the World Series.  I printed out the tickets yesterday.

So tomorrow night UJ, Russell and I will be in our seats at the ballpark in Cleveland — assuming that the tickets I paid through the nose for aren’t fraudulent, of course — to cheer like crazy for the Tribe.  We’ll all get the chance to feel that World Series hoopla that Grandpa Neal enjoyed almost 100 years ago, and that Dad and I tasted 40 years ago.  We’ll have an experience we’ll always remember, we’ll feel a stronger sense of connection to those long-departed family members, and we’ll add a bit to the family tradition with the World Series.  I’d say that’s worth the money.

Go Tribe!

On To The Series!

What a year this has been for the Cleveland Indians — and for that matter for Cleveland, period.  After seeing the Cavs end a 52-year drought without a sports championship and shatter every jinx in doing so, and then hosting the Republican Convention without a hitch, the Best Location in the Nation now sees the astonishing Indians hoist the American League pennant and move on to the World Series.

bn-qj049_1019in_gr_20161019190617Well, why not?  In a year when the Indians have overcome injuries to key players that produced a decimated starting pitching staff — and that saw the Tribe experience the first blood-soaked drone injury in recorded MLB history — why wouldn’t you expect, Ryan Merritt, a rookie who has thrown all of 11 innings in the big leagues, and who was predicted to be “shaking in his boots” by a Toronto player, to go out and pitch lights out, like a grizzled veteran?  And why wouldn’t you expect the offense to produce just enough runs to get the game into the fifth inning with a lead?  And why wouldn’t you expect the Indians’ duo of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to once again shut down the Toronto Blue Jays’ powerful lineup and close out another nail-biting win?

Consider the results of AL championship series.  Toronto came in after having battered Texas pitching and romped to a three-game sweep over the Rangers.  The Tribe pitching staff sucked it up and held the Blue Jays scoreless twice — in the opener and the clinching game — and gave up one run, two runs, and five runs in the other three games.  For the math-challenged among us, that’s eight runs in five games.  Miller’s ERA during the series was 0.00.  Allen’s ERA was 0.00.  And the Indians bullpen had one game where it pitched 8 1/3 innings to secure the victory.  It’s got to be one of the most amazing pitching performances in any baseball series in history.  And, it’s got to be one of the most amazing managerial performances in baseball history, too.  Would anyone but Terry Francona have kept his cool, kept his battered team focused, and used his bullpen so deftly?  And, by the way, wasn’t the trade for Andrew Miller the best trade in Cleveland Indians history, without any conceivable argument?

So now the Tribe moves on, with the AL pennant in hand, to face either the Cubs or the Dodgers.  This year, in Cleveland, anything is possible.  I’ll be looking forward to the World Series, and I’ll be thinking one thing:

There are no jinxes!

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.

Baseball Is Boring

Wow, the Yankees won the World Series! What a shock! The Yankees and other big-market teams have more money than other teams, pick up the big-dollar free agents and assemble de facto All Star teams, and win championships. Ho hum.

Seriously, does anyone find major league baseball interesting anymore? What possible pleasure is there in watching just to see if the Yankees won’t win every year?

Tribal Trivia

Here’s a trivia question that may be a stumper in years to come:  What team had back-to-back Cy Young Award winners that both started the first game of the World Series the next year?  Answer:  The Cleveland Indians, with 2007 Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia starting game 1 for the New York Yankees and 2008 Cy Young winner Cliff Lee starting for the Philadelphia Phillies.

The sad thing for the Tribe, of course, is that neither of thes two pitchers ever started a World Series game for the Tribe.