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Cleveland Indians: There’s only one thing left to do

coreilly
(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images) /
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On Friday, October 5, the Cleveland Indians begin a quest for their first World Series since 1948. Our job as fans is much simpler: We just have to believe.

As a Cleveland Indians fan, the 2016 postseason came at me pretty fast.

It had been nearly a decade since the Tribe’s last real playoff run, a drought just long enough to make October feel like foreign territory. Combine that with the fact that the Indians were without two of their top three starting pitchers at the time, and I admittedly wasn’t sure what to expect.

Next thing I knew, the six-foot-seven frame of Andrew Miller came blazing out of the bullpen in the fifth inning of a one-run ballgame to mow down the heart of a lethal Boston batting order, and I thought: “Wow… Okay, I guess we’re really gonna do this, huh?”

From that point on, Tribe Town embarked on an electrifying journey that concluded with one of the most epic World Series’ in baseball history. It ended, of course, in the most soul-crushing way possible–with the Indians coming up just short of a miracle.

Still, 2016 felt like it was about the ride–not the end result. I got to watch my favorite baseball team defy all odds and nearly steal a championship from a Chicago Cubs squad that had all but been crowned the victors in spring training. The 2016 run also provided me with my favorite sports memory of all time: Rajai Davis‘ Game 7 home run.

Think about that–in my nearly 32 years on this planet, my favorite sports moment ever came in a game my team ultimately lost. I imagine I’m not the only one to hold that home run in such high regard.

Fast forward to 2017, a season that felt drastically different from start to finish. The Indians came into the regular season with much loftier expectations. Francisco Lindor was now a household name. Corey Kluber‘s dominance on a national stage in the 2016 playoffs caught the attention of even the most casual fans. The Indians bullpen was regarded as arguably the best in baseball. The front office went out and spent big on Edwin Encarnacion.

There was no more hiding from the spotlight.

Cleveland entered the 2017 ALDS on the heels of one of the most ludicrous winning streaks in the history of sports, with the best record in the American League. After coming oh-so-close in 2016 and steamrolling their way through the second half of the 2017 season, what could possibly stand in their way?

Then, in an almost-surreal meltdown, the Tribe’s bats went cold and they squandered a 2-0 series lead to the Yankees. Winter came early.

That brings us to 2018, which once again has been markedly different in contrast to the previous two years. Indians fans entered this season with similarly high expectations, but this time around it was accompanied by the kind of small-market apprehension that goes with knowing your team’s window can only stay open so long.

That mindset wasn’t put at ease by an offseason in which the Indians front office made only one noteworthy acquisition, or by an incredibly slow start to the year on offense. Luckily enough, the AL Central turned out to be a graveyard for the four teams outside of Cleveland, and the Indians were able to iron things out and make proactive trades in the middle of the season.

Many have lamented the fact that the Tribe could only amass 91 wins despite playing a majority of their games inside one of the worst divisions in recent memory. Many are worried about a bullpen that really hasn’t been able to hold it together for more than a few games at a time all season long. More ask the question of who will pick up the slack if the bats of Lindor and Jose Ramirez go cold again.

These are all valid and reasonable concerns. I haven’t made it from March to October without feeling a tinge of anxiety over the things that have troubled the Tribe throughout the season. No other team’s fan base has, either. But there is one very simple and important thing to keep in mind about these worries: They don’t matter anymore.

I went into October of 2016 wondering how in the name of Honus Wagner the Indians were going to navigate their way through an entire month of win-or-your-season-is-over games without the services of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.

They did it with dominant performances out of Kluber. They did it with gutty performances out of Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Ryan Merritt. Ryan [expletive] Merritt. And when the time came, they turned it over to a bullpen that refused to give up the ship.

Conversely, I went into October of 2017 with the exact opposite frame of mind. And we remember all too well how that went.

The point is, the regular season gives us a baseline for what to expect, but there is no way for us to truly know what’s coming in October. As fans, all we really have is a choice: We can believe in our team, or we can doubt them.

