12.30.2009

A Look Back at the Decade of Tribe Baseball: 2007-2009

I 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.

2008

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.

2009

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.

TIME LINE

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)
*Shared

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)

12.29.2009

A Look Back at the Decade of Tribe Baseball: 2006-2007

Yesterday, I posted the first part of our Decade in Review, 2000 up to 2005.

Today and Tomorrow I will post the final two parts. Today we'll be looking at 2006 and the 2007 season. Tomorrow, 2007's playoff run, 2008 and 2009. Because 2007 was such a monumental year, it became a very long recap and thus I've split it up.

If you missed yesterday's post, check it out here

Again the reasoning for 2006 and 2007 being as long as they are is due to the fact that I remember more vivid details about this. As always, if you remember something that I left out, please add it in the comments.

2006

The biggest deal Cleveland would make would be the Coco Crisp trade. Identifying third base as an area of need, Shapiro went out to acquire himself a player that would be a mainstay at that position to go along with his mainstays in center, at catcher, hitting at DH and playing at short.

Boston needed to rid themselves of Edgar Renteria, but they wanted to add an outfielder. They couldn't find a fit with Atlanta, but they may find their outfielder by acquiring someone Cleveland could want.

They managed to pry highly regarded Andy Marte away from Atlanta and later in the offseason would swing him to Cleveland for the guy they really wanted, Coco Crisp.

With Grady Sizemore in center and Casey Blake in right, for now at least, Cleveland believed they had an excess of outfielders. To replace Crisp temporarily, they traded Arthur Rhodes to Philadelphia for outfielder Jason Michaels. Franklin Gutierrez, acquired in the Bradley trade was viewed upon as a future option.

So Cleveland made the deal. They traded reliever David Riske and backup catcher Josh Bard in addition to Crisp to Boston for the heralded Andy Marte, catcher Kelly Shoppach and reliever Guillermo Mota.

Marte was the centerpiece, he was the future at third. Boone would be the short-term solution at third, but eventually, Marte would ascend to the spot.

Shapiro wasn't done. He identified Ben Broussard's inability to hit left handed pitching as a weakness, so he went out and got himself a right handed hitting Eduardo Perez to platoon at first base against lefties.

It worked to be fairly honest and it also netted Cleveland two of it's current core players, more on that later.

They also made an effort to revamp the bullpen with the loss of Bobby Howry. Mota was supposed to help fill that void but in 30 some innings all he could do was a 6.71 ERA. Cleveland brought back Bob Wickman to close, but not before flirting with San Diego's legendary Trevor Hoffman.

It seemed apparent that Cleveland was going to gain the services of one of the game's best closers until San Diego had a change of heart and made an offer to keep their beloved stopper. Hoffman in the end took less money to stay in San Diego, so Cleveland settled for bringing back Wickman.

With both Elarton and Millwood cashing in on huge 2005 seasons, Cleveland had a few voids in their rotation, so they went to free agency to address their vacancies at the bottom.

They started with Paul Byrd a veteran from the Angels. Byrd signed a two year deal with Cleveland worth $14 million with an option for a third. It wasn't a Millwood low-risk investment, but it was virtually the same amount for a veteran presence in the rotation and unlike Millwood, he didn't have an injury concern.

To shore up the back end, they made a deal with division rival Detroit Tiger Jason Johnson. Inked to a 3.5 million dollar deal, Cleveland found themselves a fifth starter, or so they thought.

No it wasn't an mp3 player or anything like that strapped to the back of his belt. Johnson had diabetes and while some would like to blame that on him sucking as bad as he did, Johnson was just bad. So bad.. so so bad...

14 starts, 14 long starts.. He threw in some decent performances that made the Indians stick with him a little longer, but enough was enough. He went 3-8 with a 5.96 ERA and 1.688 WHIP in 77 innings. His spot was eventually taken over by young Jeremy Sowers, the hottest pitching prospect the Indians had in their system at the time.

Sowers made his debut against Cincinnati on June 25th and while it wasn't remarkable, there was hope that the Indians had something better than Johnson. And they really did. Jeremy Sowers ended up leading the entire AL in ERA in the second half of 2006. He went 7-4 but his biggest accomplishment came in July when he threw two back to back shutout victories against Seattle and Minnesota.

He was the first Indians rookie to throw back to back shutouts since 1972. He finished up with a 22 innings scoreless streak and high hopes were had for Sowers joining a dynamite rotation in 2007 for a full-season.

The 2006 season however was most remembered for disappointment. CC Sabathia was injured at points, but he still put forth the best effort of Indians starters that yer. Cliff Lee had a bit of a regression, still winning 14 games, but with an ERA of 4.40. Jake Westbrook won 15 games but the starting pitching was far from the problem aside from Jason Johnson.

It was the disaster of a bullpen that caused the Indians downfall in 2006. Mota flamed out as we mentioned and the Indians never really found a replacement for Bobby Howry. Fernando Cabrera regressed in a big way, going 3-3 with a 5.19 ERA in 60 innings. Rafael Betancourt couldn't repeat his 2005 success and Jason Davis' move to the pen proved to be a work in progress.

Cleveland shuffled in names like Brian Sikorski, Eddie Mujica, Tom Mastny, Brian Slocum, Danny Graves and Scott Sauerbeck to no effect. Matt Miller was injured and eventually it led to the Indians being out of contention enough to trade their closer, Bob Wickman, to Atlanta.

The idea was that Cleveland didn't have a closer of the future. But they had an abundance of starting pitching. So they made a move to convert one of their hot starting prospects, Fausto Carmona, into their closer of the future. Carmona made his debut for the Tribe in Cleveland for CC Sabathia in a spot start.

He won the game and five days later he'd get another start and get pounded. With CC Sabathia still not ready, Carmona made another start and got shelled yet again in five innings. He wouldn't be seen again till May as a relief pitcher.

Cleveland planned on turning him into their closer of the future and they eased him into the closers role as the season progressed. Rafael Betancourt got opportunities in Wickman's absence as Carmona made his rise. Fausto was stellar in the set up role, gaining nine holds before he eventually took over the closers role.

The first game was against Boston, in Boston. Carmona got hit hard the previous night, giving up four runs and taking the loss in the process. But it made sense in a way to see how he would respond, because if he had the guts to close, he would have to come back from something like that.

Well the problem was this. Eric Wedge basically thew Carmona to the dogs. Carmona had a two run lead and he managed to get one out before he was met with a death scenario. Two on and the game's most clutch hitter was coming to the plate. David Ortiz struck fear into horror movies, killer clowns, extreme sky diving and big gross spiders if runners were on base. The man made a living off being clutch.

