It was a night of roiling emotions, desperate bullpen moves, inspiring comebacks and thunderous home runs. In the end, it left the Cleveland Indians somber and exhausted, but also proud and defiant.
“Come back and do your thing tomorrow,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said in the hush of the losing clubhouse. “That’s what good teams do — they bounce back the right way. I believe in my team out there, and I believe in my pitching staff. They’re going to take us all the way.”
For the sheer volume of twists and turns on Tuesday evening, the Indians’ 12-10 loss to the Red Sox recalled the pandemonium of Game 7 of the World Series last November, when the Chicago Cubs clinched the title on a dizzying and dazzling night in Cleveland. This time, as Lindor said, the Indians do have tomorrow — and the next game, and dozens more after that. Regular-season pain dissolves quickly, as one game blends into the next.
The Indians, who play host to the Yankees in a four-game series starting Thursday, hold first place in the American League Central, locked in a tight race with the Kansas City Royals. They want to emulate the Royals, who endured a home loss in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series and captured the title the next fall. But the similarities end there.
“We’d love to follow the same template, but I think each team has its own identity, and each team’s gonna face different challenges,” said Cody Allen, the Indians’ closer. “That very next season, right out of the gate, they were rolling, and they rolled all year long. We’ve had some peaks and valleys. We’ll win five, lose three or four. We’re just trying to find as much consistency as we can.”
The Indians have never been more than three games out of first place this season, or more than three games ahead. They lost five of six after the All-Star break, then stormed to a nine-game winning streak. But Tuesday’s loss — despite a soaring, over-the-wall catch by center fielder Austin Jackson — was their third in a row.
Manager Terry Francona called for his relief ace, Andrew Miller, in the sixth inning Tuesday, the kind of aggressive move that worked so often last October. It failed against the Red Sox, and on Wednesday the Indians placed Miller on the disabled list with patella tendinitis in his right knee.
If the Indians return to the World Series, it will have been a rugged road. Francona knew it could be.
“I don’t see a sense of entitlement,” he said. “I just think, especially with young players, you can’t quite understand: You go from October, where you’re the only game in town, and it’s almost glamorous, then you show up in April, it’s 39 degrees, and it’s not the same. It’s not supposed to be. You’ve gotta fight through all of this so you get the chance to do that.”
Francona, 58, is back after missing time in early July to deal with an irregular heartbeat, which required a cardiac ablation and caused him to miss the All-Star Game. (The Indians’ bench coach, Brad Mills, managed the A.L. team.) A baseball lifer who won two titles with the Red Sox, Francona is among the most popular figures in the game, and his health is a constant source of concern for people around him.
“He swims all the time, but it was a job of all of ours to make sure that he was doing things that were helping his body, when I was there,” said Tampa Bay Manager Kevin Cash, a former Cleveland coach. “I know Brad Mills and a lot of other staff members take heed of that, because you want him to be around for a long time.
“If you care about the person, you’re gonna do what you think’s right for him — and sometimes pulling the M&M’s away from him at two in the morning is a good thing,” Cash added.
Less pressing health issues have also stalked the Indians. Outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall is down with a calf injury, and hamstring problems have sidelined second baseman Jason Kipnis and starter Josh Tomlin, who could miss six weeks. Starter Danny Salazar missed a month and a half with shoulder soreness.
Salazar has thrived since returning, though, and said he is getting better movement on his pitches. He averages 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings, typical for the Indians’ staff. Only the Houston Astros have more strikeouts, and just three teams — the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Red Sox — had a better E.R.A. than Cleveland’s 3.79 through Tuesday. Every Indians starter averages more than a strikeout per inning.
“I said in spring training: We have the best rotation,” Salazar said. “Even though we didn’t show it in the beginning of the season, when we have everything together, we are amazing.”
Forearm trouble limited Salazar to two postseason relief appearances, both in lopsided World Series losses. Another starter, Carlos Carrasco, missed the postseason after a line drive broke his pitching hand in September. Left fielder Michael Brantley missed it, too, with a shoulder injury.