I, for one, have learned my lesson as far as expectations go, and I don’t see the point in rooting for a team to begin with if you’re not going to have any faith in them. So I’m choosing to believe, and I invite all Indians fans near and far to come with me into the great unknown of October baseball.

Rally Together

I believe in Terry Francona; in the idea that he is, above all else, a leader of human beings. I believe that the 25 guys he chooses to compete for a World Series are going to play their hearts out for him.

I believe in the first starting rotation in baseball history to ever have four different pitchers record 200 strikeouts.

I believe Trevor Bauer is furious that his Cy Young season was derailed by injury, and his sights are now set on dominating the best lineups in baseball under the brightest lights.

I believe Carlos Carrasco is the most underrated pitcher in baseball, and there’s no better time to prove that than now.

I believe Mike Clevinger is the best fourth starter on any team in the playoff field, and I don’t envy the opposing managers who might have to piece together their rotations to match him.

I believe in Corey Kluber, and I don’t think I need to expand on that.

I believe there is more to be written in the legend of Andrew Miller, and that some trio of elite hitters is going to learn that the hard way in the seventh inning of a close game.

I believe Brad Hand will erase all doubt as to whether giving up Francisco Mejia was a wise move.

I believe that we haven’t seen the last of Cody Allen‘s late-game mettle. There are big moments left in his arm. He isn’t the best closer in franchise history for no reason.

I believe in the ability of the Tribe’s emotional leader, Francisco Lindor, to light the spark. I believe in the no-quit, all-hustle Jose Ramirez to fan the flames. If you gave me my choice of any two players in baseball to lead the team, I’d keep them.

I believe no member of the 2016 Blue Jays took the ALCS loss harder than Josh Donaldson. I believe he’s been waiting for an opportunity like this–on a team like this. I don’t believe I want to be the pitcher whose job it is to get him out late in a tied game.

I believe in the thunderous redemption that awaits Edwin Encarnacion after his 2017 ALDS injury forced him to watch most of the series from the dugout and left a gaping void in the Indians lineup.

More from Away Back Gone

I believe in the long and winding road that’s brought Michael Brantley to where he is now: Finally in a position to help the team win in October. I promise you that isn’t lost on him, either.

I believe no player in baseball has more of an ax to grind than Jason Kipnis, and that there’s something to be said for that.

I believe the defining moment of Kipnis’ career was when he scored from second base on a wild pitch in Game 7 against the Cubs.

That’s just the kind of player he is, and that’s the effort he’s going to give until there are no more outs left in 2018.

I believe the Indians’ story won’t be complete without excerpts from Yan Gomes, Melky Cabrera, Yonder Alonso, Greg Allen, Rajai Davis, Yandy Diaz, Brandon Guyer, Roberto Perez, Adam Cimber, Oliver Perez, Dan Otero and Shane Bieber. I believe it’s going to take all 25.

And last but by no means least, I believe a melancholy reality awaits us on the other side of this postseason: That some combination of Brantley, Miller, Allen–and possibly even Kipnis–are playing their final games in a Cleveland Indians uniform.

Brantley, Allen and Kipnis were among the few who started this whole thing. They were part of the foundation upon which this organization as we know it was built. Miller has already pitched for a half dozen teams in his career, but he will always be an Indian above all else in my book.

Call me crazy, but I believe in the magic that can emanate from a clubhouse full of guys who know this is the last time they’ll all play baseball together.

They’ll find any reason they can not to think about that, but they know it all the same. As fans, well, we don’t have much of a choice but to think about it. It helps us put things in perspective.

It reminds us that we can’t take these moments for granted. This team won’t look the same next year, and win or lose, that’s going to be a tough pill to swallow when the time comes.

But in the present, we know this: For one more month, these are our guys and this is our team. Let the wintertime sort out what happens after that. It’s autumn and the Indians are still playing baseball.

Enjoy this ride. Be thankful for this chance. Most of all, believe in this team.

dark. Next. Indians should use Trevor Bauer out of the bullpen

Our Cleveland Indians have sure as hell earned it.

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