So why would this end any different?

It didn't. Ortiz hit a three run homer to win the game. Carmona looked dejected and the damage had been done. This man could not close ball games. He had been exposed to horror too quickly. Hell, he might be ruined as a pitcher period.

Wedge ran Carmona out again a few days later against Boston and the same result. Mark Lorretta doubled to left field, two runs scored and the game was over. Three days later against the Tigers, Wedge decided to make it 3-3 and Carmona blew another save in Detroit. One out away from getting out of it, Carmona surrendered a two-run walk off shot to Pudge Rodriguez. The damage had been done a few nights before, Carmona was toast.

Fausto finished up two more games, but they were 12 and 13 run leads against LA and Kansas City. He would lose another game and get moved back into a semi-set up role before Cleveland moved him back into the rotation on September 9th. Carmona lost two more games in his final four starts to finish up what was a horrific rookie season. One that started with a positive first win in his first ever game.

Anyway as you can imagine just with the fact Fausto Carmona was attempting to close games, Cleveland didn't contend like we all thought they would in 2006. They finished in fourth place, 18 games behind first place as Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota fought for the division crown and a wild card spot. The top of the Central being very good and Cleveland's bullpen problems led the team to a disappointing 2006 overall.

Offensively it wasn't a disappointment. Victor Martinez's home run totals decreased but he started to show veteran presence as both a leader on the field and with the bat as his average and RBI total grew.

The Ben Broussard-Eddie Perez platoon at first base proved to work brilliantly for Mark Shapiro. Broussard killed right-handed pitchers when he played, hitting 18 home runs that season and carrying a .308 batting average. Eddie Perez made his debut on opening night as the Indians and White Sox brought in the 2006 season for the MLB on ESPN.

Perez hit a two run shot off Mark Buehrle. Cleveland ended up losing the game 10-4, but a lot of positive was taken as Cleveland took the series and dethroned the reigning champs in the first series of the year. Perez crushed lefties that year, hitting 9 home runs and batting .275 for the season. The Broussard-Perez platoon was such a success that when Cleveland fell out of contention, they dealt Perez to Seattle for young shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera at the end of June.

A month later, Seattle reunited the platoon by dealing for Ben Broussard. They traded young outfield prospect Shin-Soo Choo and pitcher Shawn Nottingham to Cleveland for Broussard four days before the July 31st deadline.

Cleveland wasn't done dealing though. They finished up their deadline deals on July 30th by trading second baseman Ronnie Belliard to St. Louis for utility man Hector Luna. Belliard gave the Indians two and half good seasons at second coming over from Colorado. He hit at least 2.80 in all three years with Cleveland and played solid defense and provided a strong clubhouse presence. If anything, Belliard was the most missed player dealt that year as Cleveland didn't have an answer for second base anymore and all it netted them was... Hector Luna.

Go back all the way to the beginning of a season for a second to realize why the Indians were in this position.

There was no bigger disappointment than the Brandon Phillips debacle. It goes down as a debacle because it was downright a debacle. Phillips was the main guy the Indians got in the Colon trade. He was the second baseman of the future. He was perennial All-Star according to his talents, but in what is probably the biggest gaff of the Shapiro era, Phillips wasn't handled properly.

Mix in bad attitude on Phillips part and you had a marriage that needed to end. No excuses from anyone, Shapiro even admits the way they handled the situation and Phillips development was flawed. Phillips spent four years up and down from Cleveland and Buffalo since he was acquired. His fullest season with 2003 when he hit six home runs and was just 22 years old. He was rushed, quite like Peralta was. However Phillips took a bad attitude about it.

He was given a shot to win the utility spot in spring training against Ramon Vazquez, but it was clear he and Eric Wedge were no seeing eye to eye whether Phillips put forth an effort that was worthy of winning the spot, so Cleveland traded him.

Traded him days after the season started in fact. On April 7th, Cleveland sent him to Cincinnati for a player to be named later. That player would later turn into reliever Jeff Stevens. Phillips was just one of those guys that needed a change of scenery as when he got to Cincinnati he lit it up. 17 home runs and 75 RBI as Cincinnati's second baseman. He went on to have an even better year in 2007, hitting 30 home runs and knocking in 94 RBI as one of Cincinnati's best hitters. There was no mistake about it, Shapiro had messed up and he would need to find a way to fix the damage that had been done to his club's lineup by giving away an All-Star. This saga is far from over though as every time the Reds and Indians meet in their yearly Ohio-Cup matchup, Phillips makes it clear he is still angry, be it with quotes to the media or taunts to the Indians dugout.

He also plays with his hair on fire. In 23 games against the Tribe, Phillips has hit four home runs, knocked in 18 runs and has carried a .341 average.

Offensively there were disappointments though that Phillips wouldn't have solved. Aaron Boone's power numbers regressed, Casey Blake didn't have the same year he had and Jason Michaels wasn't really a capable fill in at left field for Coco Crisp. Jhonny Peralta had a regression from 2005 and really, the offense wasn't the same it was in 2005.

It was still productive, but it just wasn't the same. Grady Sizemore continued his growth as he played in all 162 games, hit .290 with 28 home runs and 22 stolen bases. He started to look like a legit 30-30 player, perhaps 40-40 one day. Travis Hafner had a magical year himself, hitting 42 home runs and knocking in 117 runs that year.

His biggest achievement was tying Don Mattingly's single season grand slam record. It proved that Hafner was one of the most feared hitters in the entire league with a .439 OBP and 100 walks which led the AL. Hafner did all this with also missing the final month of the season. Hafner stepped in to the box to face CJ Wilson with the bases loaded in attempt to break the Mattingly record. Wilson had none of it as he came inside to Hafner. Unfortunately for Pronk, he came in a little too much and hit Hafner on the hand. His season was over a month short and the record would not be broken.

Hafner tied the record against Kansas City on August 13th. Hafner's season was so magical, he hit one of his grand-slams on June 3rd, his birthday, off Brendan Donnelly as part of a three hit, six RBI performance.

The offense also did another special thing on July 4th that year. Celebrating America, they pounded the Yankees into the ground with a 19-1 performance. Cleveland was a decade of Yankee pounding for Cleveland and this game was no different. Jake Westbrook won the game and Cleveland had a nine run fifth inning. Travis Hafner and Jhonny Peralta both went deep twice and with that, Shawn Chacon was moved to the bullpen and would start August with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Obviously with all this, Cleveland didn't make the playoffs and followed up a promising 2005 with a disappointing 2006. Defining his club's weaknesses, Shapiro knew what he had to do for 2007 and aimed to improve the team in the offseason for the upcoming season.

2007

Replacing Broussard/Perez at first would be solved quite easily for Cleveland. Young converted catcher Ryan Garko was up to the task. After hitting seven home runs and knocking in 45 runs in the second half for the Tribe, Garko was in the mix to receive many at bats at first. They'd platoon yet again by placing Casey Blake at first on days Garko didn't start and in the outfield days he would.

Shapiro identified the left field position as one that was a problem and he decided to solve it yet again with another platoon. He also essentially was platooning Ryan Garko at first with Blake, so when Blake was at first, they need a right fielder. Also, with Aaron Boone's departure the club was in need of a strong veteran presence.

The solution was to sign two outfielders. The first being David Dellucci from Philadelphia. Shapiro gave him a three year deal to pair him up with Jason Michaels in left field. Dellucci would make a little over 11.5 million over the three years of the deal. The second was Trot Nixon, who would play in right when Blake was at first. Nixon provided a strong veteran presence, coming over from Boston as an energetic leader.

To solve the Indians problem at third base with the departed Aaron Boone, they believed they already had one that they traded for earlier in 2006. Yes it was Andy Marte's time and coming into Spring Training they all but anointed Marte the starter. The job was basically his.

With Marte the man at third, they still needed a second baseman to replace the ghost of Brandon Phillips that haunted the Tribe. So they flipped strong prospect Kevin Kouzmanoff who hit a grand slam in his first major league at-bat against Texas to San Diego for up and coming second baseman Josh Barfield.

Barfield had a fabulous rookie year for the Padres. He hit 13 home runs in pitcher friendly PETCO park and hit .280 for San Diego in 2006. He was a future All-Star for many many years to come and Cleveland was looked at as getting the better end of the deal.

To fix the bullpen, Mark Shapiro went to work. He signed not one, not two, not three, but four relief pitchers to major league contracts. He inked veteran and 42 year old Roberto Hernandez to a one year $3.3 million dollar deal. Hernandez pitched in 28 games for the Tribe that year, carried a 6.23 ERA and was released on June 28th. He signed with the Dodgers to finish the year with an even higher ERA in less games.

The two moves that worked out for Shapiro however was the signing of left-handed specialist Aaron Fultz. Missing Arthur Rhodes big time, Shapiro got Fultz on the cheap for just $1.5 million and an option for 2008.

Aiming to sure up the closers spot, Shapiro made two acquisitions in this area. He signed veteran closer Keith Foulke from Boston to a one year contract with an option for 2008. The plan was to go into the season as Foulke as the closer and Joe Borowski as the set up man.

The Indians wouldn't even go into spring training with that plan.

Keith Foulke signed on January 14th, 2007. He reported to Spring Training a month later on February 15th and on February 16th he retired. If anything, Foulke should be commended for his stand up character as he realized when he reported that something wasn't right with his elbow. Foulke could have come in, went on the DL and collected a paycheck all year, but rather that he retired and saved the Indians some cash. Foulke would later return and sign with Oakland in 2008 and pitch one more year in the majors. He played 2009 in an independent professional league.

So instead of Foulke winning the competition for the closer spot, Joe Borowski was the man. Cleveland had signed Borowski in December of 2006 to a one year deal with an option for 2008. Borowski was the closer, Betancourt, Fultz and Hernandez would set things up.

The rotation was set as well. CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee would head it up with Jake Westbrook (signed to a three year extension on April 13th) and veteran Paul Byrd. Jeremy Sowers big second half in 2006 set him up for the final spot.

And of course, as we would soon find out as a recurring theme for 2007, things didn't go according to plan. Where was this was bad news in 2008 and 2009, it wasn't the case in 2007. It turns out that all the things that looked like they went wrong in 2007 turned out to be for the best.

Cliff Lee got injured in spring training, suffering a groin strain would make him start the year on the Disabled List. This would push young Fausto Carmona into starting the year with the club an in the rotation. The same Carmona that was scared for life after David Ortiz ripped his confidence out and sent it over the Fenway Park outfield walls.

So the stage was set for 2007. Expectations sort of dimmed after the disappointing 2006. Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota all expected to be contenders in the division and Cleveland was much of an afterthought.

Cleveland became much of a darling though after they became the team that had their home opener in Milwaukee... Yes you read that right. Due to Cleveland being in Ohio and the chance that snow can tend to make an appearance in this month, Seattle and Cleveland had to deal with an opening day at Jacob's Field that was overcome with snow.

After winning two of three to open up in Chicago, Cleveland returned home to open up 2007 for business. Snow was not complying with their wishes.

In what is now the most official un-official game of this decade, Paul Byrd nearly threw a no-hitter, Victor Martinez injured his hamstring and Mike Hargrove converted from the human rain delay to the human snow delay.

Because of the cold, Martinez unwisely took off running for second base early in the game and immediately pulled up lame short of second. It would keep him out for several weeks.

Byrd was tossing a gem and while some might blame the snow for part of his deception that day, Byrd was on target. With one out away from finishing his part of the fifth, making the game official, Mike Hargrove ran out to the umpire and complained that his hitters couldn't see the ball with all the weather.

He was right, but that still doesn't mean we can't get upset that we were an out away from seeing an abbreviated no-hitter.

That game was called and so was every other game Cleveland was supposed to play with Seattle that week. In fact it got so bad that week that they moved Cleveland's next home series with Los Angeles to Milwaukee. Yes... Milwaukee.

The town they used to film Major League, where a losing Cleveland team turned it around and made a magical run and became the darlings of the baseball world.

Well it sort of had a parallel with this year's team. "Without a home," Cleveland won two of three from LA at Miller Park. John Adams was flown in to bang his drum. Joe Borowski entered the game to the tune of "Wild Thing." Slider went down Bernie Brewer's slide when Cleveland hit home runs and the replacement to Victor Martinez, Kelly Shoppach, not only hit a big home run in what will go down as the Indians official home opener, he threw out Erick Aybar at second base trying to steal to end the game.

From there on, Cleveland seemed to be a team on a mission. A team possessed by something not real.

So Shoppach took over for a few weeks and it laid the ground work for what would become a season long pairing. Shoppach and Byrd took to each other and Shop because Paul Byrd's personal catcher. Every fifth day, Shoppach would get a shot and the defensive stud could hit the long ball as we would find out. As Garko started to take over first base full-time, Martinez's bat still needed to be in the lineup as he was putting up an MVP caliber year. He hit 25 long bombs and 114 RBI to lead the club.

