On the 69-year anniversary to the day of the 1948 World Series win over the Boston Braves, the Cleveland Indians’ historic season fell apart.
The New York Yankees rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five American League Division Series, using two timely swings by the bat of Didi Gregorius, the replacement shortstop for future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, in Wednesday’s 5-2 win in Game 5 at Progressive Field.
And the Indians’ struggles in elimination games marches on — and has some legitimate merit at this point.
Actually, there is really no argument.
With Wednesday’s loss, the Indians are now the first team in the history of Major League Baseball to blow a two-game or more lead in a postseason series in consecutive years.
Since the fateful swing by Edgar Renteria in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series — a two-decade sample size — the Indians are now 4-18 in elimination games.
This ‘core’ group of players in just the past two seasons has lost seven elimination postseason games.
The Yankees? They are 4-0 in elimination games in the last week.
Let that one sink in some, because there is no way around it. The long-tortured Indians fan base is going to have to wear this one for a long, long time. There will be jokes, and all the old failures will be played on a loop nationally.
And so it goes.
For those who know me, I’m not a huge fan of the term ‘choked’ or ‘clutch.’ But in 2016, a depleted Indians team ran out of depth against a 103-win team and finished just a swing away from winning an epic Game 7 of the World Series.
This week, the Indians caved under the pressure. Were they healthy? Not really, but nothing like last season. They were the better team coming in, they had a 2-0 lead and home field advantage — and their stars disappeared.
I don’t buy that they peaked too early or are cursed. Jose Mesa has nothing to do with anything that happened this week.
I do buy they didn’t deliver in a big spot — and it cost them the season.
There is plenty of blame to go around.
You can start with the best defensive team in the AL committing nine errors in the five games — and seven along in the past two games. Offensively, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, arguably the heart and soul of the team, combined for four hits in the series.
What was the biggest difference in Wednesday’s game? Let your mind drift back and compare the at-bats the Yankees put together compared to Cleveland. Brett Gardner’s 12-pitch at-bat in the top of the ninth that led to two insurance runs New York didn’t need encapsulated that.
The Indians one-through-five portion of the lineup? They looked foolish in combining to go 1 for 19 in the Game 5 loss, and of course were shutout in Game 3.
But let’s be fair in the process. The Yankees won this series. They controlled this series after a 4-0 shutout loss in Game 1. I’d argue they played perfect in the aforementioned 1-0 win in Game 3.
Both locally and nationally, it was acknowledged had Joe Girardi challenged the now famous hit by pitch that cracked the knob of Lonnie Chisenhall’s bat in Game 2, then New York probably had won in four games and not five.
Whether he was injured or not, the Yankees beat the runaway AL Cy Young winner and staff ace, Corey Kluber, twice at Progressive Field where he and the Tribe have been lights out. They earned it by putting together absolutely incredible at-bats.
So in the immediate aftermath, what do we make of this 2017 season?
The 22-game winning streak, the 102 wins and back-to-back AL Central titles — it was all amazing and unforgettable. Years from now, we’ll say how the historic win streak was more difficult than winning a World Series — and you know what, it probably was.
But it will still all have a hollow feel into another long, cold winter for any Indians fan — especially those who are over the age of 30.
The weight of expectation — which weighed like a feather on this franchise in 2016 — proved to be that of the Terminal Tower building on their collective shoulders. And that’s something this group — which despite the pending free agency of Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce and Bryan Shaw — will have to get past next season and beyond.
Cleveland will again be favored to win the AL Central next year, and likely will have a seat at the postseason table.
But postseason baseball can be like a dark, deviant novel.
Five days ago, the Indians were the hottest team in the history of baseball, had a 2-0 lead and seemed like they were invincible. Three games later, it’s all over.
And again, one of the oldest franchises in baseball is left to turn the page of that novel that has reached 70 chapters of angst.