When a team gags on a 3-1 series lead the way the Indians just did, index fingers start arrowing the blame around. It's unavoidable.
Playoff series don't just choke themselves away. When a team crashes and burns so spectacularly as to be outscored 30-5 in the final three games, there are a police lineup's worth of culprits.
A number of suspects have already been rounded up: C.C. Sabathia, who is charged with (poorly) impersonating a staff ace. Fausto Carmona, the the Tired-Armed Bandit. Travis Hafner, who is wanted for lack of assault with a deadly weapon.
There is Joel "Stop Sign" Skinner, Kenny "The Hustler" Lofton and Casey "The Swinger" Blake.
Watching it all unfold before him, unmoved except for the occasional utterance to hitting coach Derek Shelton, was Eric Wedge. Curiously, Cleveland's own Teflon Don has been hit with very little public backlash for the embarrassment his team just caused a city that is already way too familiar with sports humiliation.
You could very well make a case that Wedge was as much of a hapless bystander as the fans were. After all, he can't hit, pitch or field for his players. The players ultimately win or lose the games and series.
It wouldn't be that hard of an argument to accept, if not for the fact that this has happened to a Wedge team before.
Flash back to 2005. The final week of the season. Indians poised to clinch the wild card, maybe even stun the White Sox and nab the division. The bottom-feeding Devil Rays in town.
Is it all coming back to you? A 1-6 record over the last seven games? Losing out on the playoffs on the last day of the season?
Like the '07 Tribe, that team had a chance to do some serious damage armed with a postseason berth. They had the best bullpen in the American League, the AL ERA champ in postseason-tested Kevin Millwood and a Pronk who was actually hitting the ball well.
Like the '07 Tribe, that team entered the time frame in question with a lead and needed to do far less to clinch than the other wild-card contender -- which also happened to be Boston.
Like the '07 Tribe, that team didn't just crumble under pressure. They collapsed, first panicking and ultimately disintegrating right before our very eyes.
This year's team was supposed to make up for that collapse. Instead, it was Flameout Version 2.0.
There are plenty of common denominators between the two teams, so it's probably wrong to accuse Wedge of being the sole author of both implosions. But I'm really curious to know what Wedge's answer would be to the question, "How do you explain two of the worst late-season collapses in franchise history in the span of three years?"
It has moved from an isolated incident to a trend: Eric Wedge's teams become unglued at the worst possible times. You can even include 2004, when the Indians fought back into contention in August, only to immediately regress with a nine-game losing streak.
Only the guys in the clubhouse know what the real story is, but from where I sit, it looks like Wedge has trouble transitioning his leadership style from the marathon of a season to the sprint of pennant races and playoff series.
Wedge is the master of promoting clubhouse stability. He clings to the grind-it-out mentality like it's gospel. Don't get too high, don't get too low, take it one game at a time. It's an approach that is generally successful, tailored to the six-month march of a baseball season.
But the environment changes radically once the postseason begins. Suddenly, "We'll get them tomorrow" becomes less and less of an option following a loss. Suddenly, the pressure to win becomes like a python squeezing the blood out of your neck. Emotions take over, momentum swings are sudden and violent, and even the most experienced veteran players start to press.
When emotions take over and seasons are determined in the span of days, not weeks or months, Wedge seems to fall out of his element. His club can look downright rudderless without effective leadership, especially when the other team issues a challenge as the Red Sox did by winning Game 5.
Wedge is still a young manager. His leadership style is far from perfected. But for now, Wedge looks incapable of adapting his team to deal with adversity in the high-pressure, emotionally-charged environment of the playoffs. When calm, cool and collected doesn't work, nothing works.
If Wedge wants to last as a manager at the major league level, these late-season disasters can't keep happening. Indians management might appreciate Wedge's businesslike approach to his job, but nobody is going to remember his grind-it-out mentality if it simply translates to routine failure in September and October.