Classic fall

In­di­ans’ Se­ries hopes dashed by early exit

Journal Pioneer - - SPORTS - BY TOM WITHERS

The sting­ing loss still too fresh to process, out­fielder Michael Brantley worked his way around the solemn, shocked club­house and hugged some new In­di­ans team­mates and ones he’s played with for years. The emo­tion was raw, not like in 2016, when bro­ken hearts were filled with pride fol­low­ing an ex­tra-in­ning loss in Game 7 of the World Se­ries.

It hurt more this time. Josh Tom­lin’s eyes welled with tears as he searched for words to ex­plain what had hap­pened. None ever came. Oc­to­ber, the month when cham­pi­onships are seized or squan­dered, was cal­lous to Cleve­land once more.

“I’m not re­ally sure how you get over some­thing like this,” Tom­lin said af­ter the In­di­ans were pitched from the post-sea­son with a 5-2 loss to the New York Yan­kees on Wed­nes­day night in Game 5 of the AL Di­vi­sion Se­ries. “I’m not re­ally sure I’m over last year, ei­ther. The only way to get over some­thing like this is to go out there and win, and that’s not what hap­pened.”

What hap­pened was the In­di­ans didn’t hit, didn’t pitch and, like last year, didn’t de­liver a knock­out punch while giv­ing up a two-game lead in the post­sea­son. It’s an un­for­give­able sin, and sadly, one Cleve­land teams have re­peated.

Since 1999, the In­di­ans are 3-17 in se­ries-clinch­ing games, an un­con­scionable record in the most con­se­quen­tial month. In the past two years, Cleve­land has lost six con­sec­u­tive games - three with a chance to win their first Se­ries since 1948, and now three to the Yan­kees - with a chance to close out a se­ries and is 2-8 in those games un­der man­ager Terry Fran­cona.

It’s some­what un­fair to la­bel a team this suc­cess­ful as chok­ers, but they’ve done noth­ing to dis­pel that tag.

“It’s baseball,” said Brantley, whose per­sonal come­back sea­son was dis­rupted by an­other in­jury. “Noth­ing mat­ters af­ter the reg­u­lar sea­son is over. The goal is to win three games. We came up short. They’re a great team over there. We’ve got to give credit where credit’s due. They beat us. We just need to make sure we come back stronger, men­tally, phys­i­cally and just pre­pare to get back in this sit­u­a­tion again.”

Noth­ing is guar­an­teed. Noth­ing is promised.

The In­di­ans won 102 games in the reg­u­lar sea­son, strung to­gether the AL’s long­est win­ning streak in 116 years and en­tered the post-sea­son as the league’s top seed in a four-week tour­na­ment where the mad­ness can match any­thing that hap­pens in March.

The post-sea­son will go with­out them.

“It ab­so­lutely stinks,” said closer Cody Allen. “It’s like you’re a kid and you go to the amuse­ment park and you stay for 10 min­utes and you have to leave.” The sud­den exit was quickly fol­lowed by ques­tions about Corey Klu­ber’s health. An 18game win­ner, the ex­pected Cy Young win­ner and the AL’s best pitcher from April through Septem­ber, Klu­ber was or­di­nary in Oc­to­ber. Ac­tu­ally, he wasn’t that good.

Klu­ber didn’t get the past the fourth in­ning in ei­ther start against the Yan­kees, and af­ter down­play­ing the idea that the right-han­der’s tricky back might be both­er­ing him again, Fran­cona said the ace was “fight­ing a lot” on the mound.

In hind­sight, Fran­cona’s de­ci­sion not to start Klu­ber in Game 1 may have been a warn­ing sign. Fran­cona’s ex­pla­na­tion at the time was that he wanted Klu­ber in case there was a Game 5, but that rea­son­ing went against ev­ery­thing the revered man­ager had preached all sea­son, evok­ing his “win to­day” mantra ad nau­seum.

But while Fran­cona may be get­ting sec­ond-guessed, the bot­tom line is that Cleve­land’s best play­ers didn’t de­liver.

AP PHOTO

Cleve­land In­di­ans start­ing pitcher Corey Klu­ber walks to the dugout in the fourth in­ning of Game 5 against the New York Yan­kees in the Amer­i­can League Di­vi­sion Se­ries on Wed­nes­day in Cleve­land. Klu­ber pitched 3 2/3 in­nings and gave up three hits and three runs.

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