We Cleveland fans don't do pennant races. In the past half-century, the Indians have been in one honest-to-God, down-to-the-wire dogfight: in 2000, when the White Sox improbably won the Central and relegated the Tribe to a wild-card battle, which they ultimately lost to the Mariners by a game.
From 1995-99, the Tribe waltzed to five consecutive division titles. The first, in the strike-shortened 1995 season, came by 30 games. The next four came by an average of 13. My nails remained remarkably pristine, unchewed upon until mid-October at the earliest. We all got a little bit spoiled. So when Charlie Manuel's first Cleveland team found itself mired in a race for the wild card, folks were less giddy that the Tribe had a shot at the postseason than disappointed that they didn't have the division wrapped up by Labor Day. Rooting for the Tribe back then was like rooting for John Cusack to get the girl in a romantic comedy --- it was a pretty safe bet that things would come out OK.
The same can't be said about this year's model, a team that was probably taken a little too lightly coming into the season on account of their collapse last August. Personally, I thought they could be pretty good; a horrible start had me thinking to myself, Once again, you're not as smart as most people.
Then they came to life -- a life unlike the one lived by the teams of the late '90s. They were scrappy, for one thing, and they had great starting pitching for another. (I don't know what jumpstarted them, but it wouldn't surprise me to find out that manager Eric Wedge did a Lou Brown and put a cardboard cutout of Margaret Whitton in the clubhouse and told the guys with each win, a piece of her clothing would come off. It's been that similar to Major League.) It made being a fan a full-time job: follow the score every single night, do whatever it takes to help out. (A few days ago I gave a guy $5 to stay out of the office we were having a meeting in because Cleveland started to rally when he stepped out.) It's been exhilarating, it's been intoxicating and, at times, frankly, it's sucked.
I spent Friday morning drawing up every possible outcome to the season. There's a very good chance I might venture to a shady part of town and hire a little old Turkish lady to cast the evil eye on David Ortiz -- who homered to tie the Red Sox game when I sat down to write this on Thursday night and singled to win it as I started this paragraph, which has caused my schpilkita, an unholy combination of schpilkes and agita, to start acting up.
But a little gastric upset is no big deal for Cleveland. We're used to it. We've endured Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, The Shot II, the Dave Justice and Robby Alomar homers (which prompted the Tribe's If-You-Can't-Beat-Them-Acquire-Them strategy), The Pedro-From-The-Pen Game in the '99 ALCS and Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, which I still don't want to talk about, so don't ask, OK? I've never felt more involved with, or passionate about, a team than this year's, because every night has been a critical game. It's put me through a wide range of emotions. It's made me feel alive. It's made me appreciate the game more than ever; it's reminded me why we fall in love with sports and become fans in the first place. It's made me feel like a kid again. So to the Indians, I want to say this: Thanks for the ride. Win or lose, it's been an amazing year.
But, uh, whatever you do, don't put me through this again next year.