A memorable Indians season provided many special moments
MINNEAPOLIS -- Terry Francona loves every minute of the journey that is a baseball season. He revels in it, enjoying the card games, the clubhouse, the banter with and among players.
He even enjoys the ups and downs. And this season the Indians provided their fans quite a ride. They tied a team best by increasing their win total by 24 from 2012 to 2013, they won 10 in a row to end the season and they earned the right to host the wild card at 8:07 p.m. on Wednesday.
From this season of achievement and excitement came these moments to remember:
---The Harlem Shake. Led by Francona, the Indians did their own version of the bit with Nick Swisher rocking an Ohio State uniform, and other players appearing in costumes as rabbits, a parrot, a mummy and Spider Man. Silliness, yes, especially Francona’s “dancing.” But it did something for team unity.
---The Tampa Bay game that was delayed five hours by rain, started after midnight and ended at 3 a.m. The fans who stayed were so funny, though, that Evan Longoria tweeted a thanks to them the next day.
---The section of Blue Jays fans who kept up constant chants through two games. Their best: “We’ve got health care” … clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.
---The walkoffs. All 11. Especially the home runs. Carlos Santana. Jason Kipnis. Yan Gomes. Ryan Raburn. Heck, Matt Carson had a base-hit walkoff. And …
---Jason Giambi twice becoming the oldest player to hit a walkoff home run. Both beat Chicago, and the second followed a blown save that seemed to be leading to a loss. The blasts left Hawk Harrelson speechless on the Chicago airwaves.
---Trainer Michael Salazar walking onto the field at spring training wearing tennis shoes, a T-shirt and a speedo. Salazar lost a bet with strength coach Joe Kessler on college football’s national championship game, thus the Speedo. Which prompted Francona to yell as he walked out: “Get that cottage cheese in.”
---Some of Francona’s mantras, such as be one run better, the next game is the most important and “We take what we do seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.” The perfect balance between doing your best and recognizing what you do.
---The chicken given to Cody Allen. The Indians went 19-5 after the Rally Chicken hung out with the pitchers during batting practice.
---The look on Allen’s face in the clubhouse when another scribe asked him: “Was this your first experience with a chicken?”
---Francona chuckling when it was mentioned Cody the Chicken was a little better story than the last time chicken was mentioned in his clubhouse. That happened of course when folks accused him of losing the Red Sox in 2011 because players were eating fried chicken during games. Of Cody the Chicken, Francona said: “As long as the chicken wasn’t drinking beer, we’re good to go.” Then he got up and walked to the door, saying: “I’m out of here quick.”
---Niko, the young boy with cerebral palsy who asked Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis to hit a home run for him on Aug. 24. And both did.
---Giambi’s slide into first. Late in an early-season rout, Giambi brought everyone in the dugout to their feet when he dove into first to beat out a slow roller. He looked disheveled after, but his teammates posted the photos on the wall outside the clubhouse, and Giambi signed one with: “To the boys: Live like you play! Hard.”
---Nick Swisher walking into the clubhouse after a first-game loss in a doubleheader in Kansas City and seeing heads down and folks starting blankly. Swisher walked to the stereo, blasted it, and yelled out there was no time for anyone to feel sorry for themselves, there was a game to play in 30 minutes. The Indians won Game 2, and 12 of the next 14.
---A 21-6 September. Every win was needed. Had the Indians gone 19-8 the final month, they’d be out of the playoffs.
---Danny Salazar’s first start. About as eye-opening as they come.
---Francona leaving Salazar in to face Miguel Cabrera after 103 pitches in his second start. Cabrera sent the first pitch into orbit.
---Salazar talking confidently, but without hubris, on Sunday about his start Wednesday in the wild card game.
---A daily “This Day in Music” feature in the Indians notes distributed to the media. It always had interesting info and was put together by Court Berry-Tripp, coordinator of media information. Example from Sunday: “Jerry Lee Lewis accidentally shot Norman Owens, his bass player, in the chest (non-fatal).”
---Marc Rzepcynski explaining that his last name is not his original family name. That the one folks used back in Austria where his ancestors farmed was longer. As in 21 letters.
---Giambi trying to steal third unsuccessfully, then explaining after the game he thought he could sneak it in. “That’s what happens when they tell ya, ‘Don’t think son, you’re only hurting the ballclub,” he said.
---Francona saying he doesn’t think his teams ever are intimidated, and he knows he isn’t intimidated. Asked about facing CC Sabathia as manager of the Red Sox, down 3-1 to Cleveland in the 2007 ALCS, Francona asked: “Did we look intimidated?” Nahh … course not … nooo … mumbled the media. And he said: “I got a ring that says we weren’t intimidated.”
---Mark Reynolds hitting a home run just short of the scoreboard after Jarrod Parker almost hit hit in the head. Reynolds admitted he tried to hit the ball as far as he could, and he did. (Reynolds is no longer with the team, but without him the Indians don’t reach the playoffs; he carried the Indians the first month.)
---Euclid native and actress Monica Potter threw out the first pitch on Sept. 19. The Indians haven’t lost since.
---Francona riding his Vespa scooter to and from the stadium. Though this week he admitted he didn’t have a license the first couple months.
---Francona getting lost walking the short distance from East 4th to Progressive Field for the home opener. Twice. It led to the scooter, which Francona called “the hog.”
--Indians pitching posting a 3.16 ERA since the All-Star Break. That’s the best by an Indians staff after the break since 1972.
---Umpire Angel Hernandez inexplicably ruling Oakland’s Adam Rosales did not hit a home run that would have tied a game in the ninth on May 8. Hernandez was the only person in the park who did not see the ball hit the railing above the wall. He gave Rosales a double, and the Indians hung on to win. And become the top wild card by one game.