November 22, 2014

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A division championship could erase Indians’ choke performance in ’05

CLEVELAND — With the Indians’ magic number at three and the team all but raising a banner for the Central Division championship, it would seem safe to put the 2005 season behind.
Not that it didn’t follow the Indians to the bitter end.
As Cleveland pulled into contention and appeared well on the way to its first playoff appearance since 2001, there was still lingering doubt surrounding a team, which two seasons ago, was in a similar position and failed miserably.
It’s a painful tale Indians fans know all too well: Ahead in the American League wild-card race, Cleveland went 1-6 over the final eight days of the regular season, getting swept by the White Sox at Jacobs Field in their last three games to fall two games short of the playoffs.   
“It was ridiculous that we even had a chance to be in it at the end,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge, of a team that nearly overcame a huge deficit in the division to eventual world champ Chicago over the final month of the season. “Those guys made an incredible run in ’05.
“I think they’ve drawn from not only that but their experiences in 2004 as well. We’ve got a different mix and this is a different team.”
Maybe, but the majority of players from the ’05 club, are still wearing Indians uniforms — guys like C.C. Sabathia, Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner and Casey Blake. Does going through what they endured in ’05 actually help?
“I definitely think it does,” said Sabathia, who at 18-7 with a 3.19 ERA, is a strong candidate to become the club’s first Cy Young Award winner since Gaylord Perry (1972). “All the same guys are here from that ’05 team, just about. We thought we were going to get in (the playoffs), and you know, we kind of choked.
“We knew, down the stretch, that we had to bring it, and that’s what we did.”
After being held back for a month by offensive woes to begin the second half, the Indians have taken off, winning 20 of their last 25 games since Aug. 25 to distance themselves from the rest of the division field, while claiming the majors’ best record (90-62) in the process.
And though they’ve followed a similar path, according to closer Joe Borowski, a newcomer to the team this year, few discussed the events that took place two seasons ago.
“I’ve never heard anybody talk about what happened in ’05,” said Borowski, who leads the league with 42 saves. “It was talked about it in spring training and I heard about it, but this group pretty much put it behind them.”
The proof is on the field, where close games or ones that the Indians trailed early and most likely would have lost over the final month of ’05, have gone in the win column this year.
On a league-high 42 occasions, including all three of their recent games with Detroit at Jacobs Field, the Indians trailed and came back to win.
“It’s a special group,” said Wedge, whose team leads the Tigers by 7 1/2 games in the division standings with both clubs idle Thursday. “They’ve played that way all year long. One thing these guys have always done is they’ve played it all the way through.”
And their reward is on the verge of being presented. At least to this point in the season, it doesn’t look as though these are the wide-eyed, upstart Indians that will allow a playoff opportunity to slip through their hands.
“(Making the postseason) would mean just about everything,” Blake said. “The ups and downs we’ve been through and the patience we’ve shown, we’ve gotten better with age.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.