Getting over the hump was so much easier in the old days.There was a notion by many people, including folks around the Indians' organization and clubhouse, that it had been proven quite doable just two years earlier by the Royals. Kansas City had lost Game 7 at home in the
Getting over the hump was so much easier in the old days.
There was a notion by many people, including folks around the Indians' organization and clubhouse, that it had been proven quite doable just two years earlier by the Royals. Kansas City had lost Game 7 at home in the 2014 World Series to San Francisco, as the Indians had done in the '16 Fall Classic finale against the Cubs.
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"It was the greatest experience I've ever had in baseball," Tribe shortstop Francisco Lindor said when the 2017 Spring Training schedule began, the first of about 200 times he would suit up this year. "Why not go back? We know we have a long way to go. We've got to do things right to get there. I feel like the guys are into it. We're ... ready to compete and really have fun."
Unfortunately for the Indians, the Game 5 loss to the Yankees in the American League Division Series presented by Doosan only served as a reminder that getting over the hump, winning it all after losing in the previous year's Fall Classic, is like Indiana Jones in real life. It is a modern adventure fraught with danger, so many obstacles and unforeseeable villains.
It turns out that the Royals' breakthrough in 2015 against the Mets was truly an aberration, an outlier, a freak of modern Major League Baseball. That was one of only two times it has happened in the last 40 years, since Reggie Jackson homered twice for the Yankees against the Dodgers in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. It was the only time it has happened in the Wild Card era.
The other time was by Tony La Russa's A's in 1989, when they rebounded from Kirk Gibson's Miracle Homer for the Dodgers in '88 to sweep the Giants in that earthquake-marred series. A World Series loser has won the Series the following year only 15 times Major League history, but clearly the gradual expansion of the postseason format has made it seem all but impossible.
Just ask Indians manager Terry Francona, Corey Kluber, Jose Ramirez and all those players who were in such control during that AL-record 22-game winning streak. How could this team possibly not at least reach the Fall Classic? How could it lose a second time with Kluber, a strong AL Cy Young Award contender, at home, on the mound opposite a starter in the sunset of his career?
What happened to the 2015 Royals' formula?
Now, the Indians will go into 2018 amid recognition of a 70-year anniversary, the last time they won it all, the longest drought in the Majors. Meanwhile, the Yankees or the Astros are going to represent the AL in this World Series, and if the Indians showed anything over the last couple of years, it is that you had better grab the Commissioner's Trophy if you are that close to it.
The odds are unbelievably long against doing it the following year. Here's the list, and in parenthesis is the team they lost to in the previous Fall Classic:
2015: Royals over Mets (Giants)
1989: A's over Giants (Dodgers)
1977: Yankees over Dodgers (Reds)
1970: Orioles over Reds (Mets)
1961: Yankees over Reds (Pirates)
1958: Yankees over Braves (Braves)
1956: Yankees over Dodgers (Dodgers)
1944: Cardinals over Browns (Yankees)
1943: Yankees over Cardinals (Cardinals)
1940: Reds over Tigers (Yankees)
1935: Tigers over Cubs (Cardinals)
1931: Cardinals over A's (A's)
1927: Yankees over Pirates (Cardinals)
1923: Yankees over Giants (Giants)
1907: Cubs over Tigers (White Sox)
"It's the best," Eric Hosmer said after scoring the clinching run for the Royals in 2015. "We came back and won a [World Series] championship. ... It's what you worked so hard for. After getting so close last year and having a chance to come back again this year with the same group of guys ... it's just so special."
There were some very close calls over those four decades when the task became near-impossible. The Rangers lost to the Giants in the 2010 World Series, and then had the Cardinals down to their final strike twice in 2011 before blowing the lead and the series. In 2004, the Yankees had a 3-0 AL Championship Series lead on rival Boston, and likely would have been a big favorite against St. Louis before that classic comeback and curse-breaker by Boston.
Atlanta would have been the NL Wild Card in 1994, the year it was instituted in each league, but the player strike forced cancellation of the postseason. The Braves went on to win their only Atlanta championship the following year, so -- who knows -- that might have been an example.
Naturally, this type of list comes with a disclaimer that the postseason consisted only of a single series until 1969, the start of gradual postseason expansion toward today's 10-team field. It was therefore far more likely to have the occasional team get over the hump in this way, and not surprisingly you'll find a lot of Yankees and Cardinals examples, as they lead their respective leagues in most World Series championships with a combined 38.
For the record, the 1923 Yankees were the only club to win it all after losing in two consecutive World Series. Babe Ruth and the Bronx Bombers lost to the New York Giants in 1921-22, but he was 7-for-19 with three homers to give the Yanks their first of 27 titles, in the first year of The House That Ruth Built.
This season's Indians club added Edwin Encarnacion as a free agent after losing to the Cubs in Game 7 in '16, added Jay Bruce at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, and had key players come back healthy. Believeland believed it would get over the hump this time.
"When you finish the year losing in Game 7 at home, you don't spend the offseason wanting to get away from baseball," Jason Kipnis said last spring. "You think about it all offseason. When you get going again in Spring Training, you get that chance to start on that path of redeeming yourself. I think everyone here has been waiting for that all winter."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him on Twitter @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub.