A Look Back at the Decade of Tribe Baseball: 2007-2009I hope you guys have enjoyed this little series. It was fun to do.
I realize it was very long and I write a lot. When I started it, I didn't even plan on it getting this long and involved, but it just is part of me that when I get going, I get going.
If you've stuck it out for the first two, finish up with this one. It's the playoffs for 2007 and the 2008 and 2009 years. 2008 takes the shape of 2006 in terms of how long it turned out. I figured that once I got to 2009, that it was pretty much redundant to recap a season we just went through. You guys witnessed it, you saw what happened and you know the spot we are in now. The aim of this was to give one last look at the memorable moment of this decade, from the rebuild to the 2007 ALCS to where we are now.
And I hope it did that. Most of you may have not followed me when I chronicled the 2007 season. I did it over at the Sporting News and it prompted me to create this site that offseason and it's grown into what it is now. I was emotionally attached to that season and always will be. I'm attached to this team and going into 2007 was a great way to share with the current readers of this blog how I lived through that season and hopefully it was a chance for you to look back upon the year and try and remember where you were at that point or what you were doing when certain things happened.
Hopefully it did all that and hopefully you've read it all. I've included pictures for the 2007 year in the last post and this one. Some of them are from pictures I took at the playoff games that I wanted to share that I don't think I ever did. All of the photos from both games I went to (ALDS Game 2 and ALCS Game 4) are in my photo album on Facebook. I've opened up the albums to everyone to see so if you want to give it a look and relive it a bit, click those links.
Again, I hope everyone that read this series enjoyed it.. If something happens today or tomorrow, discussions will be held. If not I will see you in 2010. Happy New Year Tribe Fans.
2007 - Continued
The Playoffs - It's Tribe Time Now
Cleveland finished the year tied with Boston for the best record in all the majors, however due to their head to head record, Boston would get home field advantage if the two were to meet. Because the Yankees were in the AL East, the couldn't match up with Boston in the first round. So Cleveland drew New York in the ALDS.
It seemed as if for the for the first time, there was real chance that Joe Torre was on the hot seat. There was discussion before, but not winning the East and the recent post-season failures seemed to have been driving a wedge between New York and Torre. New York wanted to win badly as they always do, but this seemed to have Torre's job riding on it.
Game One was close for the first four innings. Johnny Damon led the game off with a home run off CC Sabathia and Cleveland responded with a three run first. New York pulled within one of the Tribe in the fifth inning to the tune of a 4-3 game. Then Cleveland's bat's came alive once again. A five run fifth and a two run sixth cemented Cleveland's lead.
Victor Martinez touched up Chien-Ming Wang with a two run shot and Kenny Lofton chased him with a RBI single. Casey Blake doubled off Ross Ohlendorf to cap off the fifth. The following inning Travis Hafner hit a solo shot and Kenny Lofton hit a shot to center field that almost cleared the fences, but it did knock in Ryan Garko. A record setting fourth home run in a playoff game was hit by Ryan Garko in the eighth off Phil Hughes to set an Indians postseason record.
Game one was in the bag with Cleveland's ace struggling. Things looked good for game two the following night. Fausto Carmona and postseason veteran Andy Pettitte matched up for what would turn out to be an all-time classic pitchers duel.
Both teams would score a run in the first nine innings. The game would go to extras, but there was plenty of drama before hand. New York added their run in the third with a home run from Mekly Cabrera.. Yes Melky Cabrera.
Scoreless dueling would continue for the rest of the game. 0's were being put up inning after inning, both pitchers were on.
Pettitte would go into the seventh. He was yanked after a Peralta double and Lofton walk. Open the door for the young and fierce Joba Chamberlain to come in with one out. Chamberlain put the breaks on the Indians rally by striking out Gutierrez and getting Blake to fly out.
What would happen from there on would go down as one of the lasting highlights of the entire 2007 season. I was indeed at this game as well as the midges ascended upon Jacob's Field. Joba walked Sizemore and then a wild pitch advanced him to second. Obviously showing signs of frustration due to the bugs, Chamberlain was rattled.
A Cabrera bunt put Sizemore at third and a line-out by Hafner put the Indians in crunch situation. It was their best scoring chance of the game and with the ninth inning being the inning Mariano Rivera would come in, they had to at least tie the game. With Martinez at bat, Joba uncorked another wild pitch and Sizemore came streaking down the third base line sliding safely into home for a tie ball game.
Joba would end up hitting Martinez and walking Garko but he got out of another jam when he struck out Peralta. The damage was done though. Coated in bug spray, Chamberlain blew the lead without surrendering a single hit in the inning. It was the definition of a meltdown and Joba was clearly bugged.
Then Fausto Carmona came out for the top of the ninth to try and extend the tie game. Dealing with the same conditions Chamberlain did, Carmona struck out Derek Jeter and then Alex Rodriguez to end the inning. The legend had grown.
More 0's were exchanged until the bottom of the eleventh. Luis Vizcaino came in for Mariano Rivera and it was as if someone sentenced the Yankees to a loss right then and there. Lofton reached with a walk and advanced on a Gutierrez single. Casey Blake moved them over with a bunt and the bases were loaded for Asdrubal Cabrera after a Sizemore intentional walk.
