Monday, October 22, 2007

The Stop Sign

You've heard of The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, and Jose Mesa. Now you've just seen "The Stop Sign." This one hurts as much (OK, maybe not as much as Jose Mesa's meltdown in 97). It was all there for the taking - A 3-1 series lead with the twin 19-game winners going back to back, home field advantage in the World Series against an expansion team again, a chance at redemption, and a chance to end the Cleveland Curse once and for all. That all went by the boards in a 60 second flash. Kenny Lofton was the tying run at second base thanks to Julio Lugo's dropped pop-up - the break the Indians had been awaiting all game long. Now with one out in the seventh and the Indians trailing by one measly run, Franklyn Gutierrez lined a smash just over the bag at third that caromed toward the grass between short and left field. Inexplicably, soon to be ex-Third Base coach Joel Skinner held Lofton as he was rounding third. At the time, Manny Ramirez was still running for the ball. Lofton would have scored if he had my grandmother's wheels - she is 94 years old. That left first and third with one out for noted rally-killer Casey Blake, who already had two hits in the game.

Like we didn't know what was coming next.

As if we couldn't have seen this one coming from a mile away, Blake swings at the first pitch and grounds into a 5-4-3 inning ending double play that essentially out a stake into the heart of Tribe fans everywhere. As if things weren't bad enough, Blake then booted Julio Lugo's ground ball to start the bottom of the seventh. Dustin Pedroia made sure that error would be costly as he deposited a Rafael Betancourt offering over the Green Monster, the put the Red Sox ahead 5-2 - a seemingly insurmountable lead with Jonathon Papelbon ready and waiting to pitch the final two innings. Remember how I said I was off Casey Blake for good? Yeah, that's over. Joel Skinner, a rock solid guy and a loyal member of the organization for years, will now go down in infamy as a goat, the same way Mesa has.

As dejected as the Tribe nation was, the top of the eight provided another shot to make things right. Hideki Okajima was left in to face the top if the Tribe order. Back to back singles from Grady Sizemore and Asdrubal Cabrera chased the lefty in favor of Papelbon. The lights-out closer blew away Travis Hafner on three straight fastballs, the kind the 2004-2006 Pronk would have crushed. Victor Martinez had his shot and grounded out. With two out and two men still on, Ryan Garko had his shot. He battled and then crushed a fastball to deep right center. But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Jacoby Ellsbury ran it down about five feet from the wall. The Garko drive was a microcosm of the Cleveland Sports phenomenon - so close, yet so far away.

How many more bad breaks can one team get? Lets make a quick list of the Game Seven breaks and blunders so we can all see them together:

1. In the first inning, Jake Westbrook was essentially out of the inning unscathed as Manny Ramirez hit a ground ball right at shortstop Jhonny Peralta. The ball just so happens to hit the spot where the grass meets the dirt and skips over Peralta's head causing one run to score.

2. Kenny Lofton leads off the fifth inning by driving one off the Green Monster, Ramirez comes up with it and throws a strike to second where Lofton is called out. Replays show he is clearly safe. The next two Indians deliver hits and instead of scoring twice, the Tribe only gets one. if these two breaks go the Indians way, the score at that point is 3-2 Tribe instead of the other way around.

3. Joel Skinner holds Lofton at third when he clearly scores the tying run in the seventh, a blunder of mass proportions. Blake proceeds to ground into an inning ending double play on the next pitch.

4. Blake boots an easy grounder to start the bottom of the seventh allowing Lugo to reach base. Pedroia, the next batter, hits a two run homer.

5. Blake and Peralta crash into each other on a pop-up in the bottom of the eighth, allowing another runner to reach base. With two out and the score now 6-2, Pedroia again delivers a base-clearing double to put the game officially out of reach at 9-2. The play was 100% Peralta's to make and Blake got in his way.

All of this added up to an 11-2 Game Seven loss. Nice huh? It is such a shame for this group who battled all year long. For guys like Jake Westbrook who sacked up big-time in Game Seven, going Six strong innings and keeping the Indians alive until the game unraveled in the seventh. The kids like Garko, Rafael Perez, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Gutierrez who had to fight their way onto the roster and made the most of it by becoming integral parts of the team. Without these four kids, no way the Indians are in the playoffs, let alone one game from the World Series. The veterans like Trot Nixon and Joe Borowski who came to Cleveland for a shot at the big prize, were maligned all year but came up big in October when called upon. Mostly, its a shame for manager Eric Wedge who became a man this year, proving all the doubters (including me) wrong who said he couldn't manage this team to the playoffs. He stayed the course all year and kept this team focused and ready.

Lastly, its a shame for real Tribe fans like yours truly, who devoted so much time to this team this year. To watch it all go up in smoke is so disappointing. If I feel this way, I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be a player on the team. I'm so proud of this team, However. Almost nobody (outside of's Buster Olney) picked this team to go deep in the playoffs. Very few in this city believed (check the attendance numbers - the Indians barely drew 2.5 million). But the guys in that clubhouse did. And I'm proud of each and every one of them. I guess even you, Casey Blake.

The Cleveland Curse is alive and well. Sweet.

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