Thursday, September 20, 2007

Removing all doubt

It's only September, and there is plenty of time for Cleveland fans to wring their hands over whether the Indians will choke when it really matters, or when it really, really matters.

But right now, when it matters, the Indians looked like a team ready for the challenge of the postseason.

The Tigers came into Cleveland with everything on the line. They needed to sweep, or at the very least take two of three, to keep their fast-dwindling playoff hopes alive. They were coming off a sweep of the Twins, and were playing their best ball in quite some time.

The Indians, meanwhile, had a reasonably comfortable lead in the division. A previous edition of the Indians, circa 2005, might have come down with a case of wanting-it-less-than-the-other-team-itis.

The Tigers and Indians haven't been able to shake each other all year. We braced ourselves for a series in which the Tigers would close the gap on Cleveland, turning the remaining week and a half of the season into a gut-churning horse race with the offseason awaiting the loser.

But with the season at a crossroads, with the Tigers throwing everything on the field in an effort to keep October from disappearing over the horizon, the Indians didn't just triumph. They wrapped, boxed, stamped and mailed the Tigers to the golf course, where they will now almost certainly start their offseason a week from Monday.

The Indians, the little-engine-that-could with the overmatched payroll, swept their chief division rival and turned their first division title in six years into a matter of mathematics. The magic number stands at three, the division lead at seven and a half games. The Indians have 10 games remaining, the Tigers nine.

That's dominance, any way you slice it.

Over the course of three days, the Indians managed to win games in which they faced a long-time tormentor (Kenny Rogers), one of the best young pitchers in the game (Justin Verlander), and avoided a letdown against Nate Robertson. In all three games, they trailed at some point, then rallied to win.

Monday's game will probably go into the history books as the backbreaker. Detroit's bullpen imploded, allowing a game-tying homer to Jhonny Peralta and a game-winner in extra innings to Casey Blake. But that game would have meant far less if the Tigers had won the next two.

But Tuesday and Wednesday, the Indians exhibited an intestinal fortitude not present even a month ago. They fell behind 4-1 to Verlander on Tuesday, but bludgeoned him out of the game with four home runs, winning 7-4.

The Indians have beaten Verlander and Johan Santana a combined eight times this year. Think about that when you think about the Tribe's current position.

Wednesday, C.C. Sabathia put his team in a 2-0 hole that screamed "letdown," but another Blake homer ignited the offense and the Indians chipped away at Robertson, winning 4-2, finishing off the sweep and making it safe to order the champagne, plastic sheeting and commemorative caps and t-shirts.

The Indians are going to be the 2007 American League Central Division Champions. And they can take all the credit for themselves. Detroit fans might think the Tigers choked, but they didn't. The Indians, right now, are just plain better. And they showed it this week, in no uncertain terms.


Joel said...

I take it you still don't believe Wedge, and every other member of the team that was there in 2005, that they were completely different situations?

I, like Wedge, am tired of that comparison.

In other news, I was there Tuesday and Wednesday. I've got the fever. Three straight awesome wins. And I entered the ALDS lottery.

Erik said...

But C.C. said that the team learned from 2005 on how to better handle challenges and adversity.

The situations are different, mainly because the Indians were rallying from behind two years ago and are working with a lead this year. But to say that the experience of '05 has had no bearing on this year's team simply isn't true.

Joel said...

But how does, "experience in 2005 helps the 2007 team" turn into "the 2005 Indians didn't want it as much?"

That's a reach, in my opinion.

Erik said...

If you watched the Indians in 2005, they were rolling until they lost one heartbreaker in Kansas City just prior to the final homestand. Grady Sizemore lost a ball in the Sun.

From that point on, the team just looked lost and defeated.

Call it what you want. I chalk up losing three of four to the Devil Rays and then getting swept by a White Sox team that had already clinched the division to a lack of focus, which soon became a teamwide case of despair.

The '05 team was getting their first taste of a real playoff chase. They didn't know what was going on. After that experience of failure, I can safely say that, yes, the '07 Indians want it more.

Joel said...

Fair enough. I guess I lend more credence to the, "these guys were beat" theory.

This is a cool site: