Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Jump aboard, there is plenty of room on this bandwagon

It was like the golden days but even better.
The Jake was packed and rocking. Cheeseburgergate was blowing over. And our hero Travis Hafner shook off his cobwebs and delivered a blow to put the hated Yankees on the brink of their first sweep in Cleveland since 1970. Before I was born and back when George Steinbrenner wanted to buy the Indians.
Then it was like a punch in the stomach. Watching those two balls sail into the night and those vile New York fans come crawling out from under their seats to celebrate was disgusting.
Before the game, the feeling that the playoff run was actually viable was thick in the air. That incredible optimism of July 4th was back. But after the game, the bandwagon sure felt a lot lighter.
Attempting to sweep the Yankees, folks, is not what it used to be. It feels fun to kick Gotham while its empire is crumbling, but the truth is they are not a good baseball team. Their line-up one through six is scary as ever but they have no pitching. Unless Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter and Mike Mussina all find a time portal to five years ago, this team will not be playing in October. They only have three relief pitchers. And eventually, like last year, their arms will fall off.
The reason the Indians will be playing in October is because pitching is where we’re strong. The Oakland A's lead us by four and a half games, partly for the same reason. And they are extremely hot right now but we will be very soon.
I know Bob Wickman scares the hell of out you. You would rather he be pouring pints than throwing big pitches but he is leading the league in saves. After Thursday's debacle, he came back to shut down the Tigers on Saturday and Sunday. He is the point man for the American League's best bullpen. Sunday is a perfect example, our starter Scott Elarton walked the bases loaded in the sixth. David Riske used one pitch to defuse the danger then teamed with Bob Howery and Wickman to shut out the Tigers the rest of the way.
After Detroit's starter walked two in the eighth inning, their bullpen was greeted by a three run blast by Ronnie Belliard.
And it is not just our bullpen. The Indians are one of the few teams in the American League who have five quality starters with a sixth (Jason Davis) safely stored in Buffalo for emergencies.
During the glory years, we only got to experience one true playoff race and that was the year we didn't make it. While other teams scuffle to find warm bodies for their fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, we go into every single game with a realistic chance to win. You know your starter has at least six good innings in him with a veteran bullpen to close the door. CC Sabathia has quietly straightened his hat and hopefully his career. Jay Westbrook, Cliff Lee and Kevin Millwood have all been consistently steady all season. Elarton has pitched himself into a big contract next year. His defense gave up three runs on a Little League homerun as part of a five run second inning on Sunday but he kept battling, throwing up goose eggs until the offense caught up.
And the offense is catching up, Jhonny Peralta has blossomed into a superstar. Travis looks like the real deal. And most importantly, Victor Martinez is becoming our captain right before our eyes. Next time you are at a game or watching on TV, try to watch Victor. He gets so excited when his teammates do well. That is the type of player who raises the level of play of those around him. After a tough start, he has been on fire since the All Star break hitting over .400.
A healthy Hafner completes the line-up. You have three good sticks at the top in Grady Sizemore, Coco Crisp and Peralta for the big boys Hafner and Martinez to knock in.
It was at that Yankee game last Thursday, when I looked up at our batting line-up. Our batting averages are starting to look like a pro team's should. The top six hitters are all now over .270.
Don't look now but the Indians have assembled some awesome talent that is only scratching the surface of what they will do.
The Cavaliers had a great off-season. The Browns look to be moving forward the right way. But the Indians are there. Are they flawed? Yes. Will they make our stomachs turn and our hearts skip a beat. Yes.
But they are going to make a real run this fall. While the Yankees have no visits left, it is usually a happy ending that has the fans wound up and excited.
There looks to be more of those moments during the season's last two months. There are just 50 games left. Don't worry, the bandwagon makes frequent stops to let you back on board.