November 25, 2014

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Wedge sees bright future for Indians

CLEVELAND — It took a trip to the Amazon jungle for former Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel to get over the pain from a Game 7 World Series loss to the Marlins in 1997.
Eric Wedge hasn’t gone to those extremes, but it’s been five days since his team finished off squandering a 3-1 ALCS lead to the Boston Red Sox with an embarrassing Game 7 loss at Fenway Park, and Cleveland’s manager is still feeling the effects.
“As deep as we did get into the postseason, it takes a little more time to get beyond it,” said Wedge, who in his fifth year as manager guided the Indians to their first trip to the postseason since 2001. “It still just feels like yesterday to me.”
Still fresh in Wedge’s mind is a series his club appeared destined to win when it took three of the first four games from the vaunted Red Sox and found itself in ideal position to win Game 5 — with ace C.C. Sabathia on the mound at home.
Everyone surrounding the Indians knows how the rest of it went.
“We played better than (the Red Sox) early on, they played better than us later,” said Wedge, whose team was outscored 30-5 over the final three games of the series, which included an 11-2 Game 7 thumping. “We had our opportunities. It just didn’t work out in the end. They’re playing and we’re not. All that other stuff is just rhetoric.”
What should provide solace for Wedge and the Indians is what they were able to accomplish this season, and what most expect lies ahead for a team that finished tied with Boston for the best record in baseball at 96-66.
Cleveland returns the wealth of its 25-man roster in 2008, bringing back the majority of a team that was good enough to win the new-and-improved Central Division, beat the Yankees in the ALDS and push the Red Sox to the limit before falling a win short of advancing to the World Series.
The postseason experience, which was lacking for most Indians players and Wedge prior to this year, can only help in the future.
“I do believe we’ll be that much better for it,” Wedge said.
That goes for the manager himself, who, like his team, gained league-wide notoriety this season.
Wedge, whose credentials have been questioned in the past and who bore a large part of the burden as Indians fans anxiously waited for their team to return to contention, is a strong candidate to win the American League’s manager of the year award.
More than ever, Wedge’s players bought into his day-to-day focus and even-keel approach, and it paid off with one of the organization’s most successful seasons ever.
“This team really took on a lot of his personality,” said Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro. “That personality is one of consistency, strength and toughness. He’s evolved as a manager. He gets better every year.”
“It’s no different than our players,” Wedge said. “I feel like our players, our organization, myself included, each year we’ve gotten a little better.”
That leaves Wedge confident his team won’t fill the role of one-hit wonder. Accepting how difficult it is to qualify for the postseason on a consistent basis — especially for a mid-market club such as the Indians — Wedge still feels the goal is attainable.
And if this was the Indians’ year, as far as the manager is concerned, there is another one next season.
“I’m not looking for us to be here today and gone tomorrow,” Wedge said. “I’m looking to sustain a championship level. We’re looking to go further than that. We’ll see.”  
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.