With one out all he had to do was make contact. Cabrera did but it was right to the first baseman. Luckily it was air born and Hafner would get one more shot for Cleveland.
Full count Hafner lined one over the head of Robinson Cano and into right field, Lofton scored, Cleveland won and I felt ten times the energy charge into the stadium than I did when Blake hit the walk off shot against Detroit. It was electric for the whole game with white fuzz flying everywhere from the rallying towels. Cleveland was alive and it was kicking.
44,000 plus friends got together for one amazing night. Cleveland was one game away from the ALCS and we had just witnessed a historic type game.
New York won Game Three behind a game saving performance of Phil Hughes. Roger Clemens got the start and Cleveland had tagged him for three runs in the first three innings. Eric Wedge made a controversial decision to start Trot Nixon because of history with Clemens and Yankee Stadium and it paid off. Nixon homered off Clemens in the second inning and later doubled off Chamberlain for his second RBI.
Trot Nixon in my mind was the catalyst for that team. He was the energizer all year and for him to get the start and do that was vindication for him, Shapiro for signing him and keeping him all year and Wedge for playing him. It was Nixon who started the pies in the face craze that took off like crazy and created a feeling that the team was bonded together very tightly and playing towards a united cause.
Cleveland did lose the game after a four run fifth and three run sixth and Phillip Hughes' game saving relief. But that didn't set the Tribe back. Paul Byrd would start game four and Kelly Shoppach would catch him despite Garko's hot bat. Normalcy would continue and it would prove to work.
New York decided to go with Chien-Ming Wang on three days rest and it proved to be the wrong move as Wang was ousted after just one complete inning. He gave up two runs in the first and two more in the second before he gave way to Mike Mussina. Sizemore led the game off with a home run and Peralta added another run in the inning.
Sizemore knocked in a run off Mussina that was charged to Wang and Cabrera closed the book with a single to center.
That would be all Paul Byrd would need. He gave up two runs in five innings of work before giving way to the bullpen. Cleveland added two more off Mussina in the fourth inning with a Martinez single that scored Shoppach and Sizemore.
It was the ninth inning and Joe Borowski was staring down the heart of the Yankee order. Jeter, Abreu, Rodriguez. Jeter popped out and the nerves were calm. Until Borowski uncorked one that Bobby Abreu sent into the stands to cut the deficit to two.
After Rodriguez flew out to right nerves were calm again until Jorge Posada drilled one just foul. A little more over and the ball would have been gone and it would have been a one run game. In true Borowski fashion though, Joe struck out Posada to end the game and send Cleveland to the ALCS.
It was also the ending of an era.. A long with all the New York beat-downs delivered through the decade, Cleveland ended up winning the final postseason game in historic Yankee Stadium. New York didn't return to the postseason in 2008, their final year in the stadium and it was also the final game for Joe Torre as skipper of the Bombers. Cleveland had sort of laid to rest that era of Yankee baseball. Of course we know New York hired Joe Girardi that offseason, opened up a new stadium in 2009 and eventually went on to claim the World Series. But it sort of felt like an era was put to bed with Cleveland's win.
The first two games of the ALCS seemed as if they were four separate games. Boston took game one and it seemed as if they played two innings one day and then seven the next night. Travis Hafner put the club on the board early with a solo shot off Josh Beckett and Sabathia came right back by letting up a RBI single to Manny Ramirez. After two scoreless innings by Beckett and Sabathia, things turned bad for Cleveland.
Sabathia got shelled for four runs in the third and three in the fifth before being replaced by Jensen Lewis. Lewis, Aaron Fultz and Tom Mastny would combine to let Boston score two more in the sixth and that would be the game. Boston had crushed Cleveland in the first game and things didn't look good.
Cleveland would come back in the first inning of Game Two with a run to set the tone. Victor Martinez doubled off Curt Schilling to score the first run. Boston added three in the third inning off Fausto Carmona, taking a bit of his invincibility away.
Cleveland battled back, powered by home runs from Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland tied the game in the sixth inning. The game went into extras and would remain tied until the top of the 11th. Tom Mastny put together one of the more impressive innings of the postseason when he retired David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Lowell 1-2-3 in the tenth inning.
Boston started the 11th inning off with midseason acquisition Eric Gagne who had been closing for the Rangers. He had been horrible since coming to Boston and proved to be even more of a bust of a acquisition when he started Cleveland's seven run 11th inning.
After Gagne was replaced, Trot Nixon started the scoring with a single, Peralta would double off Lester and Franklin Gutierrez would hit a home run to cap off the inning. Cleveland was going back home with a 1-1 series, a game stolen at Boston and all sorts of momentum from their beat down in the eleventh.
And it showed in Game Three.
Cleveland scored early off Daisuke Matsuzaka in the second inning. It was the man who came up many times before in the postseason doing it again. Kenny Lofton hit a two run shot to charge the crowd up. Travis Hafner knocked Dice-K out of the game with an RBI single and Cleveland would go on to win the game behind Westbrook's 6.2 innings of two run ball and Joe Borowski's second save of the postseason.
