Growing up, your world is small. As you get older, it gets bigger, but you lose the innocence that comes with a certain amount of ignorance about the ways of the world. You don't understand any level of perspective that isn't your own, because you have very few points of reference. Those people with the funny accents that come to Cleveland Stadium, just to root for the Yankees, are bad people. In fact, it's difficult to understand why people in Pittsburgh like the Steelers so much, and why their parents raised them to be so awful. So life comes at you, and you come around; you are supposed to cope with the fact that Cleveland is not actually the center of the universe in any way, shape, or form. In some places, the Cleveland Indians are the "bad guys" and that maybe you are looked up in a negative light for liking them, and hoping they made some other kids' "good guys" lose.
Granted, Cleveland was more like the bad guy in a typical hero movie, being easily defeatable for the most part, but that isn't the point. As your world becomes larger, you're standing on the yellow footprints at Parris Island with your new peers in this larger world, and some of those peers might seen the Yankees, or even the Steelers as the good guys. Real life ends up not being like the movies, where it's so clear who you're supposed to support. Generally, you know who the good guy is, because he's the focal point of the story, with some exceptions.
The Karate Kid was no exception. The fish-out-of-water Jersey kid trying to make it in the superficial San Fernando Valley area is quite obviously the underdog that we were all supposed to get behind. With no trust fund and no game, he had no chance at getting the girl. With only the unconvention training methods of his building's maintanance man and limited physical tools, he couldn't possibly win the All-Valley Karate Tournament. Eventually, those worlds collided for young Daniel LaRussa, and taking down John Kreese's star pupil at the Cobra Kai Dojo became imperative to the entire space-time continueum. Simply put, Daniel represented the Indians and the martial artists from Cobra Kai were the rest of the American League, with Johnny Lawrence being a composite of Jeremiah Castille, Edgar Renteria, AJ Pierszynski, and the jerk who is dating the girl of your dreams.
Of course, Cleveland and Detroit are separated by just a few more miles than Encino and Reseda, but the story remains the same. Terms like "good guys" and "bad guys" are relative, unlike the Old West, where the bad guys would make their decree against good and normalcy by putting on a black hat. And, there's something to that, I always thought the Chicago White Sox started breaking bad when they abadoned the white, red, and blue softball look of the 80s for the more south-side suitable black caps and stirrups. Fittingly, it was Johnny and the Cobra Kai who donned the black "bad guy" colors, not only on the mat, but also in their skeleton costumes at Halloween.
The Tigers aren't so blatant about things, a little orange instead of red on the uniform and some deeper pockets in the present-day, but a team from the old American League East that plays in front of fans trying to survive a struggling economy just the same. If Detroit weren't located in Michigan, aka "the wrong side of the tracks", we might even like them. Johnny and Daniel mostly wanted the same things out of life, but God only created one Ali with an "I" and the powers-that-be at the All-Valley Karate Championship only issued one 1st place trophy. We like Daniel because we were familiar with him, and we like the Indians because we come from a better place than Tigers fans.
If you tell the story from Johnny Lawrence's point of view, you might label him "The Karate Kid", as Neil Patrick Harris's Barney Stinson did on a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother. Think about it, he had an in with Ali, played by Elisabeth Shue, who was basically a good fit, coming from Country-Clubbing, Trust-Funded, High-Society type of stock and when it came to Karate, he was the best around. After what was anything but a cruel summer, he encounters his antagonist, some scrawny runt from Reseda, who had a borderline creepy friendship going with some Japanese handyman. He's dealing with the pressure of doing right by his sensai, in not taking any crap from this little tumor from New Jersey, or east coast state puked him into the slums of Northwest L.A. For William Zabka, the actor who played Lawrence, getting bested by the million-to-one underdog was sort of his calling card. In Back to School, it was the same thing for Zabka, with the LaRussa character being potrayed by the tag team of Rodney Dangerfield and his loser son. Film was always cruel to Zabka's characters, which makes you think, shouldn't someone besides a grown-up Doogie Howser MD root for the Johnnys of the world?
This is the Cobra Kai spin on what's happening in a big American League Central showdown this week.
This Tigers team was not built to be swept in the World Series. Two American League pennants, with no rings, do not define us. Jimmy Leyland expects better. In fact, he demands it. While Terry Francona rides around Ohio, or whatever that place is called, on his little red Vespa, Leyland is inhaling a full pack of non-filtered Pall Malls, and that's just between brushing and flossing. He'd give both his lungs and his esophagus to get the great Mickey Illitch a World Series before the kids pull the plug on him, just as he'd expect Max Scherzer to give up his blue eye if the situation called for it.
Their eye is not on the World Series, but the trophy that comes from winning it. Don't think for one second that, as the Giants celebrated on Leyland's turf in Detroit last October, car windows weren't broken in the parking lot outside Comerica Park with American League championship trophies. He had his Johnny Lawrence in Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, and Mr Illitch even sweetened the deal, bringing in Prince Fielder should there be any need to "sweep the leg". When that didn't work, David Dombrowski brought in Torii Hunter, mostly to yell "Get him a body bag" whenever Cheech & Chong Perez blows a save.
We try not to get to excited about the happenings of our good guys or their bad guys until the picture becomes more clear. A year ago, it appeared the Indians were going to be the biggest face of evil, especially on that disasterous night in late July that could have changed everything.
