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An oral history of the Indians’ improbable run to the 2016 World Series

A behind-the-scenes look at the Indians’ run to the 2016 World Series from the then-voice of the club’s social presence, Joel Hammond.

The Indians return to Wrigley Field Tuesday night for the first time since Oct. 30, 2016 – Game 5 of the World Series, which will forever in my mind be The One That Got Away.

When I tweeted some World Series memories recently (as you may or may not know, I was a member of the Tribe’s staff for five years) someone suggested I put together a retrospective on that season from an “insider’s” perspective. I asked Matt and the Let’s Go Tribe guys what they thought, and here we are.

This will be long, but I hope you enjoy it.

July 1, 2016: The Winning Streak

The culmination of a then-club-record winning streak of 14 games, of course, wasn’t easy. I was about 10 weeks into fatherhood and a 1:00 p.m. game on a Friday of a holiday weekend was a blessing — I could get home to my wife and son a little earlier. And then...

We played 19 innings, won on a dramatic Carlos Santana homer, killed our bullpen, cost Joba Chamberlain his job, Trevor Bauer made people mad (some things never change) by tweeting the American flag on Canada Day and I finished up for the day around 9:00 p.m.

The next day, after our streak stopped at 14 (thanks to a controversial call at the plate that went against us and an all-time favorite, Chris Gimenez), the A’s came at us for some reason. It ended poorly for them.

That was when I knew the season was going to be weird. Either that, or...

August 19, 2016: Fireworks

Fireworks nights, while well attended by fans, are a nightmare because of the extra traffic problems they create. (PSA: Due to the construction at The Q, this problem will be even worse this year. Park at CSU and walk a few extra blocks on summer weekends.) If you ever see Tom Hamilton sprinting out of the ballpark, it’s likely a fireworks night; he hilariously records his postgame stuff in record time so he can get moving. In that vein, as we trailed the Blue Jays by a run on Aug. 19, I alerted my staff I was going to beat the traffic. I left the press box and got in the elevator in time to hear Hammy’s call of Jose Ramirez’s game-tying home run and hustled back to the press box. I got my laptop fired back up for:

The timing couldn’t have been better. Earlier that day we rolled out our #RallyTogether campaign; two days later we rallied against the Jays again to win a big series. Remember, all season to this point we’d heard that the Indians couldn’t beat good teams, so we thought this was a big series for us, and it came in front of big crowds with lots of drunk Canadians in the stands. Thanks for spending your money in Cleveland! (Note: The social team doesn’t choose those hashtags and how long to use them; the club’s brand and marketing team does that. I’d be relatively surprised if they introduced something new before this year’s Postseason, but I’d also be surprised if #RallyTogether came back in 2019.)

One last note: Judging by the conversation in the clubhouse the next morning, the fellas enjoyed the hell out of that victory. If you catch my drift.

September 17, 2016: “The day Cleveland Indians’ postseason dreams ended before they began”

We entered play seven games up in the division with 15 to go, so we were in a great spot. Then Ian Kinsler intentionally (at least that’s the way I choose to remember it) lined a ball off Carlos Carrasco’s hand and things changed quickly. In the interim, our bullpen threw nine innings of three-hit ball and Jose Ramirez did what he does, chopping a single through the middle for another 2016 Tribe walkoff.

In the post-mortem, we famously were written off by Paul Hoynes — I remember waking up early Sunday morning and seeing that post and being extremely pissed.

It was cool to see the players’ collective response to this.

Want more disrespect for our team? This loss spurred the first of many allegations from opponents about sign stealing, favorable strike zones and more. As you might expect, we had all kinds of fun with this:

(The replies to that one are fantastic.)

September 26, 2016: One

Our magic number was one, and we were ready. I drove with my boss and our team photographer to Detroit for a potential clinch, with Kluber on the mound against a fading Tigers team. Then: Kluber gets hurt and leaves the game, and of course you start to wonder: Carrasco and Salazar already are out; if Kluber is out, how can we do anything in the Postseason? Will we even get there? Will we blow our lead with two starting pitchers left?

No matter: Cody Allen slammed the door and I was lucky enough to be on the field, filming the dogpile. That was cool.

What was really cool? The Tigers had beaten us up since I joined the Tribe in 2013. They killed us. And here we were, in Detroit, and the ballpark was taken over by Indians fans. They stuck around for the celebration and that was unbelievable.

