The city of Cleveland is having an identity crisis.
Once known as the Mistake on the Lake, the city is now in search for a new moniker. Following in the footsteps of the Cleveland Cavaliers just four months prior, the Cleveland Indians are just three wins away from bringing another title to the formerly beleaguered city.
That’s right. For the first time since 1997, the Indians are in the World Series. And, armed with a never-say-die attitude, a city that believes in them and some dominant pitching, the team has a legitimate shot at ending a 68 year championship drought.
The road to October wasn’t easy. The Indians suffered injuries to star outfielder Michael Brantley, catcher Yan Gomes and starting pitchers Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. And yet, somehow they found a way to capture the American League (AL) Central title without suffering a losing streak longer than three games.
As the playoffs approached, only the most diehard of Indians fans thought the season would not end soon. Even the beat writer in the local paper wrote them off. People seemed to think that there was no way a team with no superstars, only three healthy starting pitchers, and an outfield built on platoons could survive a five game series.
And yet here we are, with the Indians just a few wins away from bringing the city another trophy.
In the AL Division Series, the Indians swept the Boston Red Sox in just three games, putting an end to David Ortiz’s final season. It was then that they cemented their plan for post-season success. The plan in question? Get an early lead, have the starter keep the team in the game and bring in sensational relief pitchers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to shut the door.
Against the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL Championship Series, that plan was tested yet again. During Game 3, Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer had to leave the game in the first inning after a cut on his finger started bleeding everywhere. The bullpen worked eight and one-third innings in an all-hands-on-deck victory.
The Indians defeated the Blue Jays four games to one in the series, and Miller was named Most Valuable Player. He was the definition of dominant, not allowing a run in seven and two-thirds innings while striking out 14 of the 25 batters he faced.
In the World Series, the Indians are facing the only other team with a longer championship drought, the Chicago Cubs. Cubs fans have waited 108 years for a title and feel like this could finally be their year. The team’s 103-58 record was the best in baseball and the most wins of any team since 2009.
Despite being underdogs yet again, the Indians took Game 1 on Tuesday night in what turned out to be a monumental day for Cleveland sports. Just an hour before first pitch, the Cavaliers received their championship rings after raising the championship banner to the rafters of the Quicken Loans Arena. Next door, the Indians were 6-0 winners over the Cubs, using the same plan that got them this far. And in between the two, thousands of Clevelanders watched the baseball game on giant screens set up in the Gateway Plaza.
Though not as loud as the 38,091 people packed inside Progressive Field, the crowd outside was just as euphoric. After a Roberto Perez three-run home run basically sealed the victory, the crowd erupted as friends and strangers alike yelled, high-fived and hugged.
That celebration was non-existent on Wednesday night after the Cubs evened the series by winning Game 2, 5-1. The Indians could not solve Cubs’ starter Jake Arrieta. He limited their offense to one run in five and two-thirds innings and had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning. The next three games take place in Chicago for three consecutive days, starting tonight with Game 3. Progressive Field will host watch parties for all three away contests.
Despite this setback, if the Indians win the World Series, the celebration will be 10 to 100 times greater than the one after Game 1. It won’t be easy since the Cubs were the best team in baseball this season. But nothing has been easy for Cleveland. As LeBron James said when he returned to the Cavaliers, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned.”