Cleveland — The stinging loss still too fresh to process, outfielder Michael Brantley worked his way around the solemn, shocked clubhouse and hugged some new Indians teammates and ones he’s played with for years.
The emotion was raw, not like in 2016, when broken hearts were filled with pride following an extra-inning loss in Game 7 of the World Series.
It hurt more this time.
Josh Tomlin’s eyes welled with tears as he searched for words to explain what had happened. None ever came.
October, the month when championships are seized or squandered, was callous to Cleveland once more.
“I’m not really sure how you get over something like this,” Tomlin said after the Indians were pitched from the postseason with a 5-2 loss to the New York Yankees on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the AL Division Series. “I’m not really sure I’m over last year, either. The only way to get over something like this is to go out there and win, and that’s not what happened.”
What happened was the Indians didn’t hit, didn’t pitch and, like last year, didn’t deliver a knockout punch while giving up a two-game lead in the postseason. It’s an unforgiveable sin, and sadly, one Cleveland teams have repeated. Since 1999, the Indians are 3-17 in series-clinching games, an unconscionable record in the most consequential month. In the past two years, Cleveland has lost six consecutive games — three with a chance to win their first Series since 1948, and now three to the Yankees — with a chance to close out a series and is 2-8 in those games under manager Terry Francona.
It’s somewhat unfair to label a team this successful as chokers, but they’ve done nothing to dispel that tag.
The Yankees and Houston Astros start their series tonight.
“It’s baseball,” said Brantley, whose personal comeback season was disrupted by another injury. “Nothing matters after the regular season is over. The goal is to win three games. We came up short. They’re a great team over there. We’ve got to give credit where credit’s due. They beat us. We just need to make sure we come back stronger, mentally, physically and just prepare to get back in this situation again.”
Nothing is guaranteed. Nothing is promised.
The Indians won 102 games in the regular season, strung together the AL’s longest winning streak in 116 years and entered the postseason as the league’s top seed in a four-week tournament where the madness can match anything that happens in March.
The postseason will go without them.
“It absolutely stinks,” closer Cody Allen.
The sudden exit was quickly followed by questions about Corey Kluber’s health. An 18-game winner, the expected Cy Young winner and the AL’s best pitcher from April through September, Kluber was ordinary in October. Actually, he wasn’t that good.
Kluber didn’t get the past the fourth inning in either start against the Yankees, and after downplaying the idea that the right-hander’s tricky back might be bothering him again, Francona said the ace was “fighting a lot” on the mound.
In hindsight, Francona’s decision not to start Kluber in Game 1 might have been a warning sign. Francona’s explanation at the time was he wanted Kluber in case there was a Game 5, but that reasoning went against everything the revered manager had preached all season, evoking his “win today” mantra ad nauseum.
But while Francona may be getting second-guessed, the bottom line is that Cleveland’s best players didn’t delivers.
Kluber posted a 12.79 ERA and gave up four homers in 6.1 innings. All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and MVP candidate Jose went a combined 4-for-38 in the series, often flailing at pitches out of the zone. Jason Kipnis didn’t hit, Edwin Encarnacion missed games with a sprained ankle and no one else stepped up.
Houston vs. New York
Today: New York (Tanaka 13-12) at Houston (Keuchel 14-5), 8:08, FS1
Saturday: New York (Severino 14-6) at Houston (Verlander 15-8), 4:08, Fox
Monday: at N.Y., 8:08, FS1
Tuesday: at N.Y., Fox or FS1
x-Wednesday: at N.Y., Fox or FS1
x-Friday, Oct. 20: at Houston, Fox or FS1
x-Saturday, Oct. 21: at Houston, Fox or FS1
x-if necessary; times after Game 3 TBD