CLEVELAND -- Readers of a certain age -- say, in the 0-to-6-month-old range -- won't remember this, but there was a time when Cleveland's far-too-infrequent professional sports postseason entrants were met with tortuous results. And for fans of the Indians -- a team that hasn't won a World Series championship
CLEVELAND -- Readers of a certain age -- say, in the 0-to-6-month-old range -- won't remember this, but there was a time when Cleveland's far-too-infrequent professional sports postseason entrants were met with tortuous results. And for fans of the Indians -- a team that hasn't won a World Series championship since 1948 -- those results have left lasting memories that weren't necessarily extinguished by LeBron James and Co. back in June.
This American League Division Series that begins Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, TBS) between the Indians and Boston Red Sox brings those memories right back to the forefront. Because while nothing tops the heartbreak of falling two outs shy of a title in Game 7 in 1997, the fact of the matter is that the Tribe's two greatest opportunities to get back to the World Series stage in the aftermath of that mess against the Marlins were both snuffed out by Boston in spectacularly soul-crushing fashion, involving Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez and, believe it or not, pop icon Taylor Swift.
So maybe it's only fitting that the best Indians team in nearly a decade is going to have to exact revenge on the Red Sox if it's going to advance.
:: ALDS: Red Sox vs. Indians coverage ::
Obviously, the members of this current Tribe club have no connection to what happened the last time the Indians faced the Red Sox in October, because none of them were here yet. Heck, Terry Francona was in the other dugout.
But the rest of us can't help but look at this matchup and remember the way the Red Sox were twice responsible for a dream denied.
Had the Red Sox ended their own curse in '99, not 2004, Game 5 of this series would be at the absolute forefront of any discussion about Martinez's great career. As it stands, it's more of a fantastic footnote.
But Indians fans definitely remember it all too well.
The Indians had many great offensive clubs in the 1990s, but this might have been their best. They became just the seventh modern-era team -- and still the only one since 1950 -- to score 1,000 runs in a season, and they were shut out only three times. Manny Ramirez, a year away from the free agency that would land him in Boston, drove in 165 runs, a mark that still stands as the most since Jimmie Foxx's 175 RBIs in 1938.
Oh, but Pedro. He was incredible. That season, Pedro turned in a 2.07 ERA and 243 adjusted ERA+ (that's 143 percent better than league average, which doesn't really seem possible). This was Pedro at his peak.
The problem for the Red Sox was that Pedro was hurt.
He left Game 1 of this series in the fifth inning with back and shoulder issues, and the Indians pounced an inning later to take the lead and the game. Going into the decisive Game 5 at what was then known as Jacobs Field, the Red Sox didn't have their ace available to stymie that epic Indians offense, which took an early 8-7 lead on Jim Thome's monstrous home run off Derek Lowe.
But just then, as Thome was taking his curtain call, there was stirring in the Boston bullpen.
As Pedro warmed on that cold Cleveland night, trying to overcome the stiffness in his shoulder, the Red Sox tied it in the top of the fourth inning. And when the bottom of the inning arrived, so did Pedro. He got Sandy Alomar Jr. to ground out. He beat the speedy Kenny Lofton to the bag on a play at first, and Lofton dislocated his shoulder with a head-first lunge and had to leave the game. Pedro retired Omar Vizquel to end the inning.
Amazingly, improbably, that was the first of six no-hit innings in which Pedro allowed just three walks while striking out eight. And with the help of Troy O'Leary's three-run homer in the seventh, it was the Red Sox, not the Indians, who advanced to face the eventual world champion Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
"It got them by surprise, I guess, that I came out of the bullpen," Martinez said Tuesday. "I wasn't supposed to pitch, and everybody just shut down."
The Indians did have one last remnant of their 1990s glory days when they won their sixth division title in seven seasons in 2001. But that club ran into a 116-win Mariners team in the ALDS and, perhaps predictably, did not advance. The next year, a rebuilding process began midseason, and the fruits of that effort were not fully realized until 2007, when CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona won 19 games apiece, Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore were magnificent and even Lofton was brought back to provide an injection of postseason experience.