Game Four was match up of veteran starters with much postseason experience. Paul Byrd and Tim Wakefield would square off and Cleveland could honestly have been in line for a rough night or the night they actually had. That is the life of the knuckleball.
That knuckleball looked to be on for the early part of the game. Wakefield didn't crack until the fourth inning when he gave up a double to Peralta. Then the Tribe broke through in a big way in the fifth inning. Casey Blake charged the crowd with a home run to lead off the inning. Cabrera and Martinez knocked in two more and eventually chased Wakefield from the game. Jhonny Peralta added a home run that scored Martinez and Cabrera and one more was added when Casey Blake knocked in his second run of the inning.
This would be another game I attended and I can honestly say I don't remember sitting down the entire fifth inning after Blake hit his home run. It was an emotionally charging inning as the entire stadium was behind the Tribe as they put on their rally.
Paul Byrd just needed to get through another inning or two and give way to the bullpen. Easier said than done with Byrd though. Kevin Youkilis led off the inning with a solo shot and David Ortiz would follow with one of his own. It chased Paul Byrd from the game and brought up Manny Ramirez.
Manny would make it 3-3 as he charged one off Jensen Lewis to make it a 7-3 game, a little uneasiness returned. Manny stood and stared at the ball and was immediately showered with boos. One has to wonder what was going through his mind as his team was still behind by four runs. Ramirez acted as if he won the game with his homer.
Lewis would calm down to pitch scoreless ball the rest of the way through and Rafael Betancourt cleaned up for two perfect innings following that and the series all of a sudden was in favor of Cleveland, 3-1 with one more home game left for the Tribe.
It seemed simple, Cleveland would send CC Sabathia to the mound at home to start it off and if he didn't win it, they'd have two more shots to do it in Boston.
But there was a charged energy in this Boston club. They still had a lot of the players that performed the historic 3-0 comeback over the Yankees, so they certainly had it in them to come back from 3-1, especially with two home games left and the most clutch pitcher in the game going in Game Five.
Some believed that the Indians pulled a mental tactic by inviting former girlfriend of Beckett, Danielle Peck to sing the National Anthem before the game. But as everyone would soon learn, nothing can really stop Josh Beckett from being clutch if he wants to.
Kevin Youkilis started it off in the first with a solo home run off Sabathia. Here we go again, CC was struggling in the postseason after being brilliant all year. What was going on?
Hafner answered back for Cleveland's run in the first, but that would be it for the night, a run scoring double play. Sabathia settled in. He gave up another run in the third but he managed to get through three innings after that with zeros. Until the seventh inning came. Pedroia doubled, Youkilis tripled and Sabathia was done for the game and most likely the ALCS.
Reliable Rafael Perez came in to pitch the eighth and try and keep things close. But a walk an error and a single set the table for a few more runs after Tom Mastny entered the game. Game Five was not being won, Cleveland would have to win it in Boston as Beckett shut the Indians down for eight innings.
The unraveling moment came with the first inning of game six. Fausto Carmona ran into trouble in the previous matchup against Boston when he was walking hitters not named Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. He did it even worse in Game Six.
After a 1-2-3 first from Schilling, Carmona gave up singles to Pedroia and Youkilis and followed with a walk to Ortiz. Manny Ramirez struck out and Mike Lowell hit a pop fly to right that wasn't deep enough to score.
With a 3-1 count, J.D. belted a grand slam off Carmona for the first strike. The air was taken out of the Cleveland balloon. Martinez answered with a solo shot in the second but it was only a matter of time before Carmona got touched up again in the third. Carmona walked Ramirez and Lowell to set up another RBI by JD Drew. Carmona was done and if the Indians didn't pull it out in the next two games, his historic season would end on a down note.
When the third was over, Boston led 10-1. The Tribe put together one more run in the seventh and Boston responded with two in the eighth to close the door, this was going to Game Seven.
Like Games 5 and 6, 7 would be a rematch of starting pitchers. Jake Westbrook would face Daisuke Matsuzaka and early on it was Dice-K who looked better. He retired eight straight and Westbrook was touched up for runs in the first three innings.
Cleveland wasn't dead yet though. Ryan Garko's RBI double added on in the fourth and Grady Sizemore knocked Franklin Gutierrez with a sac-fly in the fifth.
Westbrook had settled in and he managed to go scoreless the rest of the way through. Boston's Hideki Okajima, who was lights out for the entire 2007 year came in for Dice-K in the sixth. After a scoreless sixth he started to get into trouble in the seventh. Kenny Lofton reached on an error and advanced all the way to second. Cleveland was threatening with one out and Franklin Gutierrez came to bat.
Gutierrez hit a ground ball down the left field line and Lofton came flying around third itching to score the tying run. However he would stop as third base coach Joel Skinner held him up from going and not wanting to chance it. With Blake up and one out, it seemed reasonable to think at the time that Skinner made a sound choice.
But it was Kenny Lofton, the fastest man the organization has probably ever seen.
