Sunday, October 11, 2009

Walking through the playoffs with ex-Indians

The playoffs are here, and if you are a long-time Indians' fan, you know this is the time that most Tribe followers painfully walk the tightrope of rooting for and against former Indians' players. The fine line of how to support former members of the Indians' organization is always tempered by the fact that by leaving the reservation, this group was able to make it to the promised land.

There are varying degrees in this year's crop of ex-Indians participating in the 2009 playoffs. This list includes Angels utility-ace Maicer Izturis, who was dealt to the Expos while toiling in the Cleveland farm system. There are, of course, two former Cy Young winners, Cliff Lee (Phillies) and CC Sabathia (Yankees), who both were the game one starters for their respective teams. There are even a couple of players who were part of the Indians 1990's renaissance, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, both of the Dodgers.

This diverse lot of players all left the Indians for many different reasons. There are those that left because they wanted more money (see Thome and Ramirez), those that left because they were shadows of their former selves (see Rafael Betancourt, Rockies), and those that left so they could fetch cheaper, inexpensive prospects (Lee, Sabathia, Martinez, Betancourt, Mark DeRosa of the Cardinals and the Dodgers Casey Blake). There are those that just didn't serve a purpose anymore (Carl Pavano of the Twins, Ben Francisco and Chad Durbin of the Phillies, Ronnie Belliard of the Dodgers, Matt Herges of the Rockes and Paul Byrd of the Red Sox). Regardless of the reasons, these players have managed a feat that has become too few and far between for the Tribe faithful: a chance at a World Series.

Nothing more clearly defines this pain than CC Sabathia's performance for the hated Yankees during game one of the ALDS.  He went 6 2/3 innings and allowed two runs (one earned) and eight hits.  No, they aren't Cy Young numbers, but they certainly would have been enough to give the Indians a chance at a World Series in 2007.  You couldn't help but listen to Sabathia's words in the post-game press conference and think back to the '07 implosion.
"We know what we need to do, we know that these are big games, they're always big games in the playoffs, and it just feels good to start it off the right way."
His winning in New York, for whatever reason, seemed to add salt to the already painful playoff wounds here in Cleveland. Sabathia, a Tribe product, who won the Cy Young in 2007, then imploded for the Indians in the playoffs, finds a way to win for the Evil Empire.

Charlie Manuel, in his folky fashion, seemed to apply a few more kicks when discussing his decision to start 2008 AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee in game 1.
"I've been around the game quite a while.  I'm sure (Lee) pitched some big games somewhere along the line. And, if he hasn't, he damn sure has earned the right to pitch one."
Sure, Manuel is a rube, but the dig in that statement is clear, on purpose or not.  Lee acknowledged his lack of big game pitching earlier in the presser for the announcement.
"Last time in '07 with the Indians, I had to be a backup and sit there and watch other guys play," Lee said. "It was fun to be a part of, but also bittersweet in the fact that I didn't get to participate and try to help the team win."
Granted, Lee didn't deserve to play in that series, but that doesn't take away the point that he went from a non-factor in a series that saw the Indians need pitching in the ALCS, to a game one starter for another club two years later.

For some reason, I find myself gravitating to the Dodgers. Perhaps it's Joe Torre, who was essentially banished from the Yankees, trying to show his former club he can win somewhere else. Most likely, it's just sheer Indians' numbers. The Dodgers have four former Indians' players on their roster, and they aren't the Yankees. It's likely that combination of a manager going up against the Evil Empire, and doing it with an unlikely mix of old and not-so-old former Indians as part of his troops. Maybe there's a small part of me that would like to see Jim Thome win a World Series before he retires, even if he did seemingly stab the city of Cleveland in the back.

Who knows...

I may just as likely turn on the Dodgers and apply the Curse of Thome dance. Ahhh, the life of and Indians' fan.

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