So with the situation with Blake to be explained in a bit, Garko settled in at first and Martinez would play there every fifth day when Shoppach caught Byrd. It was a system that worked to perfection all year as Garko hit 21 home runs and carried a .289 average.

Garko took over first full time because Casey Blake was no longer looking for a position. In fact, Blake had re-settled into his position of old and became a godsend for the Tribe at third. Andy Marte wasn't very good to tart the year. He finished 2007 with just one home run and a .193 average. He played in 20 games and was injured rather quickly in 2007, which sent Blake back to third.

Trot Nixon played the majority of the games in right field but didn't exactly provide the numbers the Indians were looking for. Relief came in the form of Franklin Gutierrez, the key piece in the Milton Bradley deal. Not only did Gutierrez belt 13 home runs in just 100 games as a youngster, he played excellent defense, saving the Indians on more than one occasion. Look no further than in June against Cincinnati. Alex Gonzalez hit a deep fly ball to right field off Tom Mastny in the eighth inning of a tie game. Gutierrez ranged over and made what was an unbelievable catch that looked downright impossible to make to end the inning.

Josh Barfield's season didn't start off well but the club was committed to him. Committed to him until enough was enough. Barfield's struggles carried on through the break and past it to the point that the club couldn't continue to run him out there. The solution came in the form of an un-suspecting source.

Asdrubal Cabrera, acquired a year before for Eddie Perez was learning in the minor leagues. At the age of 21 though and and in desperate need for a utility player that could actually hit (Mike Rouse .119 average in 41 games) Cleveland called up Cabrera and he made his debut on August 8th.

Sooner rather than later, Cabrera not only took over the starting second base job he took over the second spot in the lineup. Cabrera finished the year with a .283 average and a .354 OBP. He single-handedly provided a spark that Cleveland needed to make not only a run at the postseason but the World Series. Cabrera's insertion into the lineup sparked the club's strongest winning period of the season. They lit up August and September and would eventually go on to win the AL Central.

But of course, Cabrera isn't the whole story.

Cleveland found all the right band-aids to the issues that seemed to pop up. Nixon wasn't working in right, Gutierrez was the answer. Andy Marte didn't work, but Casey Blake and Ryan Garko did.

But the whole left field was still an issue. David Delluci pulled up lame on June 19th in an interleague game against his former Philadelphia club. Dellucci was effectively done for the season as he tore his right hamstring to shreds. That isn't to say the Dellucci injured killed the club offensively as his offensive numbers were very poor. He didn't have to hit a ton of home runs or knock in runners, he was there to get on base anyway he could. He simply didn't do that.

Jason Michaels meanwhile was holding up his end of the deal. He had a good 2007 in the platoon role. He did everything right as a role player off the bench and even came up with many clutch hits throughout the season. However as the club learned in 2006, he wasn't the full-time answer to their left field puzzle.

With Shin-Soo Choo battling Tommy John surgery and Ben Francisco not quite ready, Cleveland needed to make a move if they were going to contend deep into the playoffs. They couldn't have a weakness at any spot of the diamond and left field was currently one without a readily available answer.

So Mark Shapiro went to work. There seemed to be one option that made the most sense. Cleveland was still searching for someone to hit in the two-hole at the time, before Cabrera's ascent up the lineup. So they were essentially searching for an outfielder that could hit at the top of the lineup.

Texas wasn't really in contention and they had an old fan-favorite roaming center field and putting up, quite frankly, his most impressive season to date.

Kenny Lofton was 40 years old and still hitting the baseball. At the time he was traded to Cleveland from Texas, he was carrying a .303 average and a .380 on base percentage. The only issue is would he be fine giving way to Grady Sizemore at both center and in the leadoff role?

Obviously Lofton was on board. It could very well have been his last opportunity to win a ring, so he was willing to do anything the Tribe wanted. Left field would be his home and he'd hit second. The deal was done on July 27th and he was in the lineup that day to face the Minnesota Twins.

Jacob's Field went nuts for Lofton and he didn't disappoint. Kenny had three hits in five at bats, including a push bunt for a base hit hat started a rally in a six-run third inning. Lofton would add an RBI-single in the fifth inning and another hit in the seventh.

Lofton eventually had a shot at the leadoff spot as Eric Wedge tried to find a lineup that was productive as the Indians struggled. The combinations were not working until Sizemore returned to the leadoff spot, Lofton slid down the order and Cabrera was moved to second. The team then took off offensively and the playoffs were in sight.

The other side of this story however was the pitching. Cliff Lee's injury provided issues for the Tribe to start the year. Lee had the worst year of his career as he battled that groin issue and the frustration of not producing. Lee eventually was sent down to the minors later in the year and would finish the season in the bullpen and not a part of the club's postseason roster.

A reason for this was the success of the five starters currently in place. Jake Westbrook had also dealt with injuries, but the veteran fought through them to start 25 games and at least become a part of the rotation going into the postseason. Paul Byrd and Kelly Shoppach worked magic to the tune of a 15 win season and a 4.59 ERA in 192 innings.

The fifth spot was an issue all year as Jeremy Sowers needed to be relied upon more than expected. Lee's struggles bumped Sowers up in the rotation and combined with the league having a book on handling the soft-tossing lefty, Sowers struggled. In 13 starts he had a 6.42 ERA and a disappointing sophomore season. Things were not working out for the youngster at all. Eventually Aaron Laffey took over the spot and provided consistent work for the club. He went 4-4 down the stretch at the age of 22 but his biggest asset was his stability in the five hole.

All they needed was stability because at the top of the rotation, Cleveland had a two-headed monster that struck fear into lineups that had to deal with them back to back in one series.

One part of that duo was Cleveland's ace, C.C. Sabathia. This was the year that everything seemed to click for Sabathia. The experience, the trials and tribulations. Everything came together for him and to prove it, he won the AL Cy Young Award after the season ended. CC won 19 games in 2007 had a 3.21 ERA in 241 innings to go along with 209 strikeouts. He was dominating even when he didn't have his best stuff as he managed to keep his team in the game regardless of how well his stuff was working.

Many feel though that while Sabathia deserved the award there were better choices. Josh Beckett had a year that was just as good if not better than Sabathia's up in Boston and after the postseason, many justified that with his performance in the ALCS and World Series.

But there was another player on the Tribe that had just as much claim to the Cy Young award as Sabathia did. It was the story of 2007 and it was brewing into something special.

Fausto Carmona was tortured in 2006. Laughed at, ridiculed, pitied and just downright thrown away for what happened in 2006. In 2oo7, he laughed back and poked fun at the rest of the American League as they flailed at his devastating sinker and continuously broke their bats trying to hit his splitter.

