Cleve­land’s col­lapse com­plete as New York ad­vances to ALCS

The Washington Post - - WASH­ING­TON­POST.COM/SPORTS - BY ADAM KIL­GORE adam.kil­gore@wash­

cleve­land — His­tory and heartache loomed Wed­nes­day night over Pro­gres­sive Field, twin demons the 2017 ver­sion of the Cleve­land Indians were sup­posed to ex­tin­guish. As of the week­end, the Indians boasted an en­chanted sum­mer, a pow­er­house ros­ter and an untested, over­whelmed Amer­i­can League Di­vi­sion Se­ries op­po­nent. They had only taken the first steps to­ward re­deem­ing the fi­nal in­ning of last Oc­to­ber. Au­tumn had only started, and the chill seemed to carry only re­as­sur­ance.

Sud­denly, cru­elly, in­con­ceiv­ably, win­ter ar­rived. The Indians will gather next spring still lack­ing a World Se­ries ti­tle since 1948 af­ter the New York Yan­kees top­pled them, 5-2, in Game 5 of the ALDS and com­pleted a come­back from down 2-0 in the se­ries, stun­ning the Indians three times in four days. As the Yan­kees’ vi­sions of a bur­geon­ing dy­nasty ma­te­ri­al­ized a year early, the Indians, dat­ing back to last year’s World Se­ries, lost their sixth po­ten­tial se­ries clincher in row.

The Indians swal­lowed an­other dis­ap­point­ment at the hands of for­mer fran­chise pil­lar CC Sa­bathia and a mon­strous Yan­kees bullpen, a com­bi­na­tion that pro­duced 15 strike­outs and shocked si­lence at the cor­ner of Carnegie and Ontario. A fran­chise that had blown a two-game lead in an epic World Se­ries last year en­dured the same fate in the very next play­off se­ries it played. A team that won 22 con­sec­u­tive games this sum­mer could not win one out of three when it mat­tered most.

“His­tory, if you al­low it to en­ter into what you’re do­ing, it can get in the way a lit­tle bit,” Man­ager Terry Fran­cona said Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. “But I think our group is pretty solid where we’ve got to go win a game. What­ever hap­pened in 1959 or what­ever hap­pened on Tues­day doesn’t mat­ter. We just need to go win a base­ball game. For­tu­nately, I think our guys are pretty good at that.”

The Indians have suf­fered fre­quent mis­eries the past six decades but maybe none so harsh as this sea­son. Their scald­ing lineup fal­tered, scor­ing five runs in the three losses. Their ace, likely Cy Young win­ner Corey Klu­ber, im­ploded, yield­ing nine runs in 61/

3 in­nings in the se­ries, in­clud­ing three in 32/ Wed­nes­day night.

3 Their de­fense, tight all sea­son, com­mit­ted three er­rors in Game 4 and gifted New York an in­sur­ance run in the ninth in­ning on a bob­bled re­lay throw, which came af­ter Brett Gard­ner sin­gled on the 12th pitch of an epic en­counter with Cody Allen.

The Yan­kees struck out 16 times Wed­nes­day night, and they will still face the Hous­ton Astros in the AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries. Of the Indians teams, in all the years, how could it crum­ble like this?

The Indians only added an­other layer to their tor­tured post­sea­son his­tory. The names and mo­ments stack up like cord­wood, rec­og­niz­able to any­body in a Chief Wa­hoo cap: Jose Mesa in 1995, Pe­dro Martinez in 1999, J.D. Drew in 2007, rain in the 10th in­ning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Se­ries.

Now add an­other: Didi Gre­go­rius, the man Yan­kees Gen­eral Man­ager Brian Cash­man hand­picked three years ago to re­place Derek Jeter. Gre­go­rius home­red twice off Klu­ber in the first three in­nings, ac­count­ing for all three Yan­kees runs. Jeter played 158 post­sea­son games, and not once did he homer twice in one.

The Indians held a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Se­ries and sur­vived un­til the 10th in­ning of Game 7 be­fore los­ing. They had an­other three chances to clinch this ALDS and lost all three, con­tin­u­ing a fran­chise legacy. Since 1999, they have played 20 games with a chance to ad­vance in a play­off se­ries and lost 17.

