When Ryan Rayburn toed the rubber for the Tribe in the ninth inning last night it was a sign that almost could have been a Bat-signal announcing the end of the Indians’ relevancy in the minds of Cleveland sports fans. It’s incredible what four games in a 162-game season can do to a team. In a vacuum the four-game series against the Tigers was just that: four losing games of a long season. In a vacuum those four games don’t count for any more than the recent four-game sweep of the White Sox.
But baseball isn’t played in a vacuum. It’s a game of ebbs and flows and ups and downs. This is obviously the down part.
There was palpable excitement in Cleveland on Monday morning leading into this series. The Tribe has been in a battle for respect and consideration in the consciousness of the Cleveland sports fan for several years now. The losing and trading away of stars and lack of spending by the Dolans has taken its toll on the fans who have shown their displeasure by not showing up to the stadium even when the team is playing well. I wrote over a month ago that the month of July was vital for Indians to remain relevant. In recent seasons this was the month where they fell apart and their time in the “spotlight” gave way to Browns training camp. This year they managed to stem the tide for a few extra weeks and made it all the way to the Browns first preseason game.
I’m not saying that the season is over. There’s still a month and a half of baseball left to be played. A lot can happen in that amount of time…just ask Terry Francona and the 2011 Boston Red Sox. But I can’t think of a worse way for this crucial four-game series against the division-rival Tigers to go. Epic meltdown by your already embattled closer in game one? Check. Subpar performance by your ace in game two? Check. Disappearing bats in critical moments of extra-innings in game three? Check. Blowout in game four? Check.
The Indians talked after Monday night’s heart-wrenching loss about how they needed to bounce back and not let one bad inning, or more specifically four bad at-bats, cripple the whole series and the season. I’m not saying it did necessarily but they sure didn’t bounce back with any sort of vigor. The Tribe bats were noticeably absent all throughout the series and while the Tigers pitching staff is great that isn’t an excuse for only posting 11 runs in 38 inning of baseball. The abysmal performance on Thursday night was just the icing on the cake. It was poetic justice that on the other side of town the Browns were playing exciting football for once with Brandon Weeden looking like an actual NFL quarterback and Travis Benjamin making fans forget about that Josh Cribbs guy. Heck, maybe it was actually a good thing for the Indians that they picked a night where most of the Cleveland eyes were trained on the Browns to finish up their futile attempt to make a move in the Central Division.
This column is going to come off as being very snarky but let me assure you, I really do want for the Indians to be good again. Like most kids of my generation, baseball was my first love. And while this year’s Indians team has been a lot of fun to watch when compared to the past few and I’m going to keep watching, they will struggle to stay in the conversation with the NFL season ramping up. And while they’re not part of the conversation they certainly won’t be seeing a surge in ticket sales either. It’s unfortunate, but it’s just the way it is.
At this point in the season the Indians are basically reenacting this classic scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
The Tribe of course is playing the role of the “I’m not dead yet” man with the fans acting as the man trying to sell him off while still living and the media as the mortician who puts them (fans or the Tribe? Either one really) out of their misery and allows the fans to go on with their lives in the peace of mind that “Yup, we were right all along. They really were dead. See, there’s the proof.”
For all intents and purposes they’re dead in the Central, sitting seven games back of a team that they can’t seem to beat. And while they only sit three games out in the Wild Card they’re also in the middle of a glut of five or six teams all vying for those two spots.
So while from a technical sense the Indians “aren’t dead yet”…just give ‘em a moment and they will be soon.Follow @ClevelandFlack