Cleveland has finishing issues
Francona 2-8 with a chance to close out a playoff series.
CLEVELAND — 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.
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,” pitcher Josh Tomlin said after the Indians were ousted 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.”
Since 1999, the Indians are 3-17 in series-clinching games. 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.
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.
“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.
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.
Kluber posted a 12.79 ERA and gave up four homers in 6⅓ innings. All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and MVP candidate Jose Ramirez went a combined 4 for 38 in the series. 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 such as Brantley, Tomlin and first baseman Carlos Santana. Jay Bruce, whose acquisition in an August trade made the club stronger, will hit the freeagent market as will dependable relievers Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith.
“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.”