Charged atmosphere gives Indians a lift in win over Astros
CLEVELAND -- The mood was upbeat, the feeling energetic -- and energized.
The Indians have had crowds that have been supportive and into the game, but Saturday they got one that was into things from the get-go, and that topped 25,000 for the first time in September.
In a season of overachievement but no growth in attendance, the Indians enjoyed every second of a game with a good turnout and an excited fan base.
“The crowd was into it right out of the gate,” said Michael Brantley. “It was fun, exciting. They were cheering from the first pitch.”
“Of course it’s going to bring extra energy to the players in the dugout,” said Michael Bourn, who earlier in the month had invited fans to “come on out.” “You see that kind of energy coming from your crowd, it’s only a plus. It gets us going. It gets our blood moving.”
“We hope to see it like that every night,” said reliever Cody Allen. “In the playoffs we hope to see it even more. When you have a crowd like that, there’s really a home field advantage.”
And perhaps it contributed to a fast start, as the Indians scored three times in the first as Bourn led off with a double, Nick Swisher singled and Jason Kipnis scored Bourn on a sacrifice fly. One out later, Brantley drove a fastball into the stands in right and the Indians were on their way to a 4-1 win over Houston -- with Scott Kazmir throwing seven shutout innings and the crowd of 26,611 enjoying every minute.
“This is why we do it,” Brantley said. “We do it for the fans and for everybody in this locker room. It’s fun to be a part of and it’s exciting.”
Perhaps it’s overanalyzing, but note which group came first in the pecking order Brantley mentioned. Swisher, who contributed significantly to the attendance with a financial donation that made an extra fireworks night possible, gushed beyond his typical gushing.
“It’s just so amazing,” Swisher said. “We got to keep winning, but when you have fan support like that it’s so easy to get up for games.”
Swisher even went as far as conceding there was an October feel to the game.
“Little chill in the air,” he said. “Place was going nuts. It kind of seemed like every hit was the most important thing ever.”
In some cities, a team might not notice a crowd of 26,000, and maybe it shouldn’t be the focus of this city. But when some September crowds can’t top 10,000 and when the first two games of the series draw 12,000 and 17,000, anything over 25K is appreciated and noticed, fireworks or not. Especially when in the previous 11 home games in September the average attendance was 13,786.
Saturday’s boost might have come because of Swisher’s financial donation, but it at least gave the players an inkling of what they might expect. Cleveland fans have been burned in the past, but when they decide to go all-in they can be as revved up and into-it as much as any city’s.
In all the negative things written and said about the Indians attendance -- which ranks 28th in baseball -- the one thing that wasn’t said was that sellouts weren’t a requirement, but a nice draw in the high 20s with some enthusiasm would help.
Saturday it did.
“There’s nothing like that atmosphere,” Swisher said.
“There was a little extra energy,” Francona said. “This time of year that can’t hurt anybody.”
The win was important because Tampa Bay and Texas also both won. The Indians kept pace, keeping them one-half game behind Tampa and one-half ahead of Texas.
With seven games left, the players are watching, but not too close.
“We do (look) and we don’t, because it doesn’t matter if we don’t win,” Allen said.
“If we handle our business on the field, we don’t have to look at the scoreboard,” Brantley said. “That’s what we continue to do, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
This season the Indians have gone 49-18 against teams with losing records. That mark is the best in baseball. Yes, it’s a dubious stat to lead the league, but it’s a fact nonetheless.
The significance: The Indians seven remaining games are against Houston, the White Sox and Minnesota. All are losing teams.
Francona has maintained all season that he merely wants his team to be one run better on the days they play, and to think only about that one day they are playing.
“When you start doing math, when we win we’re fine,” he said. “When we lose, we hope.”