What was even cooler? Corey Kluber poured a very full 16-ounce Bud Heavy down my shirt.’s Jordan Bastian grabbed video of it and it’s one of the things I cherish most about my time with the team.

After the game, members of our staff arranged for a traveling party, well, party at a downtown Detroit bar (think Punch Bowl Social). It was... fun. On our way home from Detroit, we stopped at Campus Pollyeyes in Bowling Green, Ohio — home of my alma mater, the Harvard of the Midwest™, Bowling Green State University. If you’ve never had Pollyeyes’ chicken and cheese stuffed breadsticks, you have not lived.

October 6, 2016: Game 1 of the ALDS

There’s truthfully a certain amount of pressure running a team account in such moments; that never really got to me until that night. Luckily, a Boston reporter helped us settle in quickly by illustrating just how little the rest of the league and country thought of us: The first two guys reached against Trevor Bauer and David Ortiz was at the dish, an “oh boy” moment if I ever saw one. Bauer got Papi to pop out, and Progressive Field was loud, as you might expect.

Not good enough for Jason Mastrodonato:

Yuck. So we had fun with Jason, of course, even drawing the ire of one of his buddies, Evan Drellich, who stalked my personal Twitter later in the Postseason because we had the gall to call his pal out for a bad take.

Those Bostonians — they can dish it but had a tough time taking it.

An aside: Jason wrote after Game 1 yet another sign stealing piece. More on that in a bit:

October 7, 2016: Game 2 of the ALDS

LeBron & Co. show up in their Tribe gear and the crowd goes nuts.

There was a buzz building throughout the day, especially since we played in the afternoon after a night game. LBJ delivered, and the crowd was sufficiently riled – all before Lonnie Chisenhall hit an unexpected three-run homer off David Price. Game was over when that ball just cleared the right-field fence.

October 9, 2016: Delayed

Team photographer Dan Mendlik and I flew commercial to Boston, and arrived at our hotel and grabbed a cab to Fenway just in time for the game to be postponed on our way to Fenway. “Sir? Please take us back to our hotel.”

October 10, 2016: Stealing signs (and a playoff series)

My first time at Fenway, we got there early to take in the sights. A well-kept secret about Fenway and Wrigley Field: They’re terrible places to have to actually, you know, do your job. The clubhouses are tiny, the press box is small... It’s just not ideal. But it was cool being there, especially when Josh Tomlin shut the door on the Red Sox for 4.2 innings before the bullpen did its thing.

I wised up from Detroit: This time, as we prepped for our celebration, I changed out of my fancy clothes before the champagne hit. But it wasn’t quite as easy this time around — to prep for the on-field celebration, we all lined up in the dugout tunnel, meaning I couldn’t see anything. But that made it even cooler: I was feet away from Terry Francona and listened to him narrate the ninth: “Come on Chick!” (Chick for Chicken, aka Cody Allen, aka Chicken Al.) When we saw Terry and Brad Mills hug, that was our cue — we were on to the ALCS.

After the postgame celebrations were done, I had one last bit of business after the Red Sox, too, levied sign-stealing accusations by way of our old friend Jason:

The replies are great. (Postscript: It was pretty cool to hear the Fenway crowd chant “Papi! Papi! Papi!” after the game was over. It was even cooler knowing we put an end to his season and his career earlier than anyone expected.)

One more fun tidbit: An Indians player asked us to delete the Facebook Live stream from inside the clubhouse because his son watched it a few days later and heard his dad swearing. I’ll let you guess which player, but I was pissed — everyone knew what went on in that clubhouse, so why would anyone let their toddler watch it (at least with the sound on)? Nevertheless, I deleted to save the relationship moving forward.

October 14, 2016: Never stick to baseball

Bart Swain, the team’s director of baseball information, calls me. Bart and I communicated frequently, as he was Baseball Operations’ first call with news and Bart was great at valuing how any news mattered when it came to social. “We have a problem.”

Trevor Bauer had injured his finger on his drone, and wouldn’t be making his scheduled start in Game 2. My dear lord.

Luckily, we had a chance to make that injury irrelevant, with Corey Kluber starting and a red-hot bullpen. Kluber shut down the Jays in Game 1 of course, and Tomlin again pitched well in Game 2. Toronto had 10 hits and a run in two games — and, again, off-field stuff took the focus off any potential Bauer blowback: Jose Bautista’s “circumstances” comment.