Things didn't start happy though. Carmona was clubbed by Chicago in his first start for six runs. But that didn't stop him. He came back to hold his own against the Yankees to give everyone a glimmer of hope that the kid wasn't destroyed after all. The Yankee start was a memorable one as it was one of the worst blown saves Joe Borowski ever had. Carmona left with a lead, but Borowski allowed an remarkable six run ninth inning as Alex Rodriguez hit a walk-off home run

Carmona's status was in limbo as Lee neared a return, but the Tribe simply couldn't hold him out of the rotation if he was pitching as well as he was as did in late April and early May. Carmona won five straight after the Yankee game, beating Johan Santana head to head twice to start and end the span. Carmona topped it off with a complete game shutout on May 17th.

2007 was also the year in which the club completely baffled Johan Santana. Santana would go onto lose five times to Cleveland that year. He would lose the final three times to CC Sabathia, twice in August and once in September.

The Twins Torii Hunter meanwhile was the most vocal about how good Carmona was. He backed up the quotes of amazing with doing a complete 360 and falling down trying to swing at one of Carmona's pitches. Carmona was good and he was nasty.

Carmona went 5-1 in the month of July to run his record up to 13-5 and at that point you could tell there was something special going on. That moment was probably against Boston on July 25th. I can remember being there in fact as Carmona out-dueled Josh Beckett in a 1-0 performance. Carmona went eight shutout, Borowski picked up the save and Franklin Gutierrez scored the lone run on a solo home run in the third inning.

After a rocky August, Carmona came to play in September, going 5-0 and going at least seven innings each time out. Carmona lost out to John Lackey for the AL ERA title by a mere .05 points but he capped off the best month of his year with his 19th win and he was ready for the postseason.

As we've seen, the offensive positions didn't work out the way the club wanted to and neither did the pitching. But it all came together. The bullpen was no exclusion.

Joe Borowski did turn out a 45 save year after they basically had to hand him the role with Keith Foulke's retirement. You should know though that Borowski was only an Indian because he failed a physical with Philadelphia earlier in the offseason. Smokin' Joe didn't do things normally. In fact he was worse than Bob Wickman in the way he saved games.

Joe famously said that fans would have to smoke a lot of cigarettes and drink a lot of beer when he pitched. Borowski finished the year with an ERA of 5.07, the first closer to ever save 45 games and claim an ERA above 5.

But it worked and it worked because he got the ball enough to do so. He got the ball enough because the bullpen fell in place. Rafael Betancourt was the one plan the Indians had that worked out. Betancourt had a career year with a stellar 1.47 ERA in 79 innings. He was unstoppable most of the year.

He was compliment by his Rafael brother, the young Rafael Perez. Los Rafaels was a deadly combo as Raffy Right and Raffy Left were almost automatic when the seventh and eighth innings rolled around. Perez eventually climbed up the ranks after Aaron Fultz went down with an injury. Fultz was having a good year (finished with a 2.92 ERA) but Perez was much better. In 60 innings, Perez had a 1.78 ERA and the game was on lock down with the bases loaded. Perez entered the game in many situations with runners on base and just about every time, it ended in disappointment and frustration for the other team.

In 30 at-bats against Perez with two outs and runners in scoring position, Perez surrendered just four hits and struck out ten. He allowed just five runs to score that year. In Late and Close situations (7th or later with the team ahead by one) Perez held opponents to a .180 AVG. There was a point in the year when Perez was brought in to routinely face hitters with the bases load. Cold out of the pen, he routinely came in and struck out everyone he needed to get out of the jam.

In 2006 after Carmona combusted, Tom Mastny took over the closers role. He did a good job. It earned him a shot in the 2007 bullpen and he put together a good year. In 57 innings he had a 4.68 ERA, but his biggest accomplishment came in the postseason.

The core of the bullpen was pretty much Borowski, Perez, Betancourt, partially Fultz and Mastny. But they also got some help from young Jensen Lewis, who started the year at Double-A. Lewis was a bulldog that grew up an Indians fan and a Ohio-native.

Lewis made his debut against Chicago on July 16th and you couldn't set it up more perfectly. He faced one of the guys he grew up watching on the Tribe in Jim Thome. He ended up walking him, but he got out of the jam he created and had a successful debut. A few days later he would walk Thome again and eventually give up a run in his two innings.

Lewis eventually elevated into more of a setup role and became a reliable reliever for Eric Wedge. He finished with a 2.14 ERA in 29 innings and a 1-1 record.

So with a bullpen that came together, an offense that found some pieces and a rotation that was operating with a two-headed monster everything was set up for a run to the postseason. The biggest competition came in the form of the Detroit Tigers.

On August 14th Cleveland entered a short two game series with the Tigers separated by a half game. The two teams split creating a tie as the Tribe traveled to Tampa Bay. Cleveland gained control of the Central with a win over Tampa and never looked back. After the series with Tampa they turned around back to Detroit for a three game series that would prove to be pivotal in the chase for the AL Central.

After a loss in game one, Cleveland took the second game setting up an important third game between Nate Robertson and Westbrook. Each pitcher was on from the start. Robertson was an out shy of nine shutout innings and Westbrook pitched eight shutout before giving way to the Raffy Twins in the ninth.

With the game tied 0-0 in the tenth inning, Joel Zumaya continued to pitch after getting the final out in the ninth. Martinez led the inning off with a double and Hafner followed with an intentional walk. Barfield came in to run for Martinez and Garko would hit into a force out putting him at third. After a walk and another strikeout, Cleveland's scoring opportunity was going to evaporate.

That was until Kenny Lofton pinch hit for Jason Michaels and put one up the middle to plate two. Waiver addition Chris Gomez would single in another run and Joe Borowski would pick up the save despite allowing a run.

Cleveland was out of Detroit with a two and a half game lead. Over the next month Cleveland would start building their lead up. They would meet with the Tigers again in September with a 4.5 game lead. It was important for Cleveland to win at least two from the series to make sure Detroit was held at bay and perhaps a sweep would put a dagger into the race and set up a possible clinching scenario later that week against Oakland in the final home series.

Game one was far from the pitching matchup the two put on a month ago in Detroit. Kenny Rogers was on point for the Tigers as he went seven innings and gave up just two runs. Paul Byrd fought through seven innings giving up four runs in the first four innings, but settling in for three scoreless after that.

