You can tell me all you want how this was a magical season that fell short. I agree. You can say this injury ravaged, all heart-and-balls Cleveland Indians team of 2016 shouldn’t have gotten as far as they did. You can tell me one day I will look back at this situation a lot differently than I do today. This doesn’t change the fact that we were one win away, heck, one eighth or ninth-inning run away from changing our lives forever. I know how I feel. I can’t even begin to imagine how it feels to be a player or coach or member of the Indians organization.
These chances don’t come around very often. As great as those Tribe teams from 1994-2001 were, they played in two World Series and never won it. The 93-win 2005 team could have done real damage had their not wet the bed in the final week of the season and finished one game shy of the playoffs. The ’07 team was one win away from getting to the World Series and couldn’t close the deal against the Terry Francona-led Red Sox. It took the Indians 19 years to get back to the biggest stage in the game. Nineteen years. That’s how hard it is.
Nineteen Octobers ago, I was a 21-year old college senior, sitting in my apartment at the University of Kansas. My father, who took my brother and me to Tribe games at old Municipal Stadium and taught me how to love the game and the team I love most, was still alive. Game 7 against the then Florida Marlins, was the single most important thing in my life. With the Indians nursing a one-run lead, manager Mike Hargrove turned the ball over to his closer, Jose Mesa. You know what happened from there.
After Edgar Renteria’s ball went past the glove of Charlie Nagy, I went into my bedroom and lied on my back, staring at the ceiling. After a few minutes, I began to get the spins, as if I had been drinking for 10 hours. I immediately ran into the bathroom and began to violently throw-up. My then-girlfriend, now my wife, was there for me, rubbing my back trying to calm me down. I then stripped off all of my clothes and got into the shower. I felt like I needed the cleansing of some sort. As the hot water careened down upon me, I lost it. I just began to sob like a kid who finds out their dog had to be put down. It took me a few days before I could get up and go to class and face the world again. I was 21 years old and I didn’t know what real loss was about yet, which I would find out as I got older, but at that time, blowing a lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series was the end of the world to me.
If you’ve been a WFNY reader since the beginning, you know that family and baseball are a gigantic part of my life. I have been a season ticket holder for the Indians either as a kid or an adult since I was four. When my father passed away in November of 2004, I kept the tickets despite the fact that I wasn’t even living here. I moved back in 2006 and continued up the tradition. My children are now nine and six and love the Indians in the same way I did as a child. Only their access is even deeper than mine was because of the fact that you can watch every single game on TV.
The 2016 Indians are the one team in which I have invested the most time, energy—and money for that matter—on in my 40 years of existence. I attended the most games of any single season in my life (51 including playoff games), and missed only a handful of games on TV. I DVR the games and watch them back if I miss something important. Yes, I have a sickness. It’s called Indian Fever.
From the beginning of this season, you just had this feel like this group was special. Sure, we’ve had some great Indians teams here, but has any other club had more fun and genuinely enjoyed playing with each other like this one did? All you have to do is look at the smiles on the faces of Frankie Lindor and Jason Kipnis on the field, mid-game while playing against the Red Sox in the ALDS to see it. They could be so tense and have every right to be. But man this group played like a bunch of kids just out there for the love of the game. As a fan, it makes it that much more enjoyable.
Getting to the World Series itself is an incredible accomplishment. I was lucky enough to see all four home wins against Boston and Toronto and watched in amazement as Terry Francona pulled every single correct string with his lineup and his pitching staff. I never once felt an intense amount of anxiety during those games or at any team during either the ALDS or ALCS, other than the last two innings of both clinching games. I watched both of those with my wife and kids and paced back and forth behind my couch like a lunatic. Sharing those moments with them was great. I only got to see one clincher with my late father – the 1995 ALCS win in Seattle. My brother, dad, and I were together in my childhood home and hugged as Herb Perry caught the final out at first. It was 21 years ago and the memory is burned in my brain.
As things progressed during this epic World Series with the Chicago Cubs and the Tribe took a 3-1 lead, sure, a big part of me wanted to be able to be at Progressive Field to see a World Series clincher in person. I’ve waited for this moment my entire life. Now I can look back on all of the stranded runners in Game 5’s 3-2 loss and be disgusted with myself for even entertaining the thought. That game was for the taking. It gave the Cubs life. There were still two more chances to do it at home. I had a ridiculous amount of faith in this particular team because of what they had overcome all year. It was just one more hill to climb in a season full of mountains. It was “if,” it was “when” as far as I was concerned.
I never thought about the fact that Josh Tomlin was pitching on short rest for the first time in his career, or the Cubs seeing him a second time would allow them to know to lay off the breaking pitches he dominated them with in Game Three. Tomlin had been so good since coming back into the rotation out of sheer necessity in September, he was due for a clunker and the 103 win Cubs weren’t exactly the 2016 Atlanta Braves. It was OK though, Tribe ace Corey Kluber was there for Game 7 to pitch us all into the winners circle.
Prior to Game 6, I had dinner with three of my oldest and closest friends who all flew in from Florida, Chicago, and Arizona to see history, along with two of my closest friends who live here. We were all over Prospect before the game and I was feeling as good as I can ever remember. This was going to be it.
As I got to my customary seats, I was surrounded by Cubs fans. Surrounded. Imagine being the center of a semi-circle; two Cubs fans to the left, two to the right, a full row of eight behind me, and more over both shoulders. The Kris Bryant homer happened and they cheered, It was all good, I stayed calm as it was only one run and the first inning. But after the Tyler Naquin debacle, they went nuts. They should have. All of them were good fans, cheering for their team. Nothing different than I would have done had I been inside of Wrigley Field. The ball dropped and I put my head in my heads. I never looked up.