The 2017 Indians will stand be­side a dif­fer­ent vin­tage of Tribe heartache, those loaded mid1990s teams of Ramirez and Thome and Alo­mar. They will be re­mem­bered as an un­ful­filled jug­ger­naut, a team with all the in­gre­di­ents to win a cham­pi­onship but not the tro­phy. The Indians outscored their op­po­nents by 254 runs, the widest mar­gin since the 116-win Seat­tle Mariners. In a year of stacked teams, they pos­sessed the most tal­ent. Now, their 102 wins re­side in his­tory’s dust­bin.

Four days ago, Fran­cona could have been for­given for con­tem­plat­ing his ALCS ro­ta­tion. They led, 2-0, with their ace in their back pocket, ready to pitch at home for Game 5, if they even needed it. They had been steeled by last Oc­to­ber, and these Yan­kees had never been here. They had a ver­i­fied pow­er­house; the Yan­kees only had the mak­ings of one.

The Yan­kees are a team of mighty youth and an in­can­des­cent fu­ture, with a core of Aaron Judge, Luis Sev­erino, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and more to come. In Game 5, they handed the ball to an aging star. Sa­bathia au­thored an abrupt de­par­ture, but only af­ter he struck out eight of the first 14 bat­ters he faced and gave Man­ager Joe Gi­rardi an op­por­tu­nity to get his strike­out-heavy bullpen in the game with a lead.

A po­ten­tial pivot came early for Cleve­land. They trailed, 3-0, en­ter­ing the fifth, with Sa­bathia hav­ing al­lowed one hit and struck out eight. They had 15 outs left to mount a come­back, but the cir­cum­stance dic­tated they score in the next three. If the Yan­kees could hand a 3-0 lead to a fresh bullpen, in­clud­ing fully rested closer Aroldis Chap­man, for the fi­nal 12 outs, the Indians would be star­ing at win­ter.

Sa­bathia whiffed Car­los San­tana to start the in­ning, his ninth strike­out, a to­tal he had not reached since Au­gust 2016. Two more outs un­til the Indians neared the brink.

Be­fore the game, ac­cord­ing to ESPN’s Buster Ol­ney, a video loop of Sa­bathia yield­ing hits to the op­po­site field played in­side the Indians club­house, a clear re­minder of their ap­proach. All game, the Indians had been lunged for cut­ters and slid­ers. Fi­nally, when they needed it most, they ex­er­cised pa­tience against Sa­bathia’s fi­nesse.

Austin Jack­son smoked a sin­gle to cen­ter. In the bullpen, David Robertson started warm­ing. Jay Bruce drilled an­other sin­gle to right. Roberto Perez slapped a sin­gle to right, scor­ing the Indians’ first run. Gio­vanny Ur­shela fol­lowed with a car­bon copy. In four bat­ters, Sa­bathia tog­gled from ex­cel­lence to exit. Gi­rardi had to hand the game to his re­liev­ers two outs be­fore he hoped, lead­ing only 3-2.

Robertson quickly demon­strated the power of the Yan­kees’ bullpen. He in­duced a grounder up the mid­dle from Fran­cisco Lin­dor to Gre­go­rius, who shuf­fled the base and sidearmed a dart to first for an in­ning-end­ing dou­ble play.

Robertson would toss a 1-2-3 sixth, too, and then pitch around a walk to han­dle the sev­enth. He had built a one-man bridge from Sa­bathia to Chap­man, to whom Gi­rardi en­trusted the fi­nal six outs. Last year, the Indians forced ex­tra in­nings in Game 7 by am­bush­ing Chap­man. In this clincher, Chap­man set down the Indians in two dom­i­nat­ing in­nings, ri­fling 100-mph fast­balls un­til the end.

The Yan­kees swarmed the field, maybe the start of a new era. The Indians re­treated to their dugout, the coda to an­other col­lapse. An­other long win­ter lies ahead. Heartache still lingers, next to the ques­tions of how it all could hap­pen again, to this team, in this year.

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