CLEVELAND — Indians loyalists flocked to Jacobs Field with hopes bright, totally aware one more win secures the championship of the AL Central Division and assures an October of baseball madness only rarely seen in Cleveland. And they weren’t disappointed.
The Indians beat the Oakland Athletics 6-2, and entered the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Bill Forester, 32, of Akron, had tickets to a game in April in Cleveland’s opening series with Seattle that was snowed out. He decided to exchange that game ticket for the last home game.
It didn’t snow.
The 40,250 in attendance enjoyed 72 degrees under a cloudless blue sky. Forester held up a sign that said; “To Do List: 1 — clinch division, 2 — beat the Yankees, 3 — win the World Series.
“I’ve had goosebumps all day,” Forester said.
Ushers and ticket-takers greeted fans as they wore bright red T-shirts showing words in bold print, “It’s Tribe Time Now.”
Devoted fan Jennifer Pearce, 19, of Cleveland, was one of the first into Jacobs Field and quickly staked out her favorite place standing next to a railing above left field in an area known as the Home Run Porch.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Pearce said, as the crowd flowed in all around her. But she was hesitant to talk about whether the Indians would clinch.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Yesterday, everyone all around me was talking about it and look what happened. We lost that game.”
Fans, many who have suffered through many bleak Indians baseball seasons, wanted to be in that victory celebration intimately, not remotely. After Sunday, Cleveland closes out its schedule on the road with four games in Seattle and three in Kansas City.
Jim Mikstay, 41, of Canton, wore an Indians jersey and brought a determined attitude.
“We want to have it at home. Everybody here is at a very high tempo, ready to go to the playoffs,” Mikstay said.
The Indians last qualified for Major League Baseball’s postseason in 2001. The team advanced to the World Series in 1995 and 1997, only to lose to the Atlanta Braves and then the Florida Marlins.
When the Indians clinched a division crown 12 years ago, it put the team in the postseason for the first time in 41 years. The Indians have been without a World Series championship since 1948.
In basketball, the Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals this past season for the first time in that team’s 37-year history. So Cleveland sports fans can justifiably wonder if this is their year for fate to smile.
The Indians could have won the division crown Saturday night with a win over Oakland and a loss of AL Central Division second-place Detroit Tigers to Kansas City. Oakland won 9-3. But Kansas City’s 7-4 win reduced Cleveland’s magic number to one.