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Tribe should be remembered for more than end result

Losing Fall Classic one part of incredible 2016 season in Cleveland @castrovince

CLEVELAND -- They'll be footnote fodder now, represented as an odd obscurity in postgame media notes every time a team goes up 3-1 in the World Series.

Yes, it's true that the Indians are now one of just six teams to lose such an edge in a best-of-seven Fall Classic, and just the fourth to do so with the final two games at home.

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CLEVELAND -- They'll be footnote fodder now, represented as an odd obscurity in postgame media notes every time a team goes up 3-1 in the World Series.

Yes, it's true that the Indians are now one of just six teams to lose such an edge in a best-of-seven Fall Classic, and just the fourth to do so with the final two games at home.

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But those of us who watched Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday night -- and there were millions upon millions of us -- will remember the qualities that don't show up in that stat. We'll remember how the Tribe, in this 8-7 loss at Progressive Field that went to an extra inning, pushed and pushed and pushed and made a Cubs team that waited 108 years for this night wait juuuust a little bit longer.

Video: Must C Comeback: Indians rally to tie Game 7

Whether it was Rajai Davis reaching down and pulling out an improbable game-tying home run off the flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman, or Francisco Lindor ranging far to his left to make a brilliant stop of a ground ball in shallow center field, or Davis coming through again with the RBI single that put the tying run aboard in the bottom of the 10th, the Indians made Chicago earn it.

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"It could not have been a more entertaining, difficult Series to win," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

It's a credit to the Cubs that they pulled out of that 3-1 hole and kept coming up with the counterpunches. That team was simply unreal, especially given the pressure to end the game's longest drought.

But it's also a credit to a short-handed Indians team that this Fall Classic was far more evenly matched than the vast majority of pundits and oddsmakers expected coming in.

The aggregate run total in this World Series was 27-27. It went a full seven games. And its seventh game went 10 innings.

Yeah, felt pretty even.

And if you can step away from the unfortunate trivia question the Indians -- who are now in possession of the game's longest drought -- have placed themselves into, you've got to marvel at how amazing that really is.

This was an Indians team with a small budget and a big injury report. They had roughly half the payroll of the Cubs, and they went into this Series with just two fully healthy, fully functioning starters (Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin), one of whom (Tomlin) was actually cast out of their rotation briefly in late August.

Cleveland's reward for somehow scraping it together was a matchup with a 103-win juggernaut whose only real adversity (the early season loss of Kyle Schwarber) was essentially negated by Schwarber's stunningly successful return from his reconstructive knee surgery.

So while it's easy for an impartial observer or an overeager Cubs fan to mock the Indians for blowing a good thing, let's give this club credit for what really was an awesome October ride.

It began with a showing of clubhouse cohesion and civic care that few, if any, of us around this game can ever remember seeing. Just before the postseason started, manager Terry Francona, upset about the senseless violence taking place in American inner cities, asked around the clubhouse if there were anything that could be done. A collection was started among the players, and in a matter of days, the Indians' organization had come up with a $1 million donation to what will become the Larry Doby Fund, and it will serve youth-focused community organizations to help curb youth violence.

Francona has won two World Series in his managerial career. But he called this "probably my proudest moment."

So that was a victory.

And then the games started.

The Indians ripped right through the Red Sox, upending David Ortiz's magical send-off season in three nice and tidy games in the American League Division Series. It was a series in which we experienced the true value of the midseason Andrew Miller pickup, confirmed Kluber could be brilliant on the big stage, watched Tomlin remake his reputation with a confident curveball, saw Lindor step into his "BelieveLand" cleats and hit a big blast, and observed some low-profile guys like Coco Crisp and Roberto Perez coming up with clutch contributions.

Video: Must C Clinch: Indians sweep Sox to advance to ALCS

Then came the AL Championship Series. And once again, the Indians were not favorites, despite the home-field edge.

Surely, it seemed, the injuries to the starting staff would expose them in a best-of-seven series with the Blue Jays, especially when Trevor Bauer toyed around with his drone on the eve of the series and sliced up his finger, rendering him useless that round. But the Indians took two at home, then somehow pieced it together with the 'pen when Bauer left a bloody mess on the mound two outs into Game 3 in Toronto. While the Blue Jays whined about the strike zone and "circumstances," the Indians executed. And they clinched in Game 5, with a kid named Ryan Merritt on the mound in just his second Major League start. After celebrating a pennant for the first time in 19 years, their confidence cleared customs.

Video: Must C Clinch: Cleveland wins the 2016 AL pennant

This World Series was a national audience's first exposure to a Tribe team that barely got a peep of media attention or television showcases in the midst of running away with the AL Central this season. And though, on paper, the Cubs had the clout, the Indians rode Kluber to a Game 1 win and took the first two of three in an insane Wrigley environment 71 years in the making to grab that 3-1 Series edge.

It's funny how the order of things can color our perception, because had the Indians won their three games in some other sequence, perhaps taken a Game 6 to force a 7 and then played out Game 7 exactly as we saw, the long-term conversation about this club would be totally different.

But there's no denying that the mental and physical mistakes and improper pitches somehow avoided all the way from Game 1 against the Red Sox through Game 4 against the Cubs suddenly began to spring up with unsettling regularity in the late stages of this Fall Classic. There were a couple at-bats given away against Chapman in his "Eight Men Out" turn in Game 5; there was the infamous fly ball landing between Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall in Game 6; and then there was the sudden lack of sharpness from Kluber and Miller in Game 7.

It is undoubtedly fair, then, to say the Indians let this one slip away.

But how about a little appreciation for the fact that it was ever in their hands to begin with?

Video: WS2016 Gm7: Francona tips his hat to the Cubs

"There's nothing for us to hang our heads about," second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "We fought our [butts] off the whole time and overcame every single thing you could throw at us. We had injuries and you name it, and not once did we use it as an excuse. All we did was put our noses down and keep fighting. We took a very good ballclub to extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series, so I'm not going to hang my head too long."

Nor should the Indians. Those of us who talk and write about sports for a living can handle the "sporting woe returns to Cleveland" narratives and the footnotes. We're really good at that.

But to the men in that clubhouse, none of that stuff should matter. This team made its mark on this community, got people around here excited about baseball again, realistically had no business getting as far as it did and was 50-percent responsible for one of the best World Series -- and certainly one of the best Game 7s -- many of us will ever see.

Say what you will about 3-1, but this ballclub was still special.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

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