Tribe’s ti­tle hopes end with first-round flop

The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH) - - SPORTS - By Tom With­ers

The In­di­ans’ post­sea­son ended much too soon with a 3-games-to-2 loss to the Yan­kees in the Amer­i­can League Di­vi­sion Se­ries. The long­est cur­rent World Se­ries ti­tle drought con­tin­ues.

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 post­sea­son 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 post­sea­son as the league’s top seed in a four-week tour­na­ment where the mad­ness can match any­thing that hap­pens in March.

The post­sea­son 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 18-game 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 for 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 de­liv­ers.

Klu­ber posted a 12.79 ERA and gave up four homers in 6 1-3 in­nings. All-Star short­stop Fran­cisco Lin­dor and MVP can­di­date Jose went a com­bined 4 for 38 in the se­ries, of­ten flail­ing at pitches out of the strike zone. Ja­son Kip­nis didn’t hit, Ed­win En­car­na­cion missed two games with a sprained an­kle and no one else stepped up.

While Lin­dor and Ramirez rep­re­sent the team’s youth­ful core, the In­di­ans have ma­jor off­sea­son de­ci­sions to make with some im­por­tant veterans like Brant­ley, Tom­lin and first base­man Car­los San­tana. Jay Bruce, whose acquisition in an Au­gust trade made the club stronger, will hit the free agent mar­ket as will de­pend­able re­liev­ers Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith.

Brant­ley’s sit­u­a­tion is the most del­i­cate. The team has a $12 million con­tract op­tion on the 30-year-old for 2018, and must weigh whether he’s worth it af­ter be­ing lim­ited to 101 games over the past two sea­sons be­cause of in­juries.

The key piece when Cleve­land traded CC Sa­bathia to Mil­wau­kee nine years ago, Brant­ley blos­somed into one of the league’s best al­laround play­ers as the In­di­ans grew into con­tenders.

He can’t imag­ine play­ing for another team.

“I started a quest back in 2009,” Brant­ley said. “I want to fin­ish it the right way. I don’t want to go out like this if it’s my choice. It’s not.”


In­di­ans short­stop Fran­cisco Lin­dor and third base­man Gio­vanny Ur­shela talk Oct. 11 dur­ing Game 5 of the ALDS be­tween the In­di­ans and the Yan­kees at Pro­gres­sive Field in Cleve­land.

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