Byrd and Fultz pitched a scoreless eighth and it set the stage for Zumaya to try and redeem himself from last month's blown game. Zumaya was wild from the start, walking Sizemore to lead off the inning, giving up a single to Cabrera and then letting up a run to Martinez on a ground-out. Jhonny Peralta then tied the game on a two run launch job to right field.

Joe Borowski retired the side in the ninth, Betancourt did the same in the 10th and 11th.

What I remember the most about this game, as I was there (I seemed to be at all the big games that year, boy was I lucky), was the tremendous energy in the stadium. My dad and I were in the bleachers to start the game but as extras started we migrated down around to the first base side. We stood in the concourse watching things unfold.

Every time someone came to bat in the 10th and 11th innings, the crowd chanted their name. "Let's Go Grady" or "Let's Go Kelly". No matter who it was, we cheered their name.

The energy was amazing and it all built up to the point where Casey Blake came to bat. After his ball sailed out and over the wall to win the game I don't remember who I high-fived after my dad, but I must have touched the hand of at least 10 to 15 different strangers.

It was a moment that I didn't think would be ever be matched at a baseball game. I was wrong as we will find out later but the game was a turning point. Blake hit his second walkoff shot of the home stand (he had done it to the Royals over the weekend) and Cleveland was feeling good.

Borowski shut the door on 7-4 and 4-2 wins the following nights and Cleveland was up 7.5 games with the Tigers leaving town. The division was all but won. Cleveland beat Oakland on Friday and lost on Saturday putting them in the same position they entered the series in up 7.5 games.

On September 23rd, the final home game of the year, Rafael Betancourt struck out Mark Ellis to end the game and immediately was embraced by Victor Martinez halfway between home plate and the pitchers mound. A dog-pile ensued and Cleveland celebrated their first AL Central title since 2001. The postseason was coming back to Cleveland!

What was impressive about the second half surge was the 23 games the Tribe played in 23 days because of the snow debacle earlier in the season. Cleveland got hot and did it during a tough stretch of their season where they got very little rest.

12.28.2009

A Look Back at the Decade of Tribe Baseball: 2000-2005

Well with a few days left in this current year and with that, the current decade, I thought it would be cool to relive the past ten years of Indians Baseball.

My love for this game and this team didn't really start to kick in until a few years into this decade when the down years started to kick in. I've watched the game my whole life, but it wasn't until I was sitting in soaked seats at what was then Jacobs Field, watching the likes of Jody Gerut and Coco Crisp play their asses off. Minor league wonders like Chris Magruder, Tim Laker, Bill Selby and Ryan Ludwick shuffle on through. Veterans like Ricky Gutierrez, Shane Spencer, god knows who else try and find their way into the major leagues again.

It was horrible, yet amazing at the same time to watch something grow from the ground up.

So with that little spiel, let's get into it from the beginning. Today I will post the first part of this series, 2000 to 2005. I haven't decided how I'm breaking up the other years as 2006 and 2007 are both becoming very long. The reason for this is that I remember more vividly details about 2006 and on rather than prior to that. This first part is mainly baseball reference, Google searches and some memory from what I witnessed and read from Terry Pluto's "Dealing," where as the next few parts will be mostly memory aided by baseball-reference and Google searches for specific dates and what not.

In the end, I'll provide a time line of the decade and maybe put together something else special if I'm up to it. I have nothing to do all week, so I figure I'll have this at least done and complete. I don't know if it will all go up this week, but expect something tomorrow and Wednesday at least and we'll probably continue it into next week.

Please feel free to add any vivid memories in the comments section that you have from any of these years or add something that I might have forgotten, which is very possible for these years. As you will see tomorrow, 2006 and 2007 are very in depth as I remember certain details as I'm reliving the moments. 2005 kind of starts that trend as well as its a little bit longer than all the other years.

Into 2000's

Let's preface the decade by a quick recap of what the Tribe was coming off of. The Indians were coming off a banner year in 1999. A 97 win season however was doused with a early exit in the ALDS to Boston in 5 games. This capped off, what really was a half-decade of success starting from 1994.

94's strike year aside, Cleveland dominated their new stomping grounds in the AL Central, winning it every year from 95 to 99. They made two trips to the World Series, losing in six and seven games in 95 to the Braves and in 97 to the Marlins.

One big "Argh" out to Jose Mesa.

They also lost to New York in the 1998 ALCS in six games.

After that, the Indians entered the new millennium with a big shakeup in the dugout. General Manager John Hart made the controversial decision to let Mike Hargrove go. 2000 would start with Charlie Manuel at the helm.

2000

The Manuel era started off with division race that ended in them losing out to Chicago by five games, the first time they wouldn't be AL Central Champions in five years. But the playoffs were still in sight as they battled both Seattle and Oakland for a wild card spot. Both Oakland and Seattle finished with the same record, so they would have to fend off Cleveland if they both hoped to make October.

The Indians won five of their last six games to finish of the season, but it wasn't enough as they'd finish one win behind the AL West duo.

One can point to a stretch in June against AL Central teams that crippled the club. Starting on June 12th to July 2nd, the Indians faced nothing but AL Central teams. They lost 14 of 21 games in the stretch, including six of eight to Chicago.

Post-All-Star Break was when the Tribe turned it on. But it wasn't enough and the changes began to take place, big time. The 2000 Indians had issues with pitching as two important parts of the rotation, Charlie Nagy and Jaret Wright, missed time with injuries. It contributed to the Indians setting the Major League record for most pitchers used in a single season.

Dick Jacobs sold the club to Larry Dolan for $323 million dollars, way more than the $35 million he paid for it back in 1986. Richie Sexson was traded to Milwaukee for Bob Wickman, David Justice to New York for Jake Westbrook and two beloved icons in Manny Ramirez and Sandy Alomar Jr. left the team via free agency. Ramirez picked Boston in a bidding war started by his agent, Jeff Moorad that the Indians simply could not keep up with and Alomar Jr. went to division rival Chicago.

2001

Many believe that General Manager John Hart was planning on moving on after 2001 and that he was making aim at one more run.

Cleveland signed a few veteran free agents, including former MVP Juan Gonzalez to a $10 million dollar deal. They also inked DH Ellis Burks to a contract that would pay him over $5 million in 2001 and that price would only go up in the next two seasons. Prior to the 2001 season, those thoughts were proven right when Hart announced it would be his last season as General Manager.

These moves helped the Indians achieve 91 wins, one more than last year, but thanks to Minnesota and Chicago battling it out for second, they finished six games up to win the AL Central for the sixth time in seven years.

Just like in 1999 however, the season would end in the ALDS in five games. This time, it was to Seattle, led by Rookie of the Year and MVP Ichiro Suzuki.

