Cleveland Indians: How it ended will haunt them -- Terry Pluto

After winning more games than any other team in the American League, the Cleveland Indians found the worst way to be

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- I hate how it ended.

Not just that the New York Yankees knocked the Cleveland Indians out of the first round of the playoffs.

Losing three in a row...

Losing three in a row when making more errors (seven) than scoring runs (five)...

Losing the final game of the best-of-five American League Division Series at home...

Doing all of that, the Indians deserved to be booted out of the playoffs. When it meant the most, the Yankees were at their best.

Meanwhile, too many players in Wahoo red, white and blue seemed as jittery as many veteran Cleveland sports fans.

After Didi Gergorius belted two homers to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead after three innings Wednesday, a sense of gloom and doom hung thicker and lower than the gray clouds over Progressive Field.

Before the 5-2 loss in Game 5, manager Terry Francona told his players to "remember who we are."

WHO ARE THEY?

But as the series progressed, the Indians appeared to be asking themselves, "What happened to us?"

In each of the last four games, the Yankees scored first.

When the Indians had their epic 22-game winning streak, they won only a single game in their last at bat.

During The Streak, the Indians trailed for a grand total of eight innings ...

That's eight innings out of 181.

Their starting pitchers had a 1.64 ERA during The Streak.

The formula was easy:

  1. Starting pitcher shut down the opposition.
  2. Hitters scored a few runs early to take a lead.
  3. Bullpen held it, defense was superb.

Other than the opening 4-0 victory at Progressive Field, the Indians never put all three of those things together in the same game.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Losing this way means a team that was an American League-best 102-60 in the regular season becomes defined as a playoff failure.

You can't debate that accusation.

Some in the media want to couple this playoff collapse with losing the last three games of the 2016 World Series.

There you are ... the Indians have lost their last six games when they had a chance to close out a series.

That is accurate, but there is a greater truth behind it.

The Indians stunned the baseball world by reaching the 2016 World Series with a beaten-up pitching staff. They were eliminated by the Chicago Cubs, a far more talented team.

Not this year.

The Indians were 11 games better than the Yankees in the regular season.

I know, Edwin Encarnacion (ankle) was hurt. When he played, he was 0-for-7, looking nothing close to the guy who hit 38 homers with 107 RBI.

I know, ace Corey Kluber (12.79 ERA) had something wrong with him -- probably his back.

I know, Francona deserves criticism for starting Kluber a second time (assuming he was hurt) and starting Trevor Bauer on only three days of rest. You can also debate some roster decisions.

But the Tribe was up 2-0.

It had three chances to win one game, but failed.

No excuses allowed.

Not when their defense fell apart.

Not when the team batted .171.

Not when All-Stars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor were a combined 4-for-38.

Not when the Indians had two doubles and one triple in five games.

Not when the Indians had only two hits with runners in scoring position in the last three games.

WHAT'S NEXT?

The Indians now have to deal with ghosts.

Not the demons of the distant past.

The 1997 Tribe losing in Game 7 of the World Series meant nothing to these guys.

Neither did the 2007 Tribe being up 3-1 then losing the final three games to Boston in the ALCS.

Or any other miserable memory about this team that rambles around our heads.

This team is in excellent position to win the Central Division in 2018. But the regular season will have a sense of being a six-month prelude to the playoffs ... when the Indians must confront what happened to them in this series.

That's not a lot of fun. But it is reality.

As it says on most rear view mirrors "OBJECTS MAY BE CLOSER THAN THEY SEEM."

And the only exorcism that works will be a return to the playoffs and winning some rounds.

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Article Cleveland Indians: How it ended will haunt them -- Terry Pluto compiled by www.cleveland.com