And Casey Blake grounded into a double play to end the threat.
And essentially, the Indians playoff run.
Dustin Pedroia muscled a two run shot over the monster and off Rafael Betancourt after Jacoby Ellsbury reached on an error and Boston pulled away. Kevin Youkilis added insult to injury off Jensen Lewis with a two-run shot and it was 11-2, Cleveland wasn't coming back.
The pure emotion that was ripped out of the collective heart of Cleveland when Lofton was stopped got ten times worse when Blake grounded into the double play. Third base coaches make decisions like the one Skinner did all the time, but none was bigger than the one Skinner made because it had to be magnified.
Take in mind the game would have only been tied. It certainly changed momentum so anything could have happened, but the run was only the tying run, which is perhaps why Skinner held up Lofton. Not to mention it was to left field, not right field. The odds of a throw coming in on time go up when a ball is hit to left field.
In a way, I feel bad for Joel Skinner. People still blame him for the Indians losing that ALCS. Sure I disagree with the fact that he held up Lofton, but other things went wrong for Cleveland prior to that. CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona for one not coming through when you needed them the most was critical. The reliable bullpen wasn't so reliable in the last few games either.
Hell, the offense sputtered a few times as well.
It shouldn't all be put on Skinner. He did what he thought was the safest decision. With them needing a run to tie he had to be confident that Lofton was going to score no matter what. If you are tied in that situation then maybe you can send him when you might not be totally sure of yourself.
But again, it was Kenny Lofton. You kind of assume that Lofton is going to score no matter what.
Irony set in at the end of the series as Coco Crisp caught the final out for Boston. Coco downright sucked in the ALCS and some of Boston's spark came from the insertion of Jacoby Ellsbury into the lineup. However Crisp came in for Ramirez as a defensive replacement and ended up catching the final out for Boston.
It was a huge disappointment. To this day I still get bent out of shape thinking about losing a 3-1 lead, but I still cherish and remember all the great memories of the season. Being at the game Blake hit the big walk off, being at Game 2 of the ALDS and Game 4 of the ALCS are memories that will last a life time. I'll always be able to tell people that I was at the famous "bug game" where Joba Chamberlain couldn't handle a few midges.
I can remember high-fiving, jumping around and screaming in unison with 40,000 plus people I've never met before, but felt like I knew my whole life as we shared the common love for the Cleveland Indians and celebrated victories in the most intense situations in baseball.
The season was a magical ride. It didn't end the way we wanted it to. Had the Indians gone to the World Series, I believe they would have rolled Colorado quite like Boston did and it would have been the start of something special.
But that is how baseball works. You have to appreciate your opportunities and cherish the memories. Celebrate the three All-Stars the Indians sent to San Francisco in Sabathia, Sizemore and Martinez. Celebrate Victor's big home run in that game as well. Celebrate the Cy Young award that Sabathia won, the magical and inspiring season Carmona had and the gold glove that Grady Sizemore won, the first for an Indian since 2001.
I just spent an entire day recapping an entire season that I remembered like it happened yesterday. I don't remember what happened a month ago and here I am re-accounting memories from an entire baseball season.
That is special.... That is really special.
As you should already know, Cleveland went on to not win in 2008 and 2009. Which is where we are at now.
High expectations were held for 2008 after the Indians were on the brink of a World Series appearance. One game away from such, I know I was anxious for 2008 to start. Because of the team's success, Mark Shapiro didn't want to toy with what was successful, so mass-changes were kept to a minimum. With a core in place, could you really blame him?
It was essentially the same team starting in 2008 than ended 2007. Cleveland was going to depend on the growth of some of those young pieces, such as Franklin Gutierrez and Fausto Carmona, to grow and produce along with the likes of Sabathia, Hafner, Martinez, Sizemore and Peralta.
The one move Shapiro did make made all sorts of sense. Identifying the utility spot as a weakness for the entire 2007 season, Shapiro acquired what he believed was a championship caliber utility player in Jamey Carroll. Jamey was the missing piece the Tribe needed to spell the likes of Peralta, Blake and Cabrera in the infield without a severe drop off in production.
Dellucci would be back as would Michaels to platoon in left field, something that didn't necessarily work in 2007, but the money was invested in Dellucci, so they had to roll with what they had. Gutierrez would, as Wedge put it, "have every chance to become the regular right fielder" but full confidence was not instilled in him to be that everyday.
Travis Hafner did not have the 2007 many were expecting. His average dipped but he still knocked in 100 runs and he was clutch in the playoffs. Martinez, Garko, Peralta and Blake would make up the rest of the core lineup and Asdrubal Cabrera had entrenched himself at second. However Wedge was hesitant to push Cabrera back into that two spot that he thrived from the start.
With Carmona, Sabathia, Westbrook and Byrd locked into the four rotation spots, Cleveland had plenty of options for their fifth spot. It came down to 2006 breakout Jeremy Sowers, the pitcher who ended the 2007 year in the year there in Aaron Laffey or fallen Cliff Lee.
