CLEVELAND -- There were multiple times this season when the Indians had flashbacks of their magical 2016 run. Players felt like the team was pegged as the “underdog” once again after missing the postseason in ‘19 -- a label they hadn’t had since entering ‘16. The ups and downs of
CLEVELAND -- There were multiple times this season when the Indians had flashbacks of their magical 2016 run. Players felt like the team was pegged as the “underdog” once again after missing the postseason in ‘19 -- a label they hadn’t had since entering ‘16. The ups and downs of the year reminded front office personnel of the journey the club took to get to the postseason four seasons ago.
No matter how many similarities there seemed to be, the two seasons had very different endings. The Indians were three outs away from forcing a Game 3 of the AL Wild Card Series when closer Brad Hand toed the rubber. After quickly falling into a bases-loaded, no-out jam, a sacrifice fly and RBI single were enough for the Yankees to complete the two-game sweep, as the Indians fell, 10-9, in Game 2 on Wednesday night at Progressive Field.
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“It’s a do-or-die game and [you’ve] kind of got to bring all the energy out,” Indians outfielder Josh Naylor said. “I mean we were just trying to fight the way through the whole game from one to nine. It was a long game. We kept battling, kept coming back, kept having good ABs, just wasn’t our night tonight.”
The loss extended Cleveland’s losing streak to 10 in games in which it faced elimination, which is the longest such streak in Major League history. Another record was set, as the game lasted four hours and 50 minutes, which is the longest nine-inning contest -- both regular season and postseason -- to ever be played.
But the toughest pill for the Tribe to swallow may be the note the pitching staff went out on. For the first time in 2020, it wasn’t a positive one. According to STATS, the Indians become the first team to be winless in the postseason after owning the best ERA in the American League since 1954 (when that Indians team was swept by the Giants).
What was supposed to be their biggest advantage ended up being the Indians’ most difficult hurdle to overcome in the Wild Card Series. The strategy was to continue the same game plan the club followed all season: score just enough runs to support an elite pitching staff. In the end, Cleveland had the runs but didn’t receive the pitching it needed.
Indians ace Shane Bieber matched his career high when he gave up seven runs in Tuesday’s loss. On Wednesday, Carlos Carrasco was removed after just three-plus innings (with no help from multiple rain delays), James Karinchak gave up a grand slam after only allowing one homer during the entire regular season and Hand blew his first save of the year after going 16-for-16 in save situations in 2020. The Tribe’s pitchers combined to walk 12 batters in Game 2, which is the most in a nine-inning postseason game ever.
“Very frustrating,” reliever Nick Wittgren said. “That's the perfect word. It's just frustrating. We were really consistent all year. These last two games kind of got away. It's tough. But you can't change the past now.”
Cleveland’s bats did everything possible in attempting to extend its season at least one more day, plating nine runs on 10 hits. The Indians jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the first, but Gio Urshela’s grand slam off Karinchak gave New York a 5-4 lead. It wasn’t until Jordan Luplow's pinch-hit, two-run double in the eighth that Cleveland tied the game once again before finally regaining the lead in the eighth on a Cesar Hernandez bloop single to left.
“A lot of highs, a lot of lows. It is a rollercoaster,” Wittgren said. “That game is literally the definition of a rollercoaster ride right there. It was amazing to see our guys fight back. … We were fighting, battling the entire game. That was fun to watch. It would have been a little more fun to be playing tomorrow.”
There may have been instances throughout the season that could be related to 2016, but 2020 cannot be compared to any other season. Never have teams had to overcome so many hurdles in a shortened 60-game season. The Indians were without bench coach Brad Mills and hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo after the two opted out of the season. Terry Francona managed just 14 games before health concerns kept him out of the dugout for much of the season.
In August, the team had to option two of its best starters in Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac to Lake County after the pair violated team protocols. Just a few weeks later, Clevinger was traded to the Padres and one of the pieces the Tribe got in return -- Naylor -- turned out to be one of the major sparks in the Tribe’s lineup in the Wild Card Series.
Every year, the goal for the Indians is to end the longest drought in MLB without a World Series (1948), but with an acting manager in Sandy Alomar Jr. attempting to learn the job on the fly added in to all the other obstacles the club faced, the team is still proud of the 62 games it played this year.
“Today's game reflected how much this team grinds and how much they fight,” Alomar said. “I'm proud of this team, guys. I can't say anything else.”
Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.