NOVEMBER 3RD, 2016 – CLEVELAND, OH
The Cleveland Indians reign supreme as the champions of Major League Baseball after the strangest season the baseball world may ever see. While the crowning moment came last night, after a masterful 2-hit game from Yangarlo Rodriguez, the story of the Indians' season must be told from the beginning.
Many columnists wrote the Indians off after a disappointing showing in Spring Training. Losing Abraham Almonte to a PED suspension destabilized an already uncertain outfield situation, and things became worse when Lonnie Chisenhall and Rajai Davis performed poorly in Goodyear. The Indians broke camp with more claimants to their outfield than the English throne in 1066. While positions never quite solidified in center field and right field, some wise platooning by Terry Francona over the course of the season ensured that the deepest parts of the park would be competently patrolled.
Francona played Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis, Will Venable, Joey Butler, and late-season call-up Bradley Zimmer according to their strengths, producing a respectable 6.7 WAR in the positions. Michael Brantley anchored the group in left field from late April onward, slashing .329/.391/.529 on the way to another Silver Slugger and All-Star nod. Said Brantley, "It became difficult at times to coordinate play in the outfield — especially when Uribe started two games in center — but we came in early and stayed late to make it work."
Before Brantley's return, the situation looked bleak. The Indians sat ten games below .500 on April 29th and hovered there until May 13th, 2016: Dollar Dog Night. It now resides in the pantheon of sports catastrophes with Ten Cent Beer Night, Disco Demolition Night, and the Malice at the Palace.
In the fifth inning of the game, fans in the Budweiser Patio began throwing Sugardale hot dogs on to the field. Drunk ticket holders expected that all hot dogs in the stadium sold for one dollar, and tension between the fans and the vendors came to a head when the Happy Dog stand burst in to flames. Travis McKeon, 56, of Chagrin Falls was later prosecuted for the fire, which set off a riot that brought the game to a tragic conclusion.
Fans spilled out of the stands to escape the blaze. The Twins and Indians players on the field attempted to rush toward the dugout, but the mass of confused, angry, and drunk fans on the field prevented their exit. Relievers from both bullpens stumbled in to center field, where they were pelted with ballpark mustard, buns, and devastating verbal assaults. No one is certain who struck first, but an all-out brawl erupted between the relievers of both teams and the disgruntled fans in the outfield. The fans encircled the relievers, cutting them off from the rest of their teammates.
Without the quick thinking of Trevor Bauer, the relievers may never have escaped the besieging. Recalling the Battle of Alesia, Bauer ordered the Indians hitters to besiege the besieging fans, trapping them between players.
"When you think about it," Bauer said after the ordeal, "flipping the circumstances of the original battle made perfect sense. Not to mention I avoided a few of the strategic blunders typical of Vercingetorix."
Without a Caesar to rival the tactical brilliance of the Indians starter, the fans surrendered after a brief but tense skirmish that pit infield rakes and souvenir helmets against maple bats. The Indians did not escape unscathed; Joba Chamberlain lost his throwing arm in the scuffle (it later resurfaced on E-Bay; the listing was removed after bidding reached $26,034) but remains with the team as a bullpen coach.
The Tribe played the rest of its homestand in Cincinnati and Milwaukee while repairs to the stadium were made. During the time, the team rallied together like a band of brothers, their bonds forged in the furnace of battle. When adversity struck again in July, the team showed just how close they'd grown. News broke that Carlos Carrasco did not actually exist, and the player who had been using the name had been born as Yangarlo Rodriguez.
"I don't care if his name isn't actually Carlos Carrasco," said Corey Kluber the afternoon the news broke. "He's taken seven no-hitters through eight and two-thirds innings this season. We're going to support him no matter what. And besides, he only changed his birthdate by three weeks. My algorith...I've thought it through a lot, and it doesn't make sense. But emotions are not binary. We still love the guy."
After the All-Star break, the Indians played at a level not seen since the legendary teams of the 1990s. Francisco Lindor proved to be the electrifying talent everyone expected, and box scores overflowed with the Lindor-to-Kipnis-to-Napoli double play combination. Not only did the infield prove to be the most talented defensively in decades, but preseason signing Juan Uribe added a jolt at the hot corner.
"To your point, he looks crisp at the plate," Terry Francona said when asked about Uribe in August. "We added him expecting a bit of a boost in production, but I wouldn't say I'm surprised by his success. Guys get to their levels on this team."
Despite winning 96 games during the regular season, the Indians settled for a wild card spot behind Kansas City's 127 win effort. Then, something strange started happening to Yan Gomes.
"I'd dream about certain at-bats the night before," said Gomes after the playoffs, "and then in the game, the exact same things would happen. So when Craig Kimbrel hung that curveball in the wild card game, I knew I would hit a walk-off off of the scoreboard."
Gomes claims that the visions continued throughout the post-season, and credits his three walk-off hits in the Indians' sweep of the Royals and both of his home runs in the World Series to this rare insight. Things only grew stranger for the team when the reached the World Series against the Giants.
In the ninth inning of game two of the Series, Buster Posey slapped a base-hit off of Danny Salazar deep into the right field gap and bolted around second, digging for third. Lonnie Chisenhall fired the ball on a rope toward Uribe, but the ball hit Posey's helmet and knocked him unconscious. Posey's face came to a rest on third base, but Uribe wisely recovered the ball and tagged Posey. Rule 6.01(a)(†) clearly states that a player cannot occupy a base while unconscious, unless the player is intentionally rendered unconscious by an opposing player. Posey therefore represented the third and final out of the game, sending the series back to Cleveland at one win apiece.
The deciding game of the series will always be remembered as a pitching gem from Yangarlo Rodriguez, née Carlos Carrasco. Yangarlo and Cody Allen combined to shut out the Giants and take the series with a 1-0 win. For a moment, things looked dire; Allen opened the bottom of the ninth with two walks. A phenomenal grab by Francisco Lindor behind second base prevented what would have been a game-tying hit for the Giants. Only after another walk and a ball that barely sliced on the wrong side of the foul pole in right did Cody Allen notch the deciding strikeout.
It may take several weeks for the fires in Ohio City to stop burning, but celebrations in the city of Cleveland will last long beyond that. Finally, the curse of Red Right '88, the Fumble, the Drive, the Shot, the Mesa, the Decision — and just earlier this year, Varejao's Vengeance — can finally be laid to rest. With the strongest pitching staff in baseball, the Indians are set to contend for the next three to four years.
Who knows? They may win it all next year, and they aren't the city's only contenders. the Browns have started the year 8-0 behind the mercurial leadership of quarterback Cardale Jones, and the Cavs just completed a blockbuster deal to unite James Harden and Kawhi Leonard with Lebron James. Add that to the unprecedented 12 TDs per game scored by Johnny Manziel of the AFL's Gladiators, and it's clear that Cleveland just might be Championship City USA for years to come.