It took until the seventh playoff game for the Cleveland Indians to suffer their first loss. The six prior victorious efforts allowed the title-starved franchise to build a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series so it’s not like Tuesday afternoon’s 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays is backbreaking. There are three more chances to clinch a spot in the World Series.
And yet, there’s probably a pesky little thought rattling around the back of many fans’ minds right now. While some may have forgotten that the Golden State Warriors had a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, they certainly haven’t. Most of the summer in the was dedicated to what befell the defending champions afterward in the Buckeye state.
Only one team in Major League Baseball history has overcome a 3-0 deficit, the Terry Francona-led 2004 Boston Red Sox. He, more than anyone, knows the stars can align perfectly to facilitate such magic. While Cleveland is still in the driver’s seat, it can’t be too comfortable for a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1948 to be tasked with doing it with a severely compromised rotation.
With Corey Kluber unable to close things out in Game 4, Francona likely be forced to hand the ball to rookie Ryan Merritt on Wednesday. Merritt has all of one Major League start under his belt