Holy hell did we have fun with that.

I did not travel to Toronto, embarrassingly enough because I didn’t (and still don’t!) have a passport. But we had plenty of folks on hand to gather content for us — our staff and MLB Advanced Media representatives, and luckily we avoided a debacle before Game 3 when a Canadian tribunal ruled we didn’t have to remove Chief Wahoo from our uniforms. (Before you kill me on Twitter, I simply said it avoided a debacle that day; that is by no means a commentary on Chief Wahoo, which in my opinion is long overdue for removal. The biggest reason I think Wahoo should have been removed was that 2016 Postseason — anything that takes focus away from our really awesome team should have gone away, and Chief Wahoo certainly did that at times.)

October 17, 2016: OH MY GOD HIS FINGER.

I hated the blowback Trevor received on this (though in non-drone-injury cases, I have little sympathy for his childish antics, for which he always portrays himself as a victim).

Corey Kluber could have cut his finger playing with his kids, or making dinner, or opening the car door.

Again, though, we found a way to win, with 8.2 innings of strong relief – ironically, a month to the day after the pen did the same thing after Cookie got hurt.

October 19, 2016: Shaking in his boots

We lost Game 4, of course, but damnit if Bautista didn’t help us again by firing up the troops.

Indians Twitter, activate!

(Replies are great.)

The irony in our opponents’ constant accusations and insults was that we actually had gone through a ton. We thought this one summed it up in one neat tweet:

October 20-24, 2016: Being sick sucks, you know?

Being sick during the Postseason sucks worse, let me tell you. I battled a brutal cold from Game 3 of the ALCS until Game 5 of the World Series; I missed the World Series gala and a bunch of parties that were thrown. I couldn’t rest at home to get better, a) because there was too much work to do — including 4:00 a.m. arrivals for media during home games — and b) because babies, if you haven’t heard, make it hard to sleep.

October 28, 2016: The World Series

We split the first two games of the World Series, thanks to a breakout from Roberto Perez — one of the nicest guys on the team — and a strong outing from Kluber (and a tough one from Bauer).

Paul Dolan offered all Indians full-timers (and a guest) a spot on a chartered flight to either Game 3 or Game 4 in Chicago. I traveled with my co-workers on Friday to spend an extra day at home with my wife and four-month-old, then reported to Wrigley, where I wanted to be first with our lineup since Carlos Santana would make his rumored debut in left field. Santana didn’t say a whole lot, but I was happy our fans came around on him — surprise: You don’t have to hit .300 to be impactful! He was one of my favorites, and you can tell the Indians miss him this season. He even made a nice (and routine) catch as we took a 2-1 lead, thanks to another strong start from soft-throwing Josh Tomlin, with his recently paralyzed dad in the stands.

October 29, 2016: Game 4

A 2-1 lead with Corey Kluber on the mound. This is getting serious. He, of course, shoved, and Jason Kipnis blasted a three-run homer in his hometown (Did you know he’s from Chicago?), and we go back to the hotel up 3-1.

This is where things get real. You start mapping out World Series-clinching tweets. (I’ll share mine in a bit.) You get your plans in order with your staff. You make sure your images are ready to roll, and I was very lucky throughout my time with the Tribe to have a really creative group of colleagues in our communications department, great photographers and a fantastic production department, which thankfully has been expanded this year to give my successors another resource.

Meanwhile, our staff in Cleveland had been meeting with city officials for a week or so by this point, planning potential parade stuff. Could this really happen?

We also started discussing with MLB PR officials what our plan was if we won in Chicago, because — as noted above when discussing Fenway — the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley was the size of my living room. It wasn’t going to work.

October 30, 2016: Game 5

I had breakfast in the city with my brother and his family, who live in the Chicago area. I tried to keep my mind off what was ahead.

One of my favorite memories of the 2016 Postseason wasn’t even baseball related. Game 5 was a Sunday, and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo — formerly of Mike and Mad Dog fame and now of MLB Network — was in the press box in a booth, apparently locked in a heated fantasy football matchup. He was screaming at the press box TVs (at Marshawn Lynch if memory serves) and Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Sun-Times had finally had enough.

Will you shut the fuck up?!

No you shut the fuck up!

