Can one win change the mood, the vibe, the direction?
The Indians sure hope so. Because after getting spanked and sent back to their sandbox by the Tigers in four games, and after playing poorly in two games against the Angels, Cleveland turned a 5-0 deficit into a 6-5 win on Sunday.
To hear the players, Sunday’s win was vital, which shows their frame of mind after the pummeling the Tigers gave them.
But when the manager agrees, it’s significant. Because Terry Francona has preached all season that no one game is bigger than any other.
“It’s gotta be great,” Francona said in audio distributed by the team. “It should be.”
Several reports stated that Francona called a team meeting after Saturday’s loss. He has said he doesn’t do that kind of thing without a purpose; this purpose was clear: To not-so-politely remind the team that they had to play well to win. Because the Indians won the next game, it can be said it worked — but that was one day and six weeks remains in the season.
One of the refreshing things about this Indians team is they do not pretend to be what they are not. They will never say that they can mash with the Tigers or pitch with the Cardinals. Instead they say they can win and compete if they play smart, play hard and play well.
They did just that for three games against Detroit, but they didn’t win as the Tigers beat the Indians closer, No. 1 starter and young phenom in consecutive games.
They followed by losing the next three by a combined score of 22-7, with four errors Saturday night.
That prompted the player-friendly manager to call a get-together to, as he said, remind the team about playing the game “the right way.”
“Not that it’s always going to be perfect,” Francona said. “We have to fight through frustration. (Sunday) was a good example of that. That’s a good game to win.”
The Indians are a team trying to get there. The Tigers have been there, and act that way. Given its roster and financial commitment the Tigers should be better.
But recently the Tigers are doing what they do — which is flip the switch at the most important time of the year. They’ve won 17-of-20, and this week seen Migeul Cabrera hit late home runs to win or tie against not just Danny Salazar but also Mariano Rivera. Twice.
While the Tigers have done that, the Indians have gone 12-8 and the Royals 16-4. Both teams lost ground on Detroit.
The Indians had to have things go right to beat the Tigers in this last series, and clearly they didn’t. But it doesn’t mean they can’t still compete with the other wild card teams to make September interesting.
But they sure made it harder on themselves — with a nine-game road trip to Minnesota, Oakland and Anaheim up next. The Indians are a combined 10-6 against those teams this season — including a four-game sweep of Oakland in May.
This nine-game stretch could tell a lot, but so too could a stretch at the end of the month that, after a brief stop at home, takes them to Atlanta and Detroit before returning home to play Baltimore.
With Kansas City playing better, the schedule isn’t as favorable as it once looked. The Indians have 14 series left, six against winning teams. If they stay alive until the end, though, they close against the White Sox, Astros and Twins.
Any one stretch could put the Indians back in it, but any one stretch could also knock them out of it — especially with Kansas City looking over their shoulder.
Which is why they needed some kind of win to avoid their first 0-7 homestand since 1990.
It was the kind of win that epitomized this team when it plays the way it should.
“We can’t just show up,” Francona said. “We gotta be like the bring your lunch pail (guys) and find a way to be better than the other team.”