The Pink Elephant in the Room
Let’s just get this out of the way now and forever more.
Food didn’t have any taste this week.
Sleep was hard to come by and it was fleeting when it did come.
You wrap yourself up in a team and in a season and within 72 hours you go from hope to despair. There are no in-betweens. And so it was this past week in regard to the 2007 Cleveland Indians.
The dreams of the Indians and their fans came crashing down last Sunday night in Fenway Park amid a series of mistakes and poor performances that resulted in a 3-1 series lead disappearing into the reality that next season is about 5 months away. At press time the Boston Red Sox were leading the Colorado Rockies 3-0 in their best of seven World Series battle.
As Portland, Oregon resident, Tribe fan and faithful www.theclevelandfan.com reader Joe Barrett succinctly said in an email to me:
“So I looked up the 5 stages of grief, right:1. Denial and Isolation 2. Anger 3. Bargaining 4. Depression 5. Acceptance ...and I've been through all of the first 4 ever since Saturday's Game 6, really…and I guess that's what makes sports so exciting in the end. It's just that this loss was the absolute most gut-wrenching sports event for me outside of the '97 Series. This one is close, because I really, truly believed as a baseball fan and not just a Tribe fan, that this team was different. That when up 3-1 they would have the killer instinct to get it done in, at most, 6 games, given the pressure cookers they'd been through in Yankee Stadium, and in Game 2 at Fenway.
So in the end, this is one that at least temporarily causes me to re-evaluate the importance of sports in my life.”
Joe hasn’t yet made it to stage 5, ’Acceptance’ yet. I’m not too proud to say I haven’t either. I’m solidly stuck in ‘Depression’.
When Casey Blake flew out to deep center field Sunday night my TV immediately was darkened. I couldn’t watch the Red Sox celebrate, I couldn’t watch the ESPN talking heads wax on about the Red Sox poise, fire and determination and I couldn’t read about it or listen to talk radio the following few days.
It’s horribly disappointing. But I liken it to a good time out with good friends at a local winery that doubles as a fabulous restaurant. Of course, a lot of wine is involved. You have a great time and make some great memories, hitting a couple wineries and singing drunkenly along with a father-daughter act at one place during the evening, but before you know it the night is over. And after throwing up wine and veal scallopini into the map holder on the car door and all over the rest of the vehicle, you wake up on your bathroom floor after getting sick a dozen more times there, and you swear on your life you’ll never take another drink.
Well, this Indians season was a lot like that purely hypothetical trip to an Ashtabula county winery. Great times, great memories but a sick, empty feeling at the end that has you swearing off ever tying up your emotions with them again. However, much as I (or Joe from Oregon) swear off ever getting caught up in it again, I know we’ll both back be right back at it next season should the opportunity arise again.
Right now I still can’t look back at it without anything other than disappointment. But that’s slowly giving way. My focus at this point has quickly become defending the core of players that many are accusing of ‘choking’.
I find that argument to be ridiculous. Now, maybe I have a narrow definition of the word, but I believe choking is failing in a situation where you’re expected to excel. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting CC Sabathia to roll through a Boston lineup he’s historically had problems with. Nor did I expect him to outperform Josh Beckett, a pitcher who has become this generation’s best big-game pitcher.
I wasn’t expecting Travis Hafner to erase what was, for him, a poor year by suddenly getting hot against the pitching rich Sox or turning around a Jonathan Papelbon fastball in the late innings of Game 7. I wasn’t expecting Grady Sizemore to suddenly become a contact hitter who was immune to striking out. I never expected Asdrubal Cabrera or Franklin Gutierrez to lead this team to a world title as inexperienced players or rookies. I didn’t think Fausto Carmona would ‘out-poise’ and out pitch a veteran like Curt Schilling when a year ago Carmona was 1-10 and fighting for his professional career.
I may have hoped for all of those things at one point during the series. But to say I expected any of them would be a complete lie.
I don’t think the Indians choked. I think a better, more experienced team outplayed them for 3 games on a stage where most of the Tribe players had never before performed and beat them. There’s no shame in that if you learn something. Hopefully they did at least that.
Let the healing begin.
Taking Away the Sting
Don’t look now. Don’t breathe and don’t make any sudden movements or noises. There’s something going on in Berea and on various NFL fields every Sunday that we shouldn’t call attention to lest the rest of the league wake up and pay attention.
But the Browns are on a roll.
4-3 on the season and winners of two straight games for the first time since 2003, the Browns are suddenly in the middle of a crowded AFC Wild Card picture and are playing exciting offensive football.
Cleveland walked into the Edwards Jones Dome on Sunday and left a few hours later with a 27-20 win over a pathetic St. Louis squad.
The Browns did extend their bye week until about 130pm local time as they spotted the Rams a 14-0 lead. Stephen Jackson had success early and often and the Browns woeful defensive line got pushed around the field again in the first quarter of this game. But Jackson left the game before halftime with a back injury and replacement Brian Leonard is nowhere near the all-around threat that Jackson is. With Jackson gone, the defense was able to give more attention to getting up the field against Marc Bulger and Gus Frerotte with little fear of a Rams running back exploiting that approach.
The offense continues to evolve nicely. Derek Anderson played a near-perfect game at QB and Braylon Edwards climbed a few more rungs up the ladder in regard to elite NFL receivers. Anderson was 18/25 for 248yds and no interceptions. 117yds and two of those touchdowns went through Edwards. Kellen Winslow Jr. hauled in the other TD pass via a beautiful catch and throw on a seam route. Jamal Lewis ran hard and effectively and was spelled nicely by Jason Wright.
Anderson deserves a ton of credit. He looks calm and poised in the pocket and is making his progressions and reads while still getting rid of the ball quickly. In other words, he looks a lot like a very proficient NFL QB at the present time and his offense is following his lead and developing into a unit that is difficult to prepare for on any given week.
This is a football town before all else. If the Browns can take care of business next Sunday in a 4pm tilt with the Seahawks at Cleveland Browns Stadium, this town is going to more easily forget the lingering pain of the Indians falling down a week ago. This Cleveland Browns team is still a squad that can be beaten by anybody on any given week. Hopefully they understand this and don’t get too caught up in the progress they’re making.
And I’m not going to lie. I’d get a tremendous kick out of seeing Matt Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace go down with a minor injury just to see Charlie Frye hang onto the ball for 8 seconds per play in a relief appearance.
Have I mentioned in this space that this is a rebuilding year for the Ohio State Buckeyes?
Don’t tell that to the Nittany Lions of Penn State. They were steamrolled in Happy Valley on Saturday night by a Buckeye club that seems hell bent on proving they are, and remain, one of the elite college football programs in the country.
Penn State scored an easy TD after an initial OSU field goal to take a 7-3 lead in front of 110,000 PSU loud and hopeful fans and seemed poised for an upset. But the Buckeyes ran off 21 straight points to take command and ultimately put this one away early. The Buckeyes, at one point, led Penn State by a 37-10 score in the 4th quarter and there was noticeably less noise to deal with. A late kickoff return for a TD by PSU gave their fans a thrill and gave Buckeyes Head Coach Jim Tressel something to scream about during this week leading up to Saturday’s dangerous game with Wisconsin in the ‘Shoe.
Ohio State rolled up 453 total yards of offense and converted 12/16 3rd down opportunities. They did so with a balanced attack that netted 253yds passing and an even 200yds on the ground. Buckeye QB Todd Boeckman threw for all those yards and for 3 TDs and sophomore running back Chris Wells continued to improve and excel as he ate up 133yds on the ground.
This Buckeye team continues to mold its own identity and distance itself from comparisons to the 2002 national championship team as well as last year’s squad that lost the national title game. This year’s version of the OSU club is as dominant defensively as the 2002 team and may end up being more explosive offensively than last year’s team. Going into the season with an inexperienced QB, most folks expected Tressel to scale things back offensively and rely on ball control and defense to compete. But something odd happened along the way. Much like Derek Anderson and the Browns, Boeckman and the Buckeye offense has shown explosiveness and an ability to score quickly that most of us did not expect to see.
This has been a strange year in college football, to say the least. Top ranked teams are seemingly losing every week and no team is immune. Ohio State is no different. A glance ahead at the Michigan game that looms in 3 weeks could cost OSU dearly against either Wisconsin or Illinois in two weeks. Both those games are at home, which helps. But Tressel is sure to extol the virtues of concentrating on the task at hand this week against the Badgers.
Running the table against the best the Big 10 has to offer over the last four weeks of the season would surely earn back some of the credibility the Buckeyes lost last year in Phoenix. One of those is in the bank and the last three will not be easy. But if Ohio State can get to the Michigan game unscathed you’d have to consider this season as perhaps Tressel’s finest hour as the Buckeyes head coach.
I’d love to see Ohio State back in the BCS Championship Game. If for no other reason than to hear the SEC faithful whine like little girls.