There was talk prior to the year of dealing Cliff Lee. But Cleveland resisted as they believed 2007 was simply just a bust of a year. A few deals came across the table, including a proposed rumor that would have sent Lee and catcher Kelly Shoppach to the Pirates for Jason Bay, catcher Ronny Paulino and pitching. Whether that rumor was actually a proposed deal is still unclear, but one rumor that turned out to be validated by close sources was a deal with Arizona that would send Lee to Arizona for Carlos Quentin. Division rival Chicago ended up getting Quentin and he had a career year for the White Sox.
But Quentin's career year for Chicago was nothing compared to Cliff Lee's magical season. Lee ended up winning the fifth spot in spring training despite lackluster numbers from all three pitchers. When it came down to it, Lee showed the most in his starts and Carl Willis saw that Lee was working on improving his pitches and returning to form.
The bullpen would remain unchanged mostly. Joe Borowski would return as the closer, Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez would be the main set up cogs and Jensen Lewis would have an elevated role in things. Shapiro knew full well though that a team needed options, especially with Borowski's shaky outings.
So he went out of the country for it. Seeing the success of Boston's Hideki Okajima, Cleveland signed their own Japanese import reliever, Masahide Kobayashi. The man they called Masa came over from Japan as an accomplished closer in their professional leagues. Not much was known, but Cleveland inked him to a two year deal to add to what was looked at as a deep pen. Cleveland planned on bringing back Aaron Fultz, until they decided to cut him with a few days left in spring training for an option that Boston had released in left-handed Craig Breslow.
Breslow lasted a few weeks, sparingly used and he was eventually cut. He went on to pitch productively for Minnesota. Wedge's misuse of Breslow proved to be just one of the bullpen issues Cleveland faced in 2008.
Like the years in which they struggled previously, most notably 2006, the bullpen was at the center of the issue.
But everything else seemed to go wrong for the club as well. 2008 was supposed to be the year as multiple experts were on Cleveland's bandwagon for not just the AL Central but the World Series. The Tribe were looked at as favorites for the Central and contenders in the AL.
What seemed to plague Cleveland in the Wedge era was very apparent in 2008. A slow start.
Cleveland struggled out of the gate. They hovered around .500 for April and May. They took over the division lead Mid-May for a few days and then the steady downfall occurred. The AL Central was going to be a dogfight, but Cleveland wasn't going to be involved in it as they couldn't get out of their own way.
With injures to Hafner, Martinez on the offensive side, things looked bad. Joe Borowski and Hafner both had injuries that were surrounded in controversy as to if the Indians and the players covered things up in an effort to get them on the field. In the end it was just a disaster of a situation as Borowski's injury turned out to be something that would pretty much end his career. He went on the DL, Cleveland didn't have a closer until he came back and still didn't when he did. Borowski was cut sometime midseason and later announced his retirement when he visited the team during 2009 Spring Training.
Hafner's situation was far worse as the club had just invested into the DH long term. Shapiro knew full well that Hafner's numbers would tail off as he got older, but he and no one else expected Hafner to take the downfall he did in 2008. Hafner's shoulder was a mess. It was a lost year in 2008 as Hafner was up and down, shut down and started back up. Overall it was a messy situation that left Hafner with a shoulder that was completely dead and in need of surgery in the offseason.
Borowski's injury was far more crippling to the club as it sent their bullpen situation into a state of panic. Not only was Borowski not there, Betancourt couldn't even come close to matching the form he had in 2007. No one expected him to match it, however his 5.07 ERA in 71 innings was far from acceptable. Rafael Perez struggled as well, at least early. Eventually he would pick it up and become the reliever everyone remembered in 2007, but too little too late. Jensen Lewis suffered a similar downfall early in 2008 that led to him getting called down for a "lack of velocity." Lewis eventually returned and worked his way back up the ladder and ended the 2008 as Cleveland's closer.
Masahide Kobayashi didn't exactly work out like Cleveland thought it would. During the time Borowski was out they had been working Kobayashi up and getting him acclimated to American baseball. Eventually a shot was given to Masa to close games and it didn't end well. Masa was clearly nothing more than a middle of the road reliever when all was said and done and it seemed as if he was either not cut out for MLB ball or that he needed more time to adjust.
Along with their pen problems, Cleveland suffered injuries to their starting pitching staff. Jake Westbrook made just 5 starts that year. He went four in April and then took a trip to the DL. He returned in late May to make one start and ending up blowing out his elbow. As we now know, Westbrook still hasn't fully come back from his Tommy John surgery and is aiming to make 2010 his comeback year. The two main guys the team invested in, Wetbrook and Hafner, had gone through damaging injuries.
Fausto Carmona also went through injury struggles. He injured himself in late May covering first base against Texas and went on the DL with a hip issue. Carmona had 3.10 ERA at the time of his injury, not 2007 dominant, but he was pitching good. When Carmona returned against Minnesota in July, he clearly was not the same after a few starts. The only moment that really is lasting from Carmona's 2008 was his headlock on Gary Sheffield. It pretty much put into a nutshell Carmona's season. He was a fighter. He fought through an injury but gained nothing at all.