Suzuki cleaned up, taking home the ROY, MVP, a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger. He beat out young flame thrower CC Sabathia for the AL honors. Sabathia was a bright spot for the Tribe as their old young phenom, Jaret Wright, had yet another injury riddled season at just the age of 25.

Sabathia won 17 games as the youngest player in all of the Majors and was fourth in the AL in strikeouts. A star was born and and a future ace was in the making.

2002

As 2001 ended in yet another disappointment, John Hart stayed true to his word. He stepped down as manager of the Cleveland Indians and handed over the reigns to Assistant General Manger Mark Shapiro, who he had been grooming for the position.

Hart turned around and bolted to Texas to take over that team's GM post shortly after. Hart would last a few years with Texas, make some trades with his former protege and eventually move on after the 2005 season.

With Hart out of the picture and most likely under pressure from new management to cut payroll, the young hot-shot executive started a rebuilding process that would shake the ground Cleveland fans walked on.

The kick-off for this was Shapiro's trade of Roberto Alomar to the New York Mets for prospects Alex Escobar and Billy Traber. They also acquired outfielder Matt Lawton. Kenny Lofton also left town for division rival Chicago.

The 2002 season wasn't really anything to talk about on the field. The Indians finished with 74 wins, good enough for third place (the first time they didn't finish first or second and below .500 for the first time in nine years) in the AL Central.

What was the subject of the Tribe discussions was the firing of Charlie Manuel and the mega-trade of Bartolo Colon. Manuel was let go in July and many believed that he and Shapiro were never a match made to last. Manuel would go onto Philadelphia and eventually become their manager in 2004. And as we know, Manuel has taken the Phillies to back to back World Series, including a win in 2008.

Joel Skinner took over as the youngest manager in the MLB and his big debut was against the Yankees after the All-Star Break where he pulled a split of a four game series including a 2-1 win in 10 innings after Omar Vizquel hit a walk-off Triple to score Einar Diaz.

Skinner did a worthy job of an interim manager and his name would come up in discussions for the permanent replacement later in the offseason, but the big talk was the latest Mark Shapiro trade.

Bartolo Colon was shockingly dealt to Montreal on June 27th. I remember I was on vacation in North Carolina at the time when I heard the news. As Shapiro accurately recounts many times when he talks about trades dealing with star players, I too remember when ESPN flashed the news on their bottom ticker.

"Cleveland Indians trade Bartolo Colon to Montreal Expos for Lee Stevens and three minor leaguers."

Those three minor leaguers, Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore.

Shapiro made another deal a month later where he traded Chuck Finley to St. Louis. It was later announced on August 7th that Coco Crisp was the player that would join Luis Alfonso Garcia in Cleveland. He also dealt reliever Ricardo Rincon to Oakland a day before the trading deadline for Marshall McDougall

2002 was a year of shake-up. The team saw 59 different players touch the roster. Following the 2002 season, much shake-up would continue as more Indians from the glory days would depart.

2003

Ravaged by injuries, Cleveland let Jaret Wright go. Fan favorite Jim Thome would not be retained as he would join Charlie Manuel in Philadelphia with a big new contract. Travis Fryman retired due to injury.

The Tribe would also be introducing a new manager into the fold. Eric Wedge was the surprise hire of Mark Shapiro as he introduced Wedge as more than just the manager for the club. Wedge was rather his "partner" in what would be a rebuilding process that would aim to land Cleveland in a state of what Shapiro would term "sustainable championship baseball."

Defined with a mission statement, a new era of Cleveland Indians baseball began. However a harsh reality of rebuilding was losing a lot more games than the fans were used to and for the first time, Cleveland finished 4th in the AL Central.

There was some hope though. CC Sabathia wasn't putting up the numbers he did his rookie year, but he was growing as a pitcher. There was hope in a rotation though in youngsters like hard throwing Jason Davis, sinkerballer Jake Westbrook and part of the centerpiece in the Bartolo Colon trade, Cliff Lee.

Offensively there wasn't much more to boast. Brandon Phillips struggled at second base offensively and Cleveland was attempting to ease young Jhonny Peralta into the shortstop role as they prepared for life after Omar Vizquel.

The biggest year was had by rookie outfielder Jody Gerut, who finished fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting behind the likes of KC's Angel Berrora and NY's Hideki Matsui. Another bright young spot was the late emergence of speedy outfielder Coco Crisp. Coming on strong was offseason acquisition Travis Hafner as he belted 14 home runs and knocked in 40 RBI.

Cleveland also got a late look at much talked about catching prospect Victor Martinez.

2004

Progress was made in 2004 as the Indians improved on their record and started to show signs of a potent offense. They didn't make many offseason moves as they were a team heading for an continued infusion of youth and all the main pieces had already been dealt.

However they did make a move before the year started.

After not running out a ball in spring training, problem child Milton Bradley and manager Eric Wedge didn't really see eye to eye. It was the final straw for an organization trying to build a group filled with character individuals.

So on April 3rd, Cleveland dealt Milton Bradley to a team that wanted to take him on, the Los Angeles Dodgers. They received reliever Andrew Brown and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez in return. Bradley would later go on to call Cleveland a sinking ship.

2003's bright spot Jody Gerut would begin his downward spiral thanks to injuries, but Coco Crisp's prospects brightened with continued play.

The team boasted eight hitters with at least 10 home runs and four players that hit at least 20. Among them included Victor Martinez, who made the All-Star team in his first full season and won the AL Silver Slugger for the catching position.

Travis Hafner showed MVP Caliber numbers with 28 home runs and 109 RBI as he shared the team lead in homers with journeyman Casey Blake, who found a home in Cleveland at third base.

Other players like Ben Broussard and Matt Lawton found consistent playing time and while the Indians didn't win a ton of games, they scored a lot of runs and had a consistent lineup to put out on the field. Cleveland finished fifth in the AL in runs scored, not far behind offenses like Boston, New York, Chicago and Texas. A drastic improvement in second to last in 2003.

Pitching was still a work in progress, but Jake Westbrook took over a spot in the rotation after the relief appearance of his life. Starting the year in the pen, Westbrook took over for Jeff D'Amico in the first inning after D'Amico was pounded for four runs befor he even record an out. Westbrook would go on to retire the next 21 straight hitters. Seven innings in which he struck out seven and did not allow a walk or hit.

He followed that up with his first start of 2004 a week later against the same Tiger team. It was a complete game masterpiece in which he gave up just two runs off two hits and three walks. His first win of the season. Westbrook would team up with Sabathia and Lee to give the Indians a dangerous young trio of starters. 14 game winner Cliff Lee led the club with 161 strikeouts.

