HOUSTON – The Indians have not been swept in a postseason series since Willie Mays and the New York Giants won four straight in the 1954 World Series. It’s taken 64 years, but they are at that place again.
The stakes aren’t as high. The Indians, following Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Game 2 of the ALDS, need to beat Houston in three straight games to advance to the ALCS. Then they’d have to win that best-of-seven series to reach the World Series.
When Mays broke Cleveland’s heart with his over-the-shoulder catch against Vic Wertz in World Series opener on Sept. 29, 1954, there was no ALDS or ALCS. The Indians won a franchise record 111 games in the regular season and went straight to the Fall Classic only to be derailed in a sweep that still echoes in Cleveland.
The 2018 Indians won 91 games in a lackluster AL Central Division and have been thoroughly out-pitched and out-hit in the first two games of the ALDS by the defending World Series champion. They lost the first two games by a combined score of 10-3, but it seems like 30-3.
Justin Verlander muted their bats in Game 1 on Friday. Gerrit Cole was even better in Game 2 on Saturday. They Indians’ offense has gone 6-for-60 (.100) in the first two games. Their only run Saturday came on Francisco Lindor’s home run.
In Friday’s 7-2 loss, the Indians couldn’t even muster a RBI hit. Yan Gomes scored on a wild pitch and Lindor scored on a ground out by Jose Ramirez.
Asked if his team has been done in by small mistakes, manager Terry Francona said, “I don’t know that there’s anything small in games like this. Part of why they’re good is that they always push. The continue to push. And they put heat on you all the time.”
All the Astros seem to do is hit big home runs. They hit four in Game 1 – three against ace Corey Kluber – and one in Game 2. Alex Bregman, who is playing like Ramirez played in the first 4 1/2 months of the season, hit his second homer of the series on Saturday to complete a 3-1 win. Ramirez, by the way, is 0-for-7 in the ALDS. That makes him 2-for-27 over the last two years in this best-of-five series.
The Indians have struck out 24 times in two games and now they’re going home for Game 3. Mike Clevinger will face Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel in what could be the last game where promise was always better than what was delivered.
Francona has been on both sides of the equation as a manager. In 2004, his Red Sox were down 3-0 in the ALCS to the Yankees and won four straight. Last year, his Indians were up 2-0 against the Yankees in the ALDS and lost three straight.
“We just need to find a way to win on Monday,” he said. “I’m guessing that Houston will enjoy its off-day more than we will.”
Said Lindor, “They’ve got to win three games and so do we. We’ve got to win three in a row. It’s possible to win three in a row. We’ll just focus on the one game on Monday.”
The problem is this is the first time the Indians have been put in a corner all year. This is the first time they’ve actually had to play for something. And to think they can win three straight against the Astros is a stretch.
They are not a good late-inning team, especially with their bullpen in a state of flux. They had seven walk-off wins during the regular season, but they lost 13 games in walk-off fashion. The Twins were the only team with more such losses.
The arms they road to Game 7 of the World Series in 2016 and to 102 wins in 2017, look tired. Carlos Carrasco pitched well in Saturday’s start, but when Andrew Miller relieved him in the sixth, he turned a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 loss on his second pitch.
“I blew the game for us,” said Miller.
And the Astros pitching has made it look worse than it is.
“They locate. They locate. They execute,” said Lindor, of Houston’s pitching staff. “They’ve done a very, very good job.”
Lindor pointed to the Astros’ two-run rally in the sixth that erased the Tribe’s 1-0 lead. It started when Jose Altuve sent a roller to third, slipped coming out of the box and beat Josh Donaldson’s offline throw to first. Donaldson said he normally would have let the ball go foul, but thought he had a good chance to get Altuve for the first out of the inning. Altuve and Bregman ended up scoring on the two-run double Miller gave up to Marwin Gonzalez.
“Altuve started a rally with a ground ball to third base,” said Lindor. “We haven’t had any of those. We’ll be fine.”
Fine? Maybe Lindor was talking about next year. Right now, winter is calling, and the wrong kind of sweep is near.