Tribe picks right up from 2013’s magical run, finds a way to grind out series win in Oakland.
By John Fanta
Last October, playoff baseball came to hungry Clevelanders for the first time since 2007. And within the blink of an eye, it ended. The Rays left a stinger at Progressive Field in a 4-0 victory in the AL Wild Card Game.
Born out of this disappointment is the team slogan “Unfinished Business,” a mantra that has pervaded throughout the clubhouse throughout the infancy of a promising 2014 campaign. The message is simple and fitting; embodying the competitive fire that was ever-present during the golden era of the late 1990s and which was readily apparent night in and night out as the Tribe thrived after the dogs of summer. All this and a wild card berth came under the AL Manager of the Year, Terry Francona. A new year and has arrived and with it a new opportunity, and while the franchise is dealing out $82.6 million in its payroll, an AL Central low, this squad continues to find ways to win.
A meager Cleveland offense hit .147 with runners in scoring position and .067 with two outs in their opening series in Oakland, doing no favors for a pitching staff that performed well against a club in the A’s that is traditionally tough at home and is once again positioned to vie for an AL West title.
Such ineptitude at the plate nearly crippled the Indians as the team totaled just three runs in the first eight innings of games during the series. The bats came alive when it mattered most however, spoiling the Athletics’ debut of prized offseason acquisition Jim Johnson with a penchant coming through in the clutch. The Wahoos combined to score six of their nine runs in the series in their final at-bat, taking two-of-three to start the new season off on the right foot.
In the rubber game, the Indians used four pitchers out of its bullpen after starter Zach McAllister threw just four innings, but that did not deter Francona’s club, which overcame three separate deficits over the course of the game.
“It’s just a never-die attitude,” Cleveland left fielder Michael Brantley told the media following the team’s 6-4 comeback win over the A’s on Wednesday night. Despite committing an error in the 7th that gave the A’s a run, Brantley would bounce back to help engineer one of the Indians’ two thrilling comebacks in Oak Town.
The Tribe had already suffered a rough 6-1 loss in game one of a doubleheader as youngster Corey Kluber was touched up for five earned runs in 3.1 innings pitched. But in the nightcap, it was Brantley who turned the tables. An RBI single in the 9th brought in the tying run and an error in right field allowed another run to come around for Cleveland to take the lead.
Last season featured moments that brought into question whether Cleveland had enough gas to produce a playoff berth. The Tribe dropped eight-straight games in the beginning stretch of June and posted consecutive losses to contenders Atlanta in Detroit to close out August.
This year’s opening series went right in line with the Tribe’s offensive struggles from last season, but just as the Indians made their run when the baseball mattered the most, they found a way to play their best at the Coliseum when the 9th inning rolled around.
Second-year Indians player Nick Swisher said it best post postgame. “We just keep fighting.”
Though the most impactful acts in the history of modern music are honored in the hallowed halls nearby, one the baseball diamond, Cleveland is not a star-studded show. If this team is ultimately going to end up where it wants to be in October, it almost certainly will not be pretty. The path to the postseason is paved by the type of crunch-time performances that the Indians came up with in the opening series, and for at least three games against another AL contender, this squad proved it does indeed have what it takes to finish the job.
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