Aced Out: Indians fans brace to watch CC face Lee
By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) -- The Cleveland Indians didn't prepare to play in the World Series this week. They hired a new manager.
So it goes around here.
And while the rest of the country gears up for a sexy Series matchup between the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies and storied New York Yankees, heartbroken Indians fans -- who have endured 61 years of futility since claiming their last baseball championship -- are lamenting what might have been.
As TVs around the nation tune in for Game 1 on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, Cleveland sports fans will look for a diversion -- anything other than seeing Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia, two former Cleveland left-handers and Cy Young winners the Indians traded away, go pitch for pitch.
That will be too tough to stomach.
"It's bittersweet," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. "You don't work in this game without building a personal attachment to guys, so I look out there and see those two guys and as people I'm excited for them. I'm excited for them to show their talent on that stage.
"I'm excited for them to be able to get that level of exposure, and yet I'm still bitter they're not doing it in Indians uniforms."
Lee and Sabathia aren't the only ex-Indians in the Series, either. Former Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel is looking for a second championship ring to go with last year's, and outfielder Ben Francisco, who came to the Phillies with Lee in July, is expected to start Game 1 in left.
Shapiro was the one who traded Lee to the Phillies this season and Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers last year. Really, he had no choice. With both lefties on the verge of free agency -- the Indians actually controlled Lee for one more season -- Cleveland had to deal them for prospects.
That's life in the mid-market majors, where fans feel like second-class citizens and cringe whenever a young prospect blooms into a star, knowing that the home team has little or no chance of signing him to a long-term contract.
Sabathia began his career with the Indians, who picked him with the No. 20 overall pick in 1998. The club nurtured the extra-large left-hander, who won 17 games as a rookie and had his share of troubles before he went 19-7 in 2007 and became Cleveland's first Cy Young winner since Gaylord Perry in 1972.
But when talks with Sabathia's agent failed to produce an extension -- the Indians reportedly offered him a four-year, $72 million deal -- and it became apparent Cleveland would not be able to keep him, the ace was traded to the Brewers for outfielders Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley and pitchers Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson.
The deal was a painful one for Indians fans, who were only comforted by the fact that the club still had Lee, who picked up the slack left by Sabathia, went 22-3 and ran away with the Cy Young in '08.
Lee, though, was gone a little more than a year after Sabathia, shipped to Philadelphia for pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp, infielder Jason Donald and catcher Lou Marson. The Indians owned an $11 million option on Lee for 2010, but if they had exercised it and brought him back, there would have been no money left to acquire more talent.
Lee's trade was followed by another blockbuster two days later, when All-Star catcher Victor Martinez was sent to Boston for similar reasons.
Two years ago, the Indians were one win away from the World Series. Now they're playing there vicariously through former players.
It's all too much for some to take.
Reminded that Game 1 will feature Lee and Sabathia, Janice Jones of Westlake, Ohio, spoke for many Indians fans.
"Aaarrrggghhh!!!!" she screamed while taking a break from outdoor chores.
Jones, wearing a faded Chief Wahoo cap, wasn't sure if she'd watch the Series.
"I don't know because I don't even know who I'll root for," she said. "Actually, I'll root for Philly because I'm an anybody-but-the-Yankees fan. What I'll probably do is have it on while I'm doing other stuff because I can't invest anything into it."
As the postseason unfolded and teams were eliminated, Jones could see a Lee-Sabathia matchup on the horizon.
"I expected it," she said. "I know that was what it was going to be. Because we're Cleveland."
Earlier this week, the Indians, who tumbled into the AL Central basement this season, introduced Manny Acta as their new manager. Washington's former manager tried to put a positive spin on Cleveland's stamp on this year's World Series.
"You have to give credit to the staff that we have in place that was able to develop CC to become who he is today," Acta said. "You have to praise the vision the franchise had to pick Cliff Lee from the Double-A farm system of the Montreal Expos and then develop him.
"That's the way I see it. It's part of the business. We have to understand the market we're in, work with it and embrace what we have gotten from them. We feel good for them. But you can't have everybody and we have to make the best out of what we have."
In Cleveland, that's as good as it gets.