The issue with this club was blown saves. Bob Wickman saved just 13 games and the club couldn't finish the job on more than enough occasions. Bright spots in the pen were visible however in Rafael Betancourt, David Riske and junk heap pick up Bobby Howry.

One move that the Indians made during the season was the signing of third baseman Aaron Boone. It came mid-season but was clearly one meant for 2005. Boone tore up his knee in the offseason and was released from New York and had signed on with the Indians in attempt to rehab his knee and make a comeback in 2005.

2005

Adding onto Boone, the Indians made an economical signing that was low-risk and would prove to be high reward. They signed Kevin Millwood to a one year that was incentive laden. He'd reach those incentives, but in the process also lead the league in ERA, despite carrying a below .500 record thanks to bullpen issues.

Cleveland re-signed Bob Wickman to be their closer in November of 2004 and also made the addition of Scott Elarton, who wasn't expected to do much if anything. The Tribe also traded Matt Lawton to Oakland for left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes.

However, the biggest news of the 2004 offseason was that 2005 would be the first year in a long time that Omar Vizquel wouldn't be patrolling the infield at Jacobs Field. Jhonny Peralta would be taking over shortstop and attempting to fill small shoes that were in fact, very very large.

He couldn't hold a candle to Little O's defense with a team leading 19 errors, but Peralta clocked 24 home runs and hit .292 in his coming out party. The outcry for Omar was massive as everyone was sad to see him go, but the reality was that the Indians were moving on and after 2005's season ended, it looked as if it was the right move for the Tribe as they saved money and got good production from Peralta.

The big story of the 2005 season however was the pitching that had finally started to come together. Anchored by a big three of Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia and Jake Westbrook, the rotation came together with the veteran addition of Kevin Millwood. Sabathia didn't have his best year, but Cliff Lee won 18 games, Millwood led the AL in ERA and Scott Elarton provided stability in the fifth spot. The Tribe had five starters that had started at least 30 games that year.

Jason Davis was the only other pitcher to start another game for the Indians other than the five in the rotation (four games). The bullpen even came together in a big way behind the 45 saves of Bob Wickman. The reclaimation of Bobby Howry continued as well as he logged 73 innings of work and carried a 2.47 ERA. Arthur Rhodes was dominant from the left-side of the mound, David Riske had a good year and even Rafael Betancourt had himself a career year.

Things were coming together for Cleveland in many ways. Offensively they had an MVP candidate in Travis Hafner, who hit 33 home runs and knocked in 108 runs in 2005 and finished fifth in final MVP voting.

August was a magical month as the Indians cut what was viewed as a nearly impossible lead to overcome down to just 1.5 games. Chicago had bolted out to a huge lead in the division but that hot August by the Tribe cut their 14 game lead and the Tribe was on the brink of returning to the playoffs in SEPTEMBER?!

On the 22nd of the month, Cleveland was just 1.5 games back of Chicago. But the White Sox held serve after Cleveland won three games off the Royals in a 4 game series. All Cleveland had to do was win a few games against Tampa Bay before Chicago would come to the Jake for a three game season finale. It was all set up for Cleveland to make their mark. With Boston and New York battling it out for the East, Cleveland still had a chance at the Wild Card as well.

But then disaster hit.

Including the last loss to KC, the Tribe lost three games in a row by one run. Buddy Bell's Royals got a Paul Phillips walk off double in the bottom of the ninth for the first one. Returning home, Cleveland would then surrender a 5-4 loss to Tampa after young Scott Kazmir dazzled the Tribe for six innings. A late comeback happened, but former Indian Dannys Baez was able to notch his 40th save of the year.

A day later Cliff Lee put the Tribe on his back. Eight innings, one run, three strikeouts, one final case for the Cy Young if he were to have a shot. The problem was that Seth McClung, yeah THAT Seth McClung had the game of his life. Eight innings to match Lee and one less run to better him. Baez notched save 41 and Cleveland dropped their third straight.

A day later, Sabathia hulked up for a eight inning performance that gave the Indians a punchers chance against Chicago going into the final series. They still had a chance at the wild card even if they couldn't win the division head to head with Chicago. Sabathia went eight shutout and Travis Hafner hit 33 on the year.

Chicago determined to go into the playoffs on a high note swept Cleveland won the first two by one run. Cleveland could not breakthrough with the one run games and the first one was the worst.

In 13 innings, Cleveland fell after Ross Gload hit a two run double off Fernando Cabrera, who had come on strong in 2005. They would add one run in the bottom of the inning, but it wasn't enough as Bobby Jenks continued his warpath of destruction.

A day later, Jon Garland would notch win number 18 by out-dueling Jake Westbrook in another one run game. It came unglued for Cleveland in the seventh when Tad Iguchi hit a three run shot off Westbrook to power a four run inning.

The miserable ending to the season would be even more miserable as Cleveland lost again to Chicago on the final day of the regular season. Cleveland would finish six games back of Chicago and two games back of both New York and Boston who would make the playoffs as AL East Winners and the Wild Card.

While it was a disappointing ending, it was the start of something that could be very bright. Mark Shapiro's "blueprint" didn't call for contention in 2005, but the Indians had contended and that made many fans happy about the progress and direction the club was going.

It was also good to see that the Bartolo Colon trade was coming together. Cliff Lee had a Cy Young contending year and the unknown piece to the deal, Grady Sizemore, had established himself as the leadoff hitter for this dynamic club. He was a Juan Gonzalez hamstring injury away from not even making the club as the Tribe signed him to a small deal hoping to get one last run out of the former MVP.

But what they got was MVP-like effort from the young Sizemore in center. Gonzalez played in one game for the Tribe, got hurt and was eventually never heard from again. Sizemore stole 22 bases and hit 22 home runs in his first full year and played in 158 games.

As for Aaron Boone, he hit 16 home runs and knocked in 60 runs. The problem was he committed a lot of errors and almost stole at-bats away from Casey Blake. The positive was he was a positive influence in the clubhouse.

Blake was a story in itself as he was moved to the outfield with Boone's arrival. Blake took to it and he hit 23 home runs as the Indians right fielder. Speaking of, Cleveland traded the man they thought would be their right fielder of the future in Jody Gerut to the Cubs. Gerut's injuries had been too much to overcome.

2005 set up an offseason in which Mark Shapiro saw what was possible, but he wasn't set on the club remaining complacent. He moved quickly to capitalize on some of the talent he had and it would set up for one of the more interesting offseason this decade.