The sports year 2008 was bound to pale by comparison for Cleveland fans. On many levels it did. The Indians stumbled out of the gate in April. Injuries and a dud of a bullpen rendered the season a lost cause by midsummer, at which point Sabathia and Casey Blake were shipped off in a mini-fire sale reminiscent of 2006.
The Cavs followed up their Finals appearance with a season marred by holdouts, injuries and upheaval, as half the roster was reconstructed at the trading deadline. The '07-'08 season came to an end with a Game 7, second round loss to the Celtics.
The Browns were the most disappointing team of all. A season that began with so much promise will end with the entire organization on the fast track to another smack of the reset button.
But 2008 did manage to make its own sports headlines in Cleveland, and believe it or not, a number of them were positive. Over the coming days, our top 10 Cleveland sports moments will be revealed here on the front page of The Cleveland Fan. We hope you enjoy reliving them.The Top Ten 2008 Cleveland Sports Moments: #10 - #7The Top Ten 2008 Cleveland Sports Moments: #6 - #4
The Top Ten 2008 Cleveland Sports Moments: #3 Cavs Romp To Franchise Best Start
The Top Ten 2008 Cleveland Sports Moments: #2 The Cavs February Blockbuster1. Cliff Lee wins Cy Young Award
Every baseball team's season needs its own plot thread. Even if the team isn't contending and already has its collective sight set on next year, there has to be something to make those six months and 162 games bearable.
For Indians fans in 2008, that was Cliff Lee.
Even as the season spiraled into irrelevance, every fifth game, Lee gave Tribe fans a reason to tune in or head down to the ballpark. Every game, it seemed, Lee was either closing in on or breaking some team record.
His final stats are easily the most impressive by an Indians starting pitcher in more than 30 years, perhaps even as far back as the 1950s. Lee finished '08 with a 22-3 record and 2.54 ERA. The win total and ERA were tops in the American League, and the only reason his ERA even eclipsed 2.50 was due to late-season arm fatigue.
His 20th win, against the White Sox on Sept. 1, was the first by a Tribe pitcher since Gaylord Perry in 1974. His .880 winning percentage was the third-highest by a 20-game winner in baseball history.
All this after coming to spring training just to fight for the fifth spot in the rotation - a spot he won mostly because the other two contenders, Jeremy Sowers and Aaron Laffey, couldn't pitch well enough to distinguish themselves.
By now, you've likely read the sorry tale of Lee's 2007 season time and again. A 5-8 record, 6.29 ERA and a clubhouse altercation with Victor Martinez following a beaning of Sammy Sosa. Which was all followed by a trip to the minors after Lee sarcastically tipped his cap to booing home fans following a shellacking at the hands of Boston.
Lee came to spring training in '08 as a man with nothing to lose, and he pitched like it. But what separates his story from other stories of redemption is that he never lost his focus, even after he became a headliner again. He jumped out of the gates, winning his first four starts with a 0.28 ERA, and never looked back.
It would be wise to expect a bit of regression from Lee in '09, but he'll open the season as the ace of the Tribe's staff. And unlike last year's returning Cy Young winner, C.C. Sabathia, we know Lee won't be shopped off to the highest bidder before the trading deadline.