Aaron Laffey would spot start throughout the year. He contributed early in the year when Carmona and Westbrook went down and was a mainstay in the rotation. He showed brilliant flashes until he too battled injuries. It was known until the offseason, but a lot of Laffey's struggles at both the major league and minor league levels were due to the injuries he had battled.
The biggest story in my mind about 2008 was not the trade of Sabathia or the disappointment of not contending, but the remarkable year of Cliff Lee. Does it even need to be recapped? 22 game winner, ERA dominance and a second consecutive Cy Young for the Cleveland Indians. Lee's year brought so much joy to an otherwise depressing year. We could always count on him going out there every fifth day and giving us a show. It was the first year of this blog and if you followed it you followed the journey with Lee and the awe that we were all in as Lee ran through the 2008 season and made it his.
And then we have Paul Byrd and CC Sabathia. Byrd returned for his third year with the Tribe. He made 22 starts for Cleveland and was his usual self. He had ups and downs, but his ups came around after the non-waiver trade deadline had passed and eventually shipped to Boston as the last remaining piece of the Tribe that was worth dealing.
2008 will largely be remembered as the year the Indians started selling players off, especially after went down in 2009. But let's not forget the situation Cleveland was in with CC Sabathia, their home grown ace. It was a necessary evil of being a team in a smaller market playing in a game that had media market monsters like New York and Boston who could spend whatever they wanted. When the Tribe fell out of contention, they had to trade CC Sabathia, it was something that had to happen. Cliff Lee's year afforded them the opportunity to do so and still keep an ace around, but Sabathia had to be dealt for the best package Shapiro could get.
Milwaukee wanted to go for it and Cleveland couldn't have found a better partner. The Brewer farm system was rich in prospects and Cleveland got the best they had in Matt LaPorta, a slugging outfielder/first baseman. After Milwaukee made the playoffs, Cleveland was afforded the right to pick the second major piece of the deal, speedy outfielder Michael Brantley. Cleveland also acquired reliever Rob Bryson, currently in the Single A levels of the Tribe organization dealing with an injury and swing man Zach Jackson, no longer on the 40 man, but still with the club.
You will find no one with a bigger heart than CC Sabathia. If Cleveland had the money to offer him, I have no doubt in my mind that he'd still be an Indian to this day as he loved the city, the fans, the life he had come to live and the organization that he'd grown up. Unfortunately, CC Sabathia wanted way too much money. As we've seen, Sabathia wanted to break the bank. 18 million per year for 3-4 years was just not good enough for Sabathia and his agent as they declined Cleveland's initial offer and shrugged it off as something that wasn't even close.
So the deal was made and Sabathia was gone. Once Cleveland decided they were out of it, they dealt Sabathia and moved on. Cleveland was out of it for several reasons. For one, the bullpen failures hurt. For two, the injuries to Carmona and Westbrook hurt more. For three, the injuries to Hafner and Martinez was just insult to injury.
Martinez's injuries were around all year until he had them fixed. The power wasn't there, the struggling was, he needed fixed. With bone chips in his elbow and all other sorts of bumps and bruises, Martinez hit the DL in early June and didn't return til very late August. When he came back, he finally hit his first home run of the year and it was apparent Martinez just needed some time off and some good old surgery to fix his woes.
Casey Blake is quite the story for Cleveland. When he eventually calls it quits, I will gladly volunteer to write his story. The man is continuously overlooked and doubted and he keeps coming back. He was a free agent like Sabathia was and it was looking like Cleveland could bring him back, but Los Angeles offered the Tribe a deal that they just couldn't refuse. The deal was for hotshot catching prospect Carlos Santana. The prospect of getting their catcher of the future was too good of a deal and Shapiro took it. Blake could be revisited in the offseason if need be as Cleveland would most definitely be searching for a third baseman.
And really this brings us to the usual suspects. Grady Sizemore went on to have another good year, notching a 30-30 year and nabbing another Gold Glove. Ryan Garko struggled at times but ended with 90 RBI and a steady on base percentage. Jhonny Peralta, after struggling earlier in the year, came alive when called upon to be the team's rock. With Martinez and Hafner down, they need someone to produce in the middle of the order and Peralta did. Peralta's power numbers dipped in the second half but he maintained a good RBI pace and became more of a solid hitter that got on base in the middle of the order.
Kelly Shoppach got his first real crack at starting for an extended period of time with Martinez's injury. He went on to slug 21 home runs and look like a legit starting catcher for any team. His value was at an all-time high. Ben Francisco finally got his crack and went on to have a good showing as a regular outfielder, but he showed he probably was nothing more than a fourth outfielder. Franklin Gutierrez got his shot to prove but struggled early. He struggled early and was gone away from. He never really got another consistent chance to do some damage for the rest of the year as Shin-Soo Choo began to re-emerge after Tommy John Surgery.
Choo returned to hit 14 home runs and be one of the AL's top hitters in the second half. He had established himself as a legit hitter at the big leagues and the club believed he would only grow.