From that point on until the game ended, felt like a slow death march. The semi-circle of Cubs fans were going so crazy and I just couldn’t avoid it. Honestly, it may have been the worst experience of my life since my father’s funeral. The only good news was that there would be a Game 7 and the series wasn’t over.
Wednesday I was way more on edge. I slept like absolute shit (I think we all have for two weeks) and woke up to my incredible wife telling me this: “I can’t take the stress of Game 7. You need your brother there with you. It’s only right. Call him and get him here.” I texted him at 7:30 a.m. and told him simply, “Matt, I need you.”
His response: “I was just waiting for you to ask. I’ll be there.”
It felt as though this was fate. It was the way it had to be. There was nobody else who could be by my side for Game 7 of the World Series in Cleveland than him. He and I share this love for the Tribe like many siblings who grew up in Northeast Ohio do, but ours is extremely deep. We were both very close with our father, the man who taught us to love baseball and the Indians, and it was only right that we would take this historic game in next to each other. This was going to happen for Dad. I truly believed that.
We had a great pregame dinner with our friend Jeremy, who is like a brother to us both, plus my Uncle and cousin, and made our way to the game. Walking those streets before Game 7 was surreal. I ran into Craig Lyndall and gave him a big hug as we were crossing E. 9th and Prospect. But the thing I just could not get over was the insane amount of Cubs fans that had taken over Cleveland. Sure, Games 1 and 2 in particular had a lot of North siders in town as did Game 6, but it was NOTHING like Game 7. I’m guessing it was close to one in every three people inside the park.
The night before was fine because we had great, real Cubs fans by us. For Game 7, it was Poser Central. Every front row seat was inhabited by a “look at me, I’m in the front row” rich, arrogant, obnoxious North Siders. I shouldn’t paint them with this broad of a brush, but the guys in front of me were taking selfies all game, face-timing mid-inning with friends (two of them did it TWICE!), and constantly standing up and turning around to taunt. Up and down getting drinks. Running across to high-five their other friends a few sections over in the front row. Even the Cubs fan next to my brother, a great guy, was complaining to us. Finally, as the Tribe trailed 5-1, the D-bag stood up and turned around for the 95th time and I had enough. I let loose on him. It elicited an ovation from everyone around us, including the other Cub fans. My point was: if you are here to watch the game and root for your team, great. If you are here to drink, take photos, and face time, get the hell out. ITS GAME SEVEN OF THE WORLD EFFING SERIES!
I’ll be honest, in a game of this magnitude, watching on TV may have bee better. The “ticket broker gobbling up of tickets and selling to the highest bidder” world we now live in has cheapened the live stadium experience. I have no doubt that had this been Indians-Dodgers, none of this would have been this way. But with so many people in Chicago with disposable incomes and a short five-and-a-half-hour drive to Cleveland, it made it easy for the Cubs fans to turn Progressive Field into a College Playoff Bowl Game like setting. Every time either team did something good, loud roars occurred.
But I digress.
Jon Lester gets lifted for Aroldis Chapman with two outs and one on in the eighth inning and all I can think about is karma. I had stayed off of Twitter most of the night because I wanted to be in the moment. But I sent out the following tweet:
The only karma left is that this wifebeater blows the save. That’s all I’ve got left.
— T.D. Dery (@TD1TribeKU) November 3, 2016
Brandon Guyer – remember when everyone wanted Carlos Beltran instead? – doubled in Jose Ramirez and we had life again at 6-4. I turned to my brother, nervous as I’ve ever been a said “Rajai….how about a gapper here.” His response: “he’s going deep.”
Rajai Davis is a 35-year old career journeyman outfielder. He’s had a terrific season here as someone who saved the Indians as a regular with the loss of Michael Brantley. His speed has changed many games. He was about to change our lives. In what will forever be one of, it not the greatest moment in modern day Tribe history, Rajai did this:
The ball went over the 19-foot wall in left and I jumped into my brother’s arms, wrapped my legs around him and just yelled “OH MY GOD!!! OH MY GOD!!! OH MY GOD!!! OH MY GOD!!!” at least 20 times. I began to cry. No hyperbole here: Next to the birth of my children, it was the greatest moment of my life. To share that with my brother was magical. It had to be Dad’s handy work up there—I thought and I KNEW we were going to win this game.
After Coco’s single I figured the story was written. Karma for Chapman the domestic abuser and Yan Gomes, who had a brutal injury-plagued season, was going to be the hero. As we all know it didn’t work out that way. The rain-delay killed the Tribe momentum and allowed the Cubs, whose shortstop Addison Russell said were “crying” in the clubhouse, to regroup.
We will always have the Rajai moment. They can never take that away from us.
Like so many of us were and still are. My brother and I hugged Friday morning before he drove back home, and I simply said “We will always have the Rajai moment. They can never take that away from us, and I am so glad we got to share that.”
Sports are not life and death, as I learned back in 2004. They are supposed to be a fun distraction from work, parenting, and all the rest of our stresses in life. But these past 10 days, the Indians were my life. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. It consumed me. It consumed all of us. I’m mentally and physically drained from all of this. Games 6 and 7 in particular were not in any way, shape or form “fun” outside of the Rajai Davis home run.
I received many many texts and tweets from friends and acquaintances over the past 36 hours checking to see how am I. I won’t lie to you: I am not all right. I slept maybe an hour Wednesday night. I was in bed until 4 p.m. on Thursday when my kids got off the bus. I am still having trouble processing this. I’ve gone on a total media blackout. I haven’t watched a single sports TV program, nor I have I listened to sports talk radio. I was back on Twitter Friday morning but that’s about it.
Soon I will be able to look back on this 2016 season and put it into perspective. This was my favorite Indians team of my lifetime. But I am just not ready yet. Just like the ’97 Series, I will never get over this.