The last time a Cleveland team took on a historic winner in the playoffs, it was the 2001 ALDS
The NBA Finals begin on Thursday, pitting the Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors, so it's as good a time as any to remember another period in history when a team from Cleveland took on what seemed to be an unassailable juggernaut of athletic power and strength: The 2001 American League Division Series between the Indians and the Mariners.
The '01 Indians had some familiar faces. Like this one!
In addition to everyone's favorite hitting pitcher, a rookie CC Sabathia was there to hold down the rotation. It's safe to say that, coming into the ALDS, the Indians were a very good team -- Juan Gonzalez, Roberto Alomar and Jim Thome came in fourth, fifth and seventh in the MVP vote.
But you know who won the AL MVP and AL Rookie of the Year in '01? It was … (cue dramatic entrance music or really just this Ben Gibbard song):
Wait, you might be saying, the Indians won their division that year, so it's not like it was a totally lopsided matchup. And didn't the Mariners just lose Alex Rodriguez to the Rangers? Let's address both of your points:
- The Indians won the AL Central, with a 91-71 record … but the Mariners dominated the AL West with 116 wins and just 46 losses. Just to be clear, that's a .562 team versus a .716 team. (And, you know, a team that set the AL record for single-season wins.)
- The '01 Mariners were that good even without A-Rod, and without Randy Johnson, who'd been traded to the Astros in 1998, and even without Ken Griffey Jr., who'd been traded to Cincinnati in the '99 offseason. After all, it was Ichiro's debut season and they still had Edgar Martinez and a lights-out bullpen.
It's not easy to take on a team that looks unstoppable, but that doesn't mean there's no hope. In fact, the Indians had already pulled off a stunning regular-season victory over the M's. On Aug. 5, Seattle had scored 12 runs by the top of the fourth inning and Cleveland somehow managed to come back and win, 15-14, in extras.
See, surprises can happen! David felled Goliath, Katniss won the Hunger Games and the Thunder managed to get two games up on the Warriors in the playoffs! Yes, we made that comparison intentionally -- because, as you probably figured out after you read the first sentence of this post, the Thunder did not win that series.
So it was with the '01 Indians, even though no one on that team was cursed by Lil B. But it got off to a great start -- behind Bartolo, the team shut out the M's, 5-0, in Game 1. Seattle took Game 2, 5-1, but Cleveland came right back in Game 3 with a 17-2 win. In Game 4, the Mariners battled Bartolo again, but that day, they got the best of him. An Edgar Martinez homer in the ninth capped the 6-2 win:
Everything came down to Game 5. Seattle jumped out to an early lead when a Mark McLemore single in the second scored Martinez and John Olerud, and a Martinez single that scored Ichiro in the seventh cemented the 3-1 win.
So … if you're a fan of Cleveland sports teams and you came here looking for a little encouragement, this was probably the wrong story to read. But take heart! We can't tell you that MLB history will predict the NBA future, but we do know this: The Mariners moved onto the ALCS, where they faced the .594 Yankees (remember, the M's winning percentage was .716!) and … lost. They only won a single game in that series, and have still never appeared in the Fall Classic.