Jason Michaels got off to a horrific start and was dealt rather quickly to Pittsbugh and a revolving door of utility and backup players such as Andy Gonzalez, Jason Tyner, Jorge Velandia and Sal Fasano were shuffled in and out. Sal Fasano was a god amongst men though as we all know.
I hate to say I called it, but I saw the Asdrubal Cabrera fall coming. The kid sparkled with the glove but ultimately the league had caught up to him. He struggled with the bat and eventually was sent down to Triple-A to figure things out. It opened up the door for Josh Barfield to try and re-establish himself at the majors but that ended quicker than it took you to read this sentence. Barfield did some damage to his hand and didn't return till later in the year when Cabrera had come back up and regained his form as a hitter.
Cabrera and Choo's second half surges signified the second half and the hope the Tribe had for 2009. With 2008 considered a set back, 2009 was considered a bounce back. It was often equated to the the string they had from 2005 to 2007. They had a big year when no one expected them to (2007), the fell down to earth for one reason or another (2008) and they'd be back in 2009 to regain form.
Cleveland finished the season at 81-81, which was remarkable given how bad they had played at times. Cleveland still had the talent though and there was hope for 2009. Moves had to be made though. Complacency was not an option, Shapiro had to learn from his mistakes from the 2007 offseason.
I'm going to cut it short as we just ended it.
If you were following this blog, you knew how important the offseason for 2008 was.
Even if you didn't. You knew what effort and resources the Indians put into the 2009 roster and what they did to try and contend this past year.
Kerry Wood was signed to a deal to close. It was the biggest signing that the club had made the entire decade if you ask me. It signaled that they were going for it in 2009 and that they were willing to spend to win if need be.
To replace Blake at third after he decided to stick with LA, Cleveland traded for Mark DeRosa.
Gutierrez was dealt to Seattle in the three-team deal that put Putz in New York. It brought us Luis Valbuena and Joe Smith.
Just a year a go we were going through all these moves as they unfolded.. Now we can kind of sit here and realize what position the team was in and how they unfolded beyond where we were at. We don't need to sit here and recap the 2009 season as we just went through it. The memories and details are still fresh in our minds. The trades we made, the signing of Wood, the idea of contending.
Then how the season eventually turned out. Lee was dealt, Martinez was deal, Garko, Betancourt, DeRosa as well.
The large core of this team is gone.
The decade we just recapped is fittingly over as is the main nucleus of those teams in that decade.
From building up with the Colon trade to now... It was pretty much a decade run. Now as we attempt to start a new one, we look ahead to what we have and the future. We look towards Santana and LaPorta, the pitching acquisitions this team has made and the hope that in a few years, we can start enjoying the success this team had in 2005 and 2007.
That is the goal. We lived through a decade of Tribe baseball and names came and gone. Hafner will still be here, so will Sizemore, Carmona, Cabrera and Choo. Even Westbrook and Peralta, for this year at least.
But its a whole new ballgame now. We're entering a new decade and we are entering in a new phase of Indians baseball. Manny Acta is now the manager and we're moving forward. To go over 2009 again would just be a pain in the ass. It was an end that was disappointing, Acta is now the man and we're in the process of making moves that eventually will be highlighted when the next decade is reviewed.
We're moving forward. The 2000's were nice and gave us plenty of memories. But it didn't give us a championship. Hopefully the next ten years will.
Here is a time line of the decade, from 2000 up until now. If you've got something important that should be added, speak up in the comments.
June 28th, 2000 - Richie Sexson traded to Milwaukee for Steve Woodward, Jason Bere and Bob Wickman. Marco Scutaro later was sent to Milwaukee to complete the deal.
June 29th, 2000 - David Justice Traded to New York Yankees for Jake Westbrook.
Dec. 19th, 2000 - Manny Ramirez Signs with the Boston Red Sox.
April 4th, 2001 - The 455 consecutive home sellout streak ends.
April 8th, 2001 - CC Sabathia Makes Major League Debut
August 5th, 2001 - Indians complete the biggest comeback in MLB History, defeating Seattle 15-14 in 11 innings.
October 2001 - Cleveland Eliminated from 2001 Playoffs by Seattle in 5 Games.
February 1st, 2002 - Kenny Lofton signs with the Chicago White Sox.
June 27th, 2002 - Bartolo Colon Traded to Montreal for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore.
July 12th, 2002 - Charlie Manuel is Fired.
August 7th, 2002 - Coco Crisp is named as the Player to be Named Later in the Chuck Finley Deal.
October 29th, 2002 -Eric Wedge is Hired as Manager, 39th in club history.
December 6th, 2002 - Travis Hafner acquired from Texas for Catcher Einar Diaz and Pitcher Ryan Drese.
July 18th, 2003 - Shane Spencer is traded to Texas for Ryan Ludwick.
April 3rd, 2004 - Milton Bradley is traded to Los Angeles for Franklin Gutierrez and Andrew Brown.
August 31st, 2004 - Cleveland defeats New York 22-0 at Yankee Stadium. Omar Vizquel notches six hits.
Nov. 16th, 2004 - Omar Vizquel signs with San Francisco.
