Indians begin offseason of uncertainty
Updated: Monday October 15, 2001 9:31 PM
SEATTLE (AP) -- This Cleveland team was supposed to be different. The Indians banked on the notion that new faces equaled a new result.
They added Juan Gonzalez and Ellis Burks in the offseason to give them the offensive punch needed to play deep into October. They brought in veteran left-hander Chuck Finley last season to pitch in the pressure of important postseason games.
These men would make them a World Series contender again.
Turned out to be another sour ending.
"This was the year," first baseman Jim Thome said of reaching the World Series. "We were hoping to get an opportunity for that."
The Cleveland players who clubbed Seattle in the first four games of the division playoffs couldn't do it in the clutch and the Indians lost the deciding Game 5 to Seattle 3-1 on Monday.
That's how the luck has gone for these Indians in recent seasons. The Indians' 100th season finished just like the past 52 -- without a World Series ring.
The Indians haven't won the World Series since 1948.
A year after missing the postseason for the first time since 1993, Cleveland had the tools with power hitters and talented pitchers. And after a 17-2 rout in Game 3 against the team with the best record in baseball this year, it appeared the Indians might be on their way this time.
Cleveland had a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series and needed just one win at Jacobs Field. The Indians lost a late lead and fell in Game 4, sending the series back to Safeco Field.
And on Monday, the middle of the Indians' order -- Gonzalez, designated hitter Burks and Thome -- couldn't get a hit.
Gonzalez, who came into the deciding game hitting .421 with two home runs in the series, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. The other two went 0-for-3. All three struck out looking in the fourth inning.
And No. 3 hitter Roberto Alomar hit into two double plays in his first two at-bats after not doing it all year when hitting from the right side. Then he popped out in the sixth and struck out in the ninth.
"I had a great year, but winning is the most important thing," Alomar said.
The 38-year-old Finley had another disappointing start after also losing Game 2 to Jamie Moyer. Finley again lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up two runs on four hits, striking out seven but walking four, hitting a batter and throwing a wild pitch.
"Looking back, I think we played well this whole series," Thome said. "We've got a few guys who've been in the World Series and been in this situation and had success winning the whole thing. Is it disappointing? Sure. But there's nothing you can do about it."
Cleveland made the ALCS in 1998 but failed to get past the division series in '99. The 2001 team wanted the World Series ring that eluded the Indians in '97 when they lost in seven games to the Florida Marlins.
Cleveland made a run in the second half to catch the Minnesota Twins and win the AL Central.
Now, the Indians begin an offseason of uncertainty. And the question arises whether they can come this far again any time soon.
There's manager Charlie Manuel's health. Can he physically handle another season? The 57-year-old skipper spent two stints in the hospital with an abdominal infection, rejoining his team the last weekend of the regular season in Toronto.
Management is changing. Monday was the final game for John Hart as Indians general manager. He will step down Nov. 1 after 10 years as GM, and give way to assistant GM Mark Shapiro.
"The way it played out, we were good enough to win," Hart said. "We were a bloop and a bomb from getting it done."
Many of the players who made this season are now question marks.
Will Gonzalez be back? He becomes a free agent, with a mutual player/club option to come back in 2002.
And how about Kenny Lofton? The center fielder and leadoff hitter too will go on the free agent market.
They wanted to get this series over with in Cleveland, but it didn't happen. So the Indians will again be left to ask themselves: what if?
"We didn't have the kind of year that suggests we were a world championship caliber team," said third baseman Travis Fryman.
Shortstop Omar Vizquel isn't sure who will be back next season, but he's convinced the Indians can make another playoff run.
"There might be a couple guys we'll miss," he said. "But a lot of people here know how to play the game."