Shut the fuck up!

It was awesome.

Later that night, when Jose Ramirez homered to give us a lead, I thought for sure we were going to win the World Series. Bauer was healthy, and our ‘pen was rested thanks to the blowout the night before. Unfortunately, after Kris Bryant homered and Anthony Rizzo doubled, the Cubs dinked and dunked their way to two more runs for a 3-1 lead — they singled three times, including one on a bunt, and scored on a sac fly.

We got within a run, but man, this was a missed opportunity (a lot like the 2017 ALDS Game 3 in New York). We had guys in scoring position in the seventh and eighth against Aroldis Chapman, and couldn’t squeeze a tying or winning run across; Perez grounded out in the seventh and Lindor struck out in the eighth.

October 31, 2016

That was a long night. With so many media obligations and our clubbies’ hard work to get everything packed, we didn’t leave Wrigley for probably two hours after the final out. I got in bed about 5:00 a.m. ET.

It was my son’s first Halloween, and we were new (two months) to our neighborhood. (Baby, home purchase and extended playoff run in a span of four months. It was a crazy year.) We joined the neighborhood at a picnic, but when the conversation turned to the World Series, I didn’t tell them where I worked. I needed a break.

November 1, 2016: Did Game 6 really happen?

For real, if you’re in the “I hate Tyler Naquin because of a dropped ball in the World Series” camp, please take it elsewhere. That play had no bearing on Game 6 — the Cubs’ grand slam a little later was obviously the big blow, and Tyler had nothing to do with that. (If you hate Tyler Naquin because he struggled mightily in 2017, fine, though he certainly has played much better this season and is a really good person to boot.)

November 2, 2016: Game 7

I thought the hours leading up to first pitch were agonizing, and they absolutely were — until Dexter Fowler homered to lead off the game. The ballpark was loud, as has been well documented, and a note on that before we dive deeper: The Indians have improved their processes since Game 7, but the Cubs fans’ (relative) takeover was happening no matter what — nothing could have prevented that. Trust me.

One hundred and eight years. Close proximity. Incredibly high prices in Chicago. Affordable lodging options in Cleveland. The stars aligned — it was truly a perfect storm that allowed that many Cubs fans to be at Progressive Field that night. It looked bad, and for us in the organization, it was painful to see. (That being said, I sure as hell didn’t hear any Cubs fans after Rajai’s homer, or when Kip scored from second.)

The first 7.5 innings of that game were agonizing and I think it was pretty clear that Kluber and Miller (along with Tomlin before them) were just out of gas. Kluber finally had a tough start, and Miller of course allowed a homer to David Freaking Ross.

Then: J-Ram single. Guyer double. Raj homer. Tie game. I grabbed a co-worker’s arm realy hard after Raj’s ball cleared the fence, then frantically navigated to my desktop GIFs folder for the right shot.

From there, it’s a blur. I sprinted to the tunnel behind the plate, where about 30 people were crammed awaiting a decisive run and on-field dogpile. Ours never came. When Lindor threw out Fowler on that play up the middle in the top of the ninth, and we had the top of our order coming up, I thought for sure we were going to win. Unfortunately, Kipnis’ homer-lookalike went foul, the rain came and we came up short.

I’ve been told by a number of people inside and outside the organization since I left the team that the Indians groundskeeper acted too aggressively in his role in the rain delay, but count me among the people who think the rain delay and the locker room speech by Jason Heyward were overblown. The Cubs were good, they put a rally together, and we were out of gas. If you need a locker room pep talk in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series, well... yeah.

My counterparts at the Cubs are all good people and I was very happy for them; the Cubs social and digital work is awesome and they deserved it. One of them has since left the team for the same reasons I did — family.

But I’ll likely never get over not finishing it off, made worse by our inability to close out the Yankees this past season. Still: I have incredible memories as this post shows. I have an American League championship ring, a game-used World Series ball and all kinds of other stuff from an amazing run.

After the final out of Game 7, I shut down my laptop and phone and walked to the parking garage, choosing traffic over watching the Cubs’ celebration on our field. I scheduled a post for the next day, then kept my laptop and phone shut off all day on November 3; I stayed home and played with my son.

He was one of a just a handful of people who knew what our World Series-clinching copy was going to be. When I told him, he smiled.

Hey, Cleveland – what do you say?

The Indians won the World Series today!