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Published: Tuesday, 10/1/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Magical time to be Indians, Browns fans

Tribe in playoffs, Browns look for third straight

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

There will be postseason baseball tonight at Progressive Field. Twenty-four hours later, the Browns will be at home seeking their third straight win.

My goodness; what is going on here? Did some Cleveland sports fan finally sell his or her soul to the man downstairs? What’s next; the Cavs winning?

It’s not easy being a Cleveland fan. Since their last trip to the playoffs after the 2007 season, when they blew a two-game lead in the ALCS, the Indians were 84 games under .500 entering 2013. That included a 97-loss season and 94 more just one year ago.

On Wednesday, Sept. 11, after a loss at home to Kansas City, the Tribe was 77-68 and 6 ½ games behind Detroit in the AL Central. More importantly, Cleveland was either trailing or tied with five teams in the wild card race.

And you don’t need me to tell you how bad the Browns have been.

Four days after that Indians’ loss to the Royals, the Browns fell at Baltimore to drop to 0-2. Shortly thereafter, having scored just 16 points, the front office traded the team’s only recognized offensive talent, running back Trent Richardson, and coach Rob Chudzinski elevated the No. 3 quarterback, Brian Hoyer, to starter.

It appeared the Browns were running up the white flag earlier than any team in NFL history. Inexplicably, they won at Minnesota and then beat Cincinnati, the division favorite, and now Buffalo comes in for a Thursday night game and Cleveland fans are giddy.

I don’t know if such unbridled optimism is warranted, but the Bengals certainly are inconsistent, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco is slumping, and the archrival Steelers are simply awful. The Browns complete that AFC North snapshot. Go ahead and dream.

Since Sept. 11, meanwhile, the Indians have won 15 of 17 games, including the last 10 in a row, to both reach and host the winner-take-all, wild-card game tonight against Tampa Bay. Rookie Danny Salazar will start for the home team.

Manager Terry Francona often tells the story of going to the Dominican Republic to meet with starter Ubaldo Jimenez shortly after getting the job last winter. Jimenez was playing catch with Salazar and after a few minutes Francona turned to a companion and asked, “Who is that guy?”

That’s sort of the story of the Indians. Who are these guys?

Not one regular is hitting better than Michael Brantley’s .284 average. No one has more than Nick Swisher’s 22 home runs. No one has more than Jason Kipnis’ 84 RBIs. No pitcher has more than Justin Masterson’s 14 wins or his 195 strikeouts.

The Detroit Tigers have five batters hitting .300 or better and their home run leader has double Swisher’s total. There are four players with at least 83 RBIs, five pitchers with 13 or more wins, and three hurlers with 200-plus strikeouts. And Detroit beat Cleveland in the division standings by one whole game.

So, who is the Indians’ most valuable player?

“I don’t know that we have one,” Francona said Monday.

What he has, unlike those system-grown, dominant Indians teams that ruled the American League during much of the 1990s, is a team built mostly through a series of trades, some of which took a while to pay dividends, and strategic free-agent signings.

Tonight, they get introduced to the nation.

Maybe the Tribe will stick around for a while. Maybe the Browns will beat the Bills. Maybe it’s all apocalyptic.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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