I still remember walking out of Lennox Movie Theater in Columbus the night of January 19th 2007, the day before my 12th birthday. My best guess based on box office records from that day is that we were seeing Night at the Museum, but I honestly don’t remember. What I do remember, however, is that as we were walking back to the car my Dad got a text alert from ESPN that Cleveland had just signed Trot Nixon. To me this was like landing Babe Ruth. THE Trot Nixon? The one that won hit 3 doubles to win game 4 of the 2004 World Series? The one that hit 28 home runs and slugged .575 with Boston in 2003? Like former Boston Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon? That Trot Nixon? Little did I know Nixon had been a shell of his former self the previous two years in Boston, but this was like a real big time guy we were signing here, statistics be damned!
My dad followed up by telling me that the analysts were saying Cleveland had one of the best offseasons of any team. I couldn’t wait for spring training to start.
If I have one memory of 2007 that isn’t the playoffs it’s the snowstorm to start the year. Paul Byrd carrying a perfect game just a few outs short of a regulation game in the home opener before the game was called due to a snowstorm. Mike “The Human Snow Delay” Hargrove arguing with the umpire to stall for time, preventing Byrd from getting a perfect game before it was called. The following series against the Angels being played in Milwaukee’s Miller Park becuase there was still too much snow in Cleveland. Good times.
If I remember correctly that was also one of the first of a few years where the Angels went by “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” which Tom Hamilton always found ridiculous. So during that series I distinctly remember him saying things like “as we head to the top of the 3rd it’s the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 0, the Cleveland Indians of Milwaukee, 2.” to poke fun at them.
The 2007 team was good, really good. Travis Hafner experienced some regression but new faces like Ryan Garko, Franklin Guttierez, and Asdrubal Cabrerea all emerged to provide some spark in the lineup while the pitching staff carved up the American League.
Led by Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia, finally coming into his own as a legitimate ace, and Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez, plus familiar faces Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd, the pitching staff was able to overcome a disappointing, injury riddled season by Cliff Lee. The bullpen was solid despite the fact that the closer was the worst pitcher of the group. Joe Borowski proved what a ridiculous stat “saves” are when you really think about it, somehow leading the league with 47 of them despite getting as close as humanly possible to blowing it every single time he stepped on the mound.
Baseball Youtuber Jolly Olive did a really good video on Borowski’s 2007 season that I’d highly recommend watching:
With the 1-2 punch of Sabathia and Carmona/Hernandez at the top of the rotation, and a lineup that featured some major thump, Cleveland cruised into the playoffs, facing the New York Yankees in the ALDS.
The Indians took game 1 with a 12-3 blowout and in game 2, a swarm of midges straight out of the old testament descended on the game in the late innings. Yankees phenom Joba Chamberlain was visibly rattled as the artist formerly known as “Fausto Carmona” looked completely unfazed. Chamberlain carried a 1-0 lead into the 8th inning with a simple job. Shut down the top of the Indians’ lineup and hand the ball to Mariano Rivera for the 9th inning. As the midges swarmed, Chamberlain walked Sizemore who advanced to second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a bunt, and then scored on yet another wild pitch. Chamberlain then hit Victor Martinez and walked Ryan Garko, giving the Indians a runner on 1st and 2nd with Jhonny Peralta at the plate who struck out looking to get Chamberlain out of his personal hell. Travis Hafner would walk it off in the bottom of the 11th.
The Indians took the series back to New York for game 3 with a chance to clinch. They gave the Yankees the courtesy of losing game 3 to avoid humiliating them via a sweep, then won game 4, eliminating the Yankees setting up their date with Boston in the ALCS.
On the other side of the league, Colorado was continuing their torrid stretch and made the NLCS, but it was clear they were significantly less talented than the other teams in the playoffs, they had just gotten hot that fall. The winner of the ALCS, if they faced the Rockies, was likely the World Series winner.
Cleveland dropped game 1 10-3 behind a rough start from C.C. Sabathia, they won the next three games, going into a potentially clinching Game 5 in Cleveland to send them to the World Series with C.C. Sabathia on the mound, just like they drew it up. Unfortunately, The Indians would drop the next 3 in a row, including a decisive game 7 in Boston in which the Indians had the tying run rounding third base in the form of known baserunning liability Kenny Lofton (sarcasm intended) when Joel Skinner threw up the “stop sign from hell.” Lofton likely would’ve scored easily, and while the final score of that game ended up being 11-2, at the time it was 3-2. Suddenly a 3-3 tie looks very different and changes the complexity of the game. That one is right up there for me with Ted Ginn Jr’s injury in the 2006 national championship game. I can’t prove we wouldn’t so I’m gonna claim that had that not happened we would have won.
That season was my first real playoff heartbreak, I was too young to remember 2001, and it stung, real bad. It felt like the window was starting to close somewhat too. Cliff Lee had dramatically fallen off (little did I know), C.C. was likely going to skip town after 2008, Hafner was starting to show signs of decline. We still had Grady, and as good of a chance as anyone to make another run in 2008, but 2007 felt like our best shot at it.
Still, a lot of great memories from that team.
See you all tomorrow for the 2008 season.