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75 Years and Counting: The Story of the 2011 Cleveland Indians

A year that was.... oddly fun? Like high key really fun. Like legitimately just kind of a fun albeit frustrating team.

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox

I’ll be honest with you guys, I’ve been looking forward to this one. 2011 is weirdly one of my favorite seasons of all time. Like have you ever played Out of the Park Baseball or some other baseball sim and you have just this hodgepodge of has-beens and mediumly exciting young players and they somehow piece it together to be in first place by the all star break and you like pull every lever you can think of to push this thing across the finish line, only for the wheels to, rightfully so, come off down the stretch? No? Just me? Cool.

I remember so much about this season, I was finishing my sophomore year of high school and I had kind of zoned out and stopped caring in 2010, I was burnt out on baseball at the time. Nerve damage in my elbow and the prospects of an intense rehabilitation process that wouldn’t guarantee I’d ever be able to pitch again had pushed me to call it quits early on my baseball career, and I just sort of distanced myself from baseball that summer after my freshman year, it was the first time I really just didn’t want anything to do with the game, and the Indians sucked in 2010 so I just sort of stopped watching.

I think that’s why 2011 stands out to me, it brought me back and made me love baseball again. I remember watching opening day having no expectation that we’d be any good, I remember watching Fausto Carmona get absolutely shelled, then things not get much better after Justin Germano got brought in. Game 2 was no better, they got beat badly again. But in game 3 something amazing happened, a line drive was hit right at Carlos Santana who caught it for the out, stepped on the bag to double up the runner, then realized the runner who was on second had been running on the pitch, so he threw it to Asdrubal Cabrera who was standing on second base to complete the triple play. After that 1-2 start the Indians caught fire going 29-13 over their next 42 games to find themselves in first place with a 30-15 record.

Something I will never forget from that hot stretch was their first series with Baltimore. They came into the final game of the series game with an 11-4 record but something big was about to happen, Grady Sizemore was being activated off of the IL. I know now we all think of Grady’s career basically ending in 2010, but we often forget that he did play 70 games in ‘11. The team had gotten off to an incredibly hot start, we knew by the end of the year that reinforcements were coming in the form of Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Alex White, but I remember thinking “my god, if we could get Grady back and healthy this could be a dangerous team”

Grady didn’t disappoint, he grounded out in his first at bat but ripped a homer to right in the top of the third inning, followed it up with a double in the 5th, and just like that Grady Sizemore had returned. The very next game he went 3-5 with a double, and it felt like 2010 was just a bump in the road on the way to Cooperstown for Grady. Unfortunately the wheels came off for him, his body failed him down the stretch and he stumbled to easily the worst season production wise of his career to that point, and it became clear that Grady Sizemore would end his career as little more than a “what if” story.

“What if?” became the rallying cry for the team that year. After that hot stretch there was a real feeling of “hey, why not us?” Carlos Santana was emerging as a legitimate threat in the lineup, Asdrubal Cabrera had found a power stroke out of nowhere, and Justin Masterson was finally taking a leap and becoming the player they had envisioned when they acquired him in exchange for Victor Martinez.

I followed this team religiously, my friends and I had started a Facebook group before the year called “Cleveland Indians World Series 2012” (wait til next year energy) and started building a little community of fans on there, I wrote “prospect of the day” posts doing scouting report write ups for everyone in the system, comping them to players and posting potential stat lines for them. Unfortunately I made the posts from my old facebook account which has since been deleted and I couldn’t find them, otherwise I’d share what I wrote back then about these guys and see how well they aged.

What I can tell you is my prediction that Nick Weglarz would be a consistent 35 home run bat, that Scott Barnes would be the next great lefty starter in Cleveland, and that Bryce Stowell would emerge as “the best closer in baseball by next year” didn’t exactly pan out. I will say though my “I don’t get Cord Phelps” post definitely aged fairly well.

As frustrating as the back half of that season was, it’s still filled with a ton of memories for me. The earthquake happening during a Choo at bat, trading for Thome and his birthday home run, the Pronk walk off grand slam against Toronto (in Zach McCallister’s first start, fun fact), waiting for Kip and Chiz to get called up, and losing my mind when we traded for Ubaldo because I thought we were stupid to give up Pomeranz.

In hindsight, that Tigers team was just too good with Verlander and Miggy at the height of their powers, and we should have known better than to think we’d legitimately win the division that year, the roster wasn’t very good and they really couldn’t pitch very well.

However, we were all absolutely hyped about the prospects of what 2012 might look like. When we made “Cleveland Indians World Series 2012” we had no delusions that it would actually happen, but that offseason it felt like an inevitability. We couldn’t wait.

Unfortunately, the Group’s name is currently “Cleveland Guardians World Series 24” as 12 years later we still don’t have one. The group is dead by now, it’s almost all bots, but as you scroll through you can see a moment every year when one post breaks up the crowd of bots, “Matt Dallas has changed the name of the group to ‘Cleveland Guardians World Series 20(whatever next year is).” While the post may seem merely like an annual admission that “this isn’t the year” it actually serves a larger purpose.

I watched game 7 of the 2016 world series at Hounddogs Pizza in Columbus, after the second out was made in the inning in which Rajai Davis hit the home run I pulled out my phone, opened up my facebook app and changed the name of the group to “Cleveland Indians World Series 2017,” then when Davis came up to the plate I declared to the entire bar that if he hit a home run I would buy a round for everyone in the bar. Thank God for $2 PBR pitcher night and a slow night for dine ins. But the tradition was born, at the exact moment when it starts to feel like “if we don’t turn it around now, it’s over” my friends and I change the group name and crack a PBR. I would also like to take credit, in this same vein, for Oscar’s walkoff against the Yankees, and Lindor’s Grand Slam in the 2017 playoffs, and Kole Calhoun’s walk-off against the twins.

Actually come to think of it, I think this tradition actually just makes us get one clutch hit to kick the can down the road on losing just a bit further. Maybe we need to reevaluate.

Anyway, we’ve now arrived in my favorite era of Cleveland baseball, 2012-2019, where I formed some of my fondest memories of the team. Join us tomorrow for a breakdown of the endlessly depressing 2012 season.