January 8th, 2005 - Kevin Millwood signs one year deal.
December 7th, 2005 - Paul Byrd signs two year deal.
January 26th, 2006 - Coco Crisp, David Riske and Josh Bard Traded to Boston for Andy Marte, Guillermo Mota and Kelly Shoppach.
March 12th, 2006 - Sportstime Ohio is Launched as the Indians own regional network.
April 7th, 2006 - Brandon Phillips Traded to Cincinnati for PTBNL (Eventually Jeff Stevens).
June 3oth, 2006 - Eduardo Perez Traded to Seattle for Asdrubal Cabrera.
July 4th, 2006 - Cleveland defeats New York 19-1, Hafner and Peralta hit two homers each.
July 20th, 2006 - Bob Wickman Traded to Atlanta for catcher Max Ramirez.
July 26th, 2006 - Ben Broussard Traded to Seattle for Shin-Soo Choo. Choo debuts two days later and hits the lone home run in a 1-0 win over his former team. Eduardo Perez struck out two times in three at bats.
July 28th, 2006 - Rookie Jeremy Sowers throws second consecutive shutout.
Aug. 13th, 2006 - Travis Hafner ties Don Mattingly's single-season Grand Slam record.
April 13th, 2007 - Jake Westbrook signs three-year contract extension.
July 12th, 2007 - Travis Hafner signs four-year contract extension.
July 27th, 2007 - Acquired Kenny Lofton from Texas for catcher Max Ramirez.
Sept. 23rd, 2007 - Cleveland clinches AL Central with win over Oakland.
October 8th, 2007 - Cleveland defeats New York 6-4 to win ALDS 3-1.
October 15th, 2007 - Eric Wedge Wins 2007 AL Manager of the Year Award.
October 24th, 2007 - Boston defeats Cleveland 11-2 to win ALCS 4-3, eliminating Cleveland.
Nov. 13th, 2007 - CC Sabathia Wins 2007 AL Cy Young Award.
Dec. 7th, 2007 - Acquired Jamey Carroll from Colorado.
July 7th, 2008 - CC Sabathia Traded to Milwaukee for Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson.
July 26th, 2009 - Casey Blake Traded to Los Angeles Dodgers for Carlos Santana and John Meloan.
Sept. 8th, 2008 - Boston Breaks Cleveland's 455 consecutive home sellout streak.
Nov. 13th, 2008 - Cliff Lee Wins 2008 AL Cy Young Award.
Dec. 10th, 2008 - Kerry Wood signs two year deal.
Dec. 11th, 2008 - Franklin Gutierrez Traded to Seattle in 3 Team Deal, Cleveland gets Joe Smith and Luis Valbuena.
Dec. 31st, 2008 - Acquired Mark DeRosa from Chicago Cubs for Jeff Stevens and two pitchers.
April 16th and 18th, 2009 - Indians and Yankees open up the New Yankee Stadium, Cliff Lee out dueled CC Sabathia and picked up the win, 10-2. Cleveland defeats New York 22-4 two days later.
July 29th, 2009 - Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco Traded to Philadelphia for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson and Jason Knapp.
July 31st, 2009 - Victor Martinez Traded to Boston for Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price.
Sept. 30th, 2009 - Eric Wedge is Fired as Manager.
Oct. 20th, 2009 - Manny Acta is Hired as Manager, 40th in club history.
Oct. 30th, 2009 - Sandy Alomar Jr. is Hired as First Base Coach
AWARDS IN THE DECADE - WINNERS IN BOLD
GOLD GLOVE - Grady Sizemore (2007, 2008), Omar Vizquel (2000, 2001), Roberto Alomar (2000, 2001), Travis Fryman (2000)
SILVER SLUGGER - Grady Sizemore (2008), Victor Martinez (2004*), Juan Gonzalez (2001), Roberto Alomar (2000), Manny Ramirez (2000)
AL CY YOUNG - Cliff Lee (2008), CC Sabathia (2007), Cliff Lee (4th, 2005), Kevin Millwood (6th, 2005)
AL MVP - Grady Sizemore (10th, 2008), Victor Martinez (7th, 2007), Travis Hafner (8th, 2006; 5th, 2005), Jim Thome (7th, 2002; 7th, 2001), Roberto Alomar (4th, 2001), Juan Gonzalez (5th, 2001), Manny Ramirez (6th, 2000)
AL MANAGER - Eric Wedge (2007), Eric Wedge (2nd, 2005)
AL ROOKIE - CC Sabathia (2nd Place, 2001), Jody Gerut (4th Place, 2003)
ALL-STARS (ST = Starter)- Victor Martinez (2009; 2007; 2004), Cliff Lee (ST 2008), Grady Sizemore (2008; 2007; 2006), CC Sabathia (2007; 2004; 2003), Bob Wickman (2005); Ronnie Belliard (2004), Matt Lawton (2004), Jake Westbrook (2004), Omar Vizquel (2002), Juan Gonzalez (ST, 2001), Roberto Alomar (2001; ST 2000), Travis Fryman (ST 2000), Manny Ramirez (2000), Chuck Finley (2000)