CLEVELAND — The look on the each of their faces was the same late Wednesday night as the Cleveland Indians‘ players walked down to the tunnelway and out of Progressive Field.
They were stunned. After all, this was the year the Indians were supposed to finally win their first World Series since 1948.
The Indians had the best record in the American League during the regular season at 102-60. They set the AL record with a 22-game winning streak from Aug. 24-Sept.14, sparking a run of 33 victories in 37 games heading into the postseason.
There was no way the Indians could lose this year after coming so close last season when they fell to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings in Game 7 of the World Series.
The Indians had everything it took to win a title, from a strong starting rotation to a deep bullpen to a versatile lineup to a good bench to one the game’s best managers in Terry Francona.
Yet the Indians’ season came to a halt all too soon when they lost to the New York Yankees 5-2 in Game 5 of the best-of-five American League Division Series. The Indians won the first two games of the series but couldn’t finish it off.
Thus, the Yankees are moving on the American League Championship Series to face the Astros, beginning Friday night at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
For the Indians, it’s wait ’til next year for the 69th consecutive winter on the shores of Lake Erie. They will start all over again March 29 when they open the 2018 against the Mariners at Safeco Field in Seattle.
“We felt good about ourselves,” Francona said. “We came down the stretch playing very good baseball and we did some things in this series that I don’t think were characteristic of our team. We made some errors, kicked the ball around a little bit.
“Sometimes you don’t swing the bat. That’s part of it. But we made it harder to win in some cases, especially the last two games.”
The Indians committed seven errors in the last two games after having the fewest in the AL in the regular season. They also hit just .152 in the last three games while never holding a lead.
However, the most shocking development was the ineffectiveness of AL Cy Young Award favorite Corey Kluber. Didi Gregorius hit a solo home run in the first inning then a two-run shot in the third to put the Yankees ahead 3-0 and the Indians never fully recovered.
Kluber took the loss, allowing three runs in 3.2 innings. That came after he was tagged for six runs in 2.2 innings in Game 2 last Friday but wound up with a no-decision when the Indians rallied for a 9-8 victory in 13 innings at Progressive Field.
Kluber was 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA in 29 regular season starts. He led the AL in earned run average and tied for the league lead in victories.
He was tagged for nine runs in 6.1 innings in his two ALDS starts after giving up just six runs total in his last six regular season starts.
There had been speculation following Game 2 that Kluber was hampered by lower back soreness and Francona confirmed it following Game 5. The same injury sidelined Kluber for almost the entire month of May.
“I think he’s fighting a lot of stuff and I think you also have to respect that guy wants to go out there and he’s our horse,” Francona said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work.”
Nothing worked for the Indians in the last three games against the Yankees and suddenly their season is over sooner than expected.
“It was an honor to go through this year with these guys and there’s time it hurt, like tonight,” Francona said. “But it’s quite a group and I feel like a better person for going through the year with these guys.”