In the ALDS against the Yankees, the Indians had seen Lake Erie's most menacing midges overtake Joba Chamberlain in Game 2, and, though manager Eric Wedge was roundly ridiculed for starting Paul Byrd in Game 4, Byrd delivered five effective innings in the clincher in the Bronx. Fate seemed to be on the Indians' side, and they took three of the first four ALCS games to put themselves on the precipice, with Sabathia slated to start Game 5 at home.
(I know of at least one beat writer who had already booked his flight to Denver for Game 1 of the Indians' first World Series appearance in a decade, but enough about me.)
Then some strange things happened.
The Indians had tabbed an up-and-coming country artist named Taylor Swift to sing the national anthem prior to Game 5, but Swift backed out late. A booker recommended another country singer, Danielle Peck, to replace Swift. Peck was from Coshocton, Ohio, and came from a family of Indians fans, so the switch seemed to make sense.
One problem, though. Peck, as the Indians soon learned, was actually Red Sox Game 5 starter Josh Beckett's ex-girlfriend. Suddenly, the club had accidentally stumbled into accusations of gamesmanship. And though we can never claim to know what forces compel an athlete to do otherworldly things, what we know for sure is that while Sabathia labored, Beckett turned in one of the great postseason starts of his life -- one run on five hits over eight innings. In terms of game score, it ranked just behind his Game 6 clincher over the Yankees in the 2003 World Series for the Marlins.
They asked Beckett about Peck postgame.
"I'm not the one who makes those [redacted] decisions," Beckett said. "She's a friend of mine. That doesn't bother me at all. Thanks for flying one of my friends to the game so she could watch it for free."
That wasn't the only memorable line of the evening. In the Indians' clubhouse, while the bags were packed for Game 6 in Boston, first baseman Ryan Garko said, "The champagne tastes just as good on the road as it does at home." The quote was plastered in the Red Sox clubhouse when the series got back to Fenway.
"I really thought we were going to win," Garko recalled Tuesday. "So it was like, 'What do you want me to say?' But it was definitely a live and learn. Big market, small market, and things can get blown up so fast."
In Game 6, the Red Sox jumped all over a shaky Carmona (whose real name, we later learned, was Roberto Hernandez) for a 12-2 beatdown, and it felt over for the Indians. But their weekend managed to get worse the next morning, when a San Francisco Chronicle story reported Byrd had bought nearly $25,000 worth of Human Growth Hormone and syringes between 2002-05. The Indians had to stage a news conference in which the 185-pound Byrd, who more closely resembled a college English professor than a pro athlete, tried to explain why he had taken the drugs as treatment for a tumor on his pituitary gland under medical supervision (it was later reported one of the doctors who prescribed the HGH for Byrd was a Florida dentist whose license had been suspended).
Privately, a Tribe official bemoaned a day of such magnitude being thrown askew by the revelation that "Frasier Crane" had reportedly used PEDs.
The Indians lost Game 7. They got a gutsy start from Jake Westbrook and were down 3-2 in the seventh when Franklin Gutierrez singled over the third-base bag with Lofton on second. Lofton came streaking into third as the ball ricocheted off the photographer's pit and into shallow left field. Third-base coach Joel Skinner had an awful read on the play and opted to hold Lofton up at third, even though it was the mercurial Ramirez fielding the ball in left. Skinner has been vilified by Tribe fans ever since, though even Francona has suggested in the years since that the unique dimensions of Fenway make coaching at third a thankless job and demand that runners be their own coach in such an instance.
Anyway, the Red Sox went on to score eight runs in the seventh and eighth, so it's not as if that run can be assumed to be a game-changer.
What we know for sure is that despite the Indians winning their last World Series title at the expense of a Boston club (the Braves) in '48, and taking two ALDS from the Red Sox in '95 and '98, this matchup has not proven kind to the Tribe in the time since.
Of course, it's a new era, a new year and a new opportunity for the Indians to erase the pitfalls of the past. This time, there's no Pedro (he said Tuesday he hopes the Red Sox can battle the Indians "in a clean way" and not have to turn to "a hero," as they did in '99), no Skinner, no Beckett, no O'Leary, no Peck and no Frasier.
Although, if it goes to a Game 5, maybe Swift can finally sing that anthem as a mea culpa.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.