For a time, he was just the New York Yankee that walked into McLaren's and put Barney Stinson's perfect week in jeopardy on How I Met Your Mother. Then, he was the guy who ended Cody Allen's career-starting scoreless streak, spoiling the only game I managed to attend at Progressive Field in 2012. Come winter, he was the target of a "dog and pony show" free agent pitch, one that tried to appeal the inner-Buckeye in the former Yankee. While I wasn't a fan of the measures taken by management to secure his services, in the end, I was glad Nick Swisher was a Cleveland Indian.
Swisher's attitude in the clubhouse really shaped a new beginning for the Indians, under manager Terry Francona. He wasn't the only one; Jason Giambi and Michael Bourn provided that veteran leadership, while Mike Aviles, Justin Masterson, and Rich Hill aren't strangers to the former Red Sox manager's methods. Out in Goodyear, every time you saw Nick, he had a big smile on his face, even more than you'd expect from an expecting father; in a few words, Nick Swisher is the poster child for loving life. Unfortunately for Nick, the Tribe wasn't paying him $48 million over four years to simply enjoy life.
To be fair, Swisher has dealt with a lingering shoulder injury that hindered his production at the plate. Because of his new role, going from a role player in pinstripes to a team leader in Cleveland, he couldn't go on the shelf right away, so he played through it and didn't make it a public issue until everyone could see that something was obviously wrong. So, you had a guy coming off one of the best year's of his career, batting .268 with 105 HRs in 4 years in the Bronx, that really struggled out of the gate. After a loss to the Nationals on June 15th, he sat for about a week, with a .237 average and 7 bombs thru 61 games. Take away an outstanding weekend in Houston in April, and he's batting .225 in mid-June; not exactly what Francona had in mind for a "power hitter".
Things had not gotten much better thru Labor Day, and Swisher was carrying that .237 number into a playoff race, after his team took 2 or 3 from the Orioles in early September. Now, if you throw out the baseball, and why would you want to do that, Nick had been good for this team and the community, as evidenced by the BRO-hio campaign that everybody either loves or hates, with no in-between. And, it's not that Nick and his wife (Joanna Garcia) are under-appreciated, I'd say they are not, but everyone needs to see the results on the field. Otherwise, the dissenters are going to blame everything off-the-field for under-performing expectations on it. I feared that it was just the pinstripes, especially with what Travis Hafner, then Mark Reynolds, were able to do while wearing them. Speaking of New York, the Mets came to town the next weekend.
Now, there's a Saturday Night Live sketch from 2006, not a great one by any means, that featured a lot of misfits on a prom committee. Zach Braff, the host of that particular episode, played a character who wanted to do a Garden State theme, but it was Fred Armisen that came up with "Remember the Night We Mets". As you can guess, it was inspired by his beloved Metropolitans, who play their home games in Queens.
"Alright. So.. I LOVE the Mets! But every time I suggest a Mets-themed prom, you guys look at me like I'm CRAZY!! Well, here I go -- final effort: let's do a Mets prom! Blue and orange streamers, hot dogs! My uncle knows Mookie Wilson -- he can come! Therefore, my theme is: "Remember the Night We Mets?... Thank you. "
So, forget about Armisen and the rest of the not-ready-for-primetime-players. That weekend series with the Mets was the turning point for Swisher, who had come up with some big hits in certain spots, mostly against the White Sox, but this began a nice stretch of consistency. On Friday night, he went 2-for-5 with a grand slam off David Aardsma in the eighth inning that put the Tribe up 8-1. On Saturday, he kept his proverbial foot on their proverbial throats, bringing Michael Brantley home with an RBI double in the bottom of the first, then adding an insurance run in the sixth on a solo home run that made it 6-1 in a game the Tribe won 9-4. They'd lose the Sunday matinee, so no sweep, but Swisher went 1-for-3, and his hit was a lead-off single, though he was stranded after getting to second base with nobody out in the home-half of the fourth inning.
In all, he hit .417 in that series and his overall average has soared to .251. He recorded a base-knock in all three games of that series, and in 9-of-10 games since, including Thursday night's 4-hit affair against Houston. The Indians are 9-4 since the Mets stepped off the plane in Cleveland, and now trail Texas and Tampa Bay by half-a-game each in the Wild Card race. Of course, football season has started on the North Coast, so not a lot of people have noticed, but even still, those who are paying attention to the Tribe have been rewarded with meaningful September baseball.
The other day, I was going through my audio files, and came across my Swisher sound-byte from Scottsdale on March 5th. He spoke about how much fun they were having in camp, about the buzz surrounding the team, "especially in the 2-1-6", but also about a feeling he had about this pitching staff getting it done. He was right about all of it; and it's funny, because we never really look back on those "throw-away" interviews. But, that's not Swisher's M.O. He doesn't want to be right about it, he wants to be part of it.
I'll sure remember those nights with the Mets, and I'll bet Nick does too. As much fun as it is to watch Swisher talk a good game, it's a lot more fun to watch him play a good game lately. The Astros are in town for three more, so it's his time to light it up.
That reminds me, Nick is footing the bill for tonight's post-game fireworks show, and that's awesome BRO.