No more magic number…
The Cleveland Indians officially won the 2007 Central Division Championship on Sunday, beating the Oakland A’s 6-2 before a sellout crowd, their last home game of the regular season. It was the first time since 2001 that the Indians have won the title. And there was much rejoicing in Cleveland.
Raising the championship banner was C.C. Sabathia, who was a rookie sensation when the Tribe last raised the flag. While C.C. has waited a long time to pitch again in the post-season, many of his teammates have never sniffed meaningful October baseball, and still more are rookies or young enough to think this will happen every year. Don’t count Paul Byrd among that group. He has seen his share of baseball, and had this to say about the 2007 Indians-
“Everybody chipped in. I’ve never been on a team where everybody has been included in the victories as much as we have.” -Indians Pitcher Paul Byrd
So the champagne sprayed, and the team screamed and danced. They earned the right to celebrate. They played a long, difficult season with its share of unusual circumstances- like a snowed out opening series, of which they still have a game to make up. There was the ‘home’ series played in Milwaukee. The come from behind wins. And perhaps the one thing that might define this team, their near perfect recovery from a prolonged tailspin that saw them lose 14 out of 21 games.
Victor Martinez was handed the mic during the post-game festivities, and he thanked the fans and stated that these fans deserved this. While I was not one of the fans in attendance today, I believe I am one of the fans he meant. I would say to Victor, that the players deserved this one. We were along for the ride.
Now, I don’t want to be negative before the last of the bubbly is washed away from the clubhouse, and the A.L. Central Champs shirts are folded and priced at Dick’s Sporting Goods. But I have a question for the fans out there. If this is the only celebration, is it a successful season to you?
I have to say, that I have been through a few of these now. Not just for the Tribe, but mostly for them. We’ve bought Big Ten Championship shirts. Partied at the Q. Gone crazy at the flats with our A.L. Champions sweatshirts, faces painted like Chief Wahoo himself (o.k. maybe that last one was just me.) We started making flight arrangements when the Browns were 2 minutes from the Super Bowl. But aside from the Buckeyes in 2002, we haven’t tasted ultimate victory.
In basketball and football there almost seems to be a play-off learning curve. You just don’t expect a team that is in the post-season for the first time in a long time to win it all. In the NBA the game is much more physical and defensive. It takes teams a few years of learning how to play that game before they are successful. Perhaps that was the most unique thing about the Warriors run this past year. Ask the Cavaliers about learning to win in the post-season. Fortunately, almost half of the teams qualify for the tournament, and so it doesn’t seem as daunting to make it back the next year.
In the NFL if you have the talent to make it to the Championship level you usually will. But even there, teams like the Colts have to come close before they eventually push through and become champions. Was it really a surprise when many “experts’ predicted a Saints/Patriots Super Bowl this year? They were the runners-up in their respective conferences last year. I remember the Browns being regarded as Super Bowl favorites the years after two AFC Championship game losses.
But in baseball, it seems that you have to strike when the iron is hot. You have to take advantage of every post-season opportunity. Take a look at the Atlanta Braves. With the club they had in 1995 would you predict that they would make the playoffs every year for the next 10 seasons, but not win another Championship? On the other hand, look at the Marlins. They have qualified for post-season baseball twice in their existence. Both times that made the best of that opportunity and won it all. Arizona has made it to the show 3 times, and has a World Series trophy to show for it. Ask Detroit about the subject. They have mad it to the playoffs 3 times since the ’70s. They won it in ’84. Ask them if they expected to be back for another chance this year.
I know that I’ll get ripped in the comments. And you have to understand that I’m truly excited that the Indians won the division, and to be honest with you, this team has that certain mark about them. They seem like they are built for a run. They look to be peaking at the right time. They definitely have the pitching. I believe they can win. But if they don’t spray more champagne when it’s all over, do you like the chances of coming back next year? Nothing is a certainty. And I wonder what another championship loss this year would do to the psyche of Cleveland sports fans? Well, never mind you, I’d be a basket case.