Bad loss doesn’t dim Indians’ bright start

CLEVELAND — The Indians won’t worry too much after getting

thumped by the Chicago White Sox Wednesday night.

Oh, it was a major league thumping, the basic dropped egg on the sidewalk. It

kind of, sort of was like the egg that was dropped on the Indians collective

heads in the offseason.

The February day that the Detroit Tigers announced the signing of Prince

Fielder made a lot of folks dreary in Cleveland. The Indians, a team that

either couldn’t or wouldn’t spend significant money, had to watch their

division rival spend a ton of money on the best available free agent at the

time.

The gloom that Indians fans felt was tangible. The Indians of 2011 saw Detroit

run away with the AL Central after Cleveland had started 21-10. Then Detroit

lost Victor Martinez in the offseason to a knee injury and the gap might have

closed. … Until Fielder stunned all of baseball by signing with Tigers.

Conventional wisdom immediately gave the division to the Tigers — except

Indians players scoffed. They treated the signing as an irritation, albeit it a

large one. Still, there was an air of defiance in the air.

“The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” second baseman Jason

Kipnis tweeted.

The feeling was prevalent among the Indians, who were continually reminded that

though the Tigers were clearly the team to beat.

As team president Mark Shapiro said: “You focus on what you can control.

The more you focus on things you can’t control, the more they become

excuses.”

What the Indians could control was on the field, and early in a long season

they had done just that. Even after Wednesday’s 8-1 loss, the Indians are 17-13

and in first place in the Central. They have been in first place for 16

consecutive days, and in sole possession of first for eight days — and 10 of

the last 12.

They have done it ranking seventh in the American League in runs, but first in

the majors in walks and fourth in on-base percentage (heading into Wednesday).

In close games, they excelled, going 7-1 in one-run games. The bullpen has been

excellent, winning 14 of 15 games when the Indians led starting the eighth or

ninth inning.

The Indians are doing it despite some tough realities. Their first baseman is

barely hitting .200, their left fielder .215 and a right fielder, expected to

be a star, at .221. They are doing it with a staff ace who is 1-2 with a 4.89

ERA and a starting pitcher who is 4-1 despite giving up 44 hits in 37 2/3

innings with more walks than strikeouts.

But the Indians are doing it.

They followed a 1-4 start (all at home) by winning seven of nine

on the road. In their last four series, they’ve won two of three from the

Angels, White Sox and Rangers and split a four-games set with Chicago — losing

once in extra innings.

Kipnis, the frequent tweeter , posted on May 6, “Winning games and still

not playing our best ball!” He even took to using the hashtag

“Tribevstheworld.”

That attitude is among the most tired in sports, but to the players it actually

works. Sometimes. The Indians had it work for a good part of 2011 until Detroit

was just too good. Cleveland’s promising start ended with an 80-82 record. Its

biggest offseason addition: First baseman Casey Kotchman, for $3 million.

But the Indians will rely on their pitching to counter Detroit’s hitting. A

rotation led by Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Derek Lowe and a finishing

combination of Vinnie Pestano (19 strikeouts in 13 innings), and Chris Perez

(11 saves) carry the hope.

If the 2011 season taught this young Indians team anything, it is that a season

is a marathon and April and May records are forgotten in a hurry. Detroit,

which just got starter Doug Fister back from injury, will hit. The Tigers remain

the clear favorite.

But as the Indians head to Boston for a four-game series, they are in first

place. Which might not mean a great deal at this point of the season, but is a

lot better than the alternative.