I was flipping through my remote last Thursday night watching news channels and sports, including the NFL game between the Texans and the Bengals.
Then I landed on a baseball game. How about timing!
It was the bottom of the ninth inning in Cleveland. The Indians were trailing the Kansas City Royals 2-1. They were down to their last strike.
Hey, wait a minute!
Weren’t the Indians riding an incredible winning streak? Wasn’t their 21-game string of triumphs on the line?
I can’t miss this.
So the Tribe had a runner on first, two out and the count was 1-2 on Francisco Lindor, a left-handed hitter. One more strike and the streak was history.
But Lindor hit an opposite field drive headed for the left-field wall. Alex Gordon, the Royals Gold Glove outfielder, charged toward the line and leaped at the wall to make the catch. But the ball landed just above Gordon’s glove and caromed toward center field.
Pinch-runner Erik Gonzalez raced around and scored from first to tie the game.
The capacity crowd, all decked out in Indians garb including hats, t-shirts, uniform jerseys and caps the Indians have worn in their long history, had been solemn.
They were hoping for a miracle to keep the dream going, for another day.
And then, all of a sudden it was possible.
The Indians could’ve ended it in the ninth. But in the 10th inning Cleveland showed the hustle, the moxie and the style that got them where they are.
Jose Ramirez led off with a hard hit to right-center. Ramirez, never content with accepting a single to start the inning, kept going and turned the hit into a double with a head-first slide into second. The winning run was in scoring position.
Then veteran Jay Bruce, who just joined the Indians recently and hit a three-run homer the day before to extend the winning streak to 21, doubled home the winner.
The Cleveland Indians won their 22nd consecutive game!
And the crowd went wild.
It looked like the scene after a team captures the World Series before the home fans.
There were hugs, flag and poster-waving and fireworks.
Bruce was mobbed by his teammates when he reached second base.
They doused him with talcum powder and ice water, and tore the front of his jersey.
It was the toughest game for the Indians in their memorable run.
The first time they had won in walk-off style, and the first time they had to go extra innings in those 21 games.
The Indians had started the day tied with the 1935 Chicago Cubs for the second-longest streak in history.
Now there was only one team to catch. The 1916 New York Giants who captured 26 in a row, the longest winning streak ever.
The next night, however, it ended.
Kansas City survived 4-3, becoming the first team to beat the defending American League champions since August 23.
When it was over, the crowd of 34,025 gave the team a standing ovation and the players, in turn, came out of their dugout and saluted the fans, removing and waving their caps in the process.
It had to end sometime. But it was unquestionably the story of the year in baseball.
At least so far.
There are races to be won, playoffs to be played, including the World Series.
I thought about last year’s Series, arguably the greatest of all-time.
The season that ended the longest drought in Series history. The Chicago Cubs won their fist World Series since 1908, coming from behind after trailing 3 games to one.
The deciding 7th game went extra innings before the Cubs triumphed 8-7.
When the Cubs won, sending Chicago fans into delirium, I thought about the losing Indians. Here was a baseball franchise which had known nothing but disappointment since 1948.
The empty years didn’t approach what the Cubs were facing, but baseball in a city that needed the uplifting of a champion was a disaster.
There were years of hope.
In 1995 and again two years later, the Tribe won the AL pennant, only to lose to the Atlanta Braves in games in ’95, and the Florida Marlins in seven games in 1997.
That setback was especially painful.
Cleveland went into the ninth inning with a 2-1 lead. They couldn’t hold it, and the Marlins captured the title in the 11th inning.
It was the first time a team lost the World Series after carrying a lead into the ninth inning of the seventh game.
Whether the Indians were expected to beat the Marlins going in was debatable.
In 1954, they were pronounced shoo-ins after winning a league record 111 games and stomping on the powerful New York Yankees.
But in the World Series, against the underdog New York Giants, the Indians were swept in four-straight. A shocker.
So it’s been 69 years without a World championship for the Indians.
This year, they have another shot.
Now, winning 22 consecutive games doesn’t mean you can start selling World Series tickets.
You have to play your best ball in post-season.
Look at the Los Angeles Dodgers. They still have a chance to be the winningest Dodger team ever. An impressive achievement for one of the great franchises ever.
But the Dodgers recently dropped 16 of 17 games after going a mind-boggling 56 games over .500, an unheard of accomplishment.
So which Dodger team will show up for the playoffs?
The same can be said for the World Champion Cubs. Expected to sail through to another title, the Cubs have been worrisome underachievers to their fans.
After sleep-walking through the first half of the season, the Cubbies showed signs they were regaining their dominant form of 2016. But they leveled off again before starting a winning streak. The Cubs remain in a tight race in a division not particularly strong.
Of the three division winners in the National League, if the Cubs do win, they’ll have the third best record. One of the sure wild-card teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks, have a better record than the Cubs.
Back to the AL, where the Indians reside, who knows how the huge winning run by the Tribe will affect them when post-season arrives.
What is clear is that the Cleveland Indians, last year’s runner-up, and not the champion Chicago Cubs, would be the likely favorite should those two clash again.
Right now, the Indians are the story. The Dodgers were earlier.
Maybe another team will emerge as we get closer to October.
But in the season following the fantastic finish of 2016, when the long-suffering Cubs and their fans captured a World Series for the ages, wouldn’t it be something if the long-suffering Indians and their fans were to grab this year’s title!
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