Winning (and losing) the wild card could be the Indians’ best lesson learned

Wednesday night, Cleveland was the center of the sports world. By night’s end it became the land of missed opportunities.

The final score of the American League Wild Card game is deceiving. The Indians lost 4-0, Alex Cobb pitched six scoreless innings for Tampa Bay and the Indians mustered up only nine total hits.

Only nine hits and no runs? That’s got to be a first, right?

Indeed it was– the first time the Indians had nine or more hits with zero runs in a postseason game. The last time they had at least nine hits (with three doubles) and scored zero runs in the regular season was June 9, 1938. (Thanks, @MLBastian)

While the top of the lineup (Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis) went a combined 0-for-12, the bottom half found success against Cobb. With the exception of Asdrubal Cabrera (0-for-3, including the bases loaded GIDP in the fourth inning), the five through nine hitters accounted for seven of the team’s nine hits.

So, yes, they had opportunities. In fact, all nine base-runners reached scoring position but never made it home.

“That’ll beat you right there,” catcher Yan Gomes said of the small village that was left on base. “We had some opportunities and their pitchers stepped up so it was tough to get the runs in.”

Plain and simple, the Indians failed to get the ‘big hit’.

“We missed some opportunities with runners in scoring position,” Bourn said. “I missed one in the fourth inning that I can remember. I put that one on me. We couldn’t come through when we needed to and we lost. That’s what happens when you’ve only got one game.”

One game. That’s all it took for an entire season of hard work to be washed away. 162 games got them there but it meant nothing after losing No. 163.

But the Indians don’t see it that way.

“It’s gonna hurt for the next couple of days but hopefully we can learn from this,” Gomes said. “We turned this team around and we had a great year. We’ve got nothing to be sad about.”

For a team that was expected to finish right around .500, the opportunity to play in the postseason is an accomplishment in itself.

“It’s gonna sting for a while but I think in the big picture we have to look at the great things this team has done,” Swisher said. “We proved a lot of people wrong this year. We’ve really put ourselves at the top of the food chain in a sense. We just gotta go back home, put the work in and get ready for next year.”

Next year will be different though. Expectations will be higher, pressure will be greater and squeaking in as a wild card won’t be enough– for the fans or the players.

“Now that I’ve had a little taste of it, I want nothing more than to get back there,” Kipnis said of his short-lived playoff experience.

The 2013 Indians saw the entire season come to an end in only nine innings and they seem to have learned the hard way that there is no ‘shortcut’ to the postseason.

Maybe, winning (and losing) the wild card will turn out to be the greatest lesson that this team has learned this season.

Maybe, it will make them fight that much harder to win their division in 2014.