Everything that is good in the world was taking shape, Verlander on the hill with a 3-1 lead, just in cruise-control towards his 12th victory of the year. The Indians were 49-49, at the risk of being drop-kicked into being sellers at the looming trade deadline. That probably meant no more Justin Masterson or Chris Perez, immediately making the Kansas City Royals the most imminent threat and that wasn't very threatening at all. Well, Cleveland stuck it to all of us, most especially our brilliant reigning Cy Young winner, for five runs in the 7th. One minute, you're easy like a Sunday morning, the next, you're watching Jose Lopez score the go-ahead run. Suddenly, you're looking up in the standings at Chicago with Cleveland nipping at your heels. It wasn't a good problem to have, but it wasn't the end of the world, as devastating as it felt at the time. Remember, we went to the World Series; Manny Acta would quit on the Indians about three weeks later.
On Monday, in Cleveland, the shoe found itself on the other foot. How Cleveland is still in the hunt is beyond me. Nick Swisher, probably their best player, is hitting about .240, while their ace, Ubaldo Jimenez must have left his Cy Young caliber arm in Denver. Terry Francona has a few World Series rings, but the Indians don't have anything that resembles Curt Schilling or David Ortiz. Yet, here they sat on the morning of August 5th, at 62-49, just three games behind our almighty Tigers.
Even though the game was in Cleveland, aka Comerica Southeast, the Tigres has Sanchez going up against Corey Kluber, who sounds more like a Die Hard villain than a pitcher. Frankly, Kluber is the blind squirrel in the Cleveland rotation that seems to find his nut, at 7-5 with quality starts pasted throughout the 2013 season. Due to Sanchez's absolute dominance over right-handed hitters, Francona put together a collection of the most left-handed hitting able-bodied Clevelanders to take same swings against the former Florida Marlin; Drew Stubbs was the lone exception, and he struck out twice in 3 at-bats and made an error in right field.
While Tigers couldn't manage to drop Kluber off a building, Sanchez was dealing on Monday, striking out 11 Cleveland hitters. They managed to manufacture a run in the second, and another in the fourth, and it could have been worse. Austin Jackson made a play on a drive by Lonnie Chisenhall, that was easily the finest display of defense that the folks in Cleveland have ever seen, if you don't count the firefighters who routinely stop the rivers from burning.
Leyland gave Hannibal the rest of the night off, putting it on Phil Coke to stop the damage after Sanchez walked Nick Swisher, the guy hitting .244. Jason Kipnis, the same Kipnis who made a cameo in the All-Star Game for Leyland's AL squad, was the only hitter Coke faced, and he squeaked a single up the middle. Al Albuquerque ended the Cleveland threat, and the sounds bong water bubbling in the right-center field bullpen came to a halt, meaning the Tigers would take their hacks at Chris Perez in the ninth, trailing 2-0.
Since the Indians were fortunate enough to retire Miggy to end the eighth, Prince Fielder would get the party started for us, and the bats finally woke up. Victor Martinez, back on the patch of grass that he was stuck playing on for the better part of his career went the other way with an 0-2 pitch to make it 2-1. Andy Dirks worked a five-pitch walk, and Alex Avila put the Indians and their Michael Phelps-wannabe closer in their place by putting a pitch that looked like a fastball, but felt like something off-speed, into Progressive Field's left-field bleachers.
4-2 Tigers; that was enough. Cleveland just didn't have the heart on a night that separated the pretenders from the real contenders.
Okay, enough of that; let's get away from that 8 Miles of drivel, and back to reality. It sure felt like Monday might have been the turning point in the season, and the Tribe took a wrong turn. How much does a single back-breaking loss or miraculous victory shape the rest of the season? I'm all about "setting the tone", but that only goes so far. This felt like one of those defeats that will probably suck the life out of a team and its fans, but it doesn't have to be like that. The July 26th game, the one with the 5-run 7th inning referenced in my over-the-top Cobra Kai/Detroit pointof view, should have sunk the Tigers for the rest of the year. In turn, you would have thought it would catapault the Indians towards a respectable stretch run. The manager of the team that lost the game was manager in the World Series 3 months later, the winning team's skipper is now a studio analyst for ESPN, so don't let one night tell the tale. From July 26th to September 30th, the Indians went from 3 games off the Tigers pace to finishing 19 games out.
That doesn't mean that I don't believe in a little bit of pessimism when the shoe fits. I really don't recall how much I believed in these Indians, specifically their post-season hopes, during Corey Kluber's well-deserved standing ovation as he exited after an outstanding performance, but however half-full the glass was, it shattered in unison with the Indians bullpen on Monday. Even if all else is well, it might be safe to say that the Bullpen Mafia has been whacked. It happens; Jose Valverde was unstoppable in 2011, going 49-of-49 in Save opportunity, slipping to 35-of-40 a season ago, and to the couch before a failed experiement this year in Detroit.
There's only six games left with Detroit, and you have to think the Indians must-win at least four to have a fighting chance at the division crown, given the simplicity of the Tigers home stretch of opponents. Over the weekend, I stated that they need to go 5-2 in these final 7 contests with the Tigers, which would put them on a level playing surface for a race to the finish line against inferior opponents.
I'm not going to say there's anything anonymous about the Tigers September slate of games, but can you name another dojo or fighter in the All-Valley, aside from the Cobra Kai crew and Daniel LaRussa?
Stay tuned, THE CLEVELAND INDIANS ARE GOING TO FIGHT.