CLEVELAND - Don't panic - keep the faith. Hang in there, Cleveland Indians fans.
Yes, the same fans who are coming out of the woodwork to support baseball's feel-good story in the second half of the season and jammed Jacobs Field for last night's devastating 3-2 loss in 13 innings to the Chicago White Sox.
Some years have passed since fans could really believe in the Indians. Last night's game was only the Indians' fourth sellout of the season. Fans want to believe again, but the Indians are making it difficult.
In the next to the next-to-last game of the regular season (barring a one-game playoff for the American League wild-card on Monday), the Indians didn't look a whole lot like the team that is 44-19 since July 23 and winners of 15 of its last 20 home games.
In fact, the Indians looked like an insecure team trying not to lose, rather than a confident team playing to win.
The Indians looked tight. They played even tighter.
Apparently, the pressure of facing a string of must-win games is taking its toll on the Indians, who have talent up-and-down their lineup but remain a relatively inexperienced ballclub.
Cleveland's hot bats didn't produce in the clutch last night against a team still in a celebratory mode and not utilizing its full complement of players.
Chicago, which clinched the AL Central crown on Thursday, broke the Indians' hearts again.
Worse, Chicago took it easy on the Indians.
Eliminate every bad thought you ever had about the White Sox, the Indians' main obstacle all season.
A day after winning the division, Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen didn't play his best players against the Indians.
Guillen started a patchwork lineup featuring one-third of the White Sox's Charlotte Triple-A ballclub. Regulars Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, Carl Everett, and A.J. Pierzynski relaxed in the visitor's dugout (although Konerko and Everett both pinch-hit late in the game).
Didn't matter. On what should have been a perfect night for baseball (fantastic weather, packed house), the White Sox, with nothing to lose but Game No. 160, played fast and loose and under no pressure at all.
Chicago improved to 12-5 against the Indians in 2005, including an unfathomable 7-1 at Jacobs Field, which is why there would have been no winner-take-all game for the division title if the Indians (93-67) and White Sox (97-63) had ended the regular season with identical records.
No way the Indians are as bad as they've played lately, losing four of their last five and leaking oil down the backstretch. They're definitely a better team than they've shown.
The Indians love hitting in Jacobs Field, with its short home run porches in left and right field and inviting power alleys. The Indians are a rally waiting to happen every inning. Except for last night.
By losing another must-win game, and with the Red Sox defeating the Yankees last night in Boston, the Indians are starting to look like goners in the wild-card race.
Taking called third strikes, and wasting a masterful pitching performance from starter Kevin Millwood (a season-high nine strikeouts and only one run in seven innings) is the absolute wrong way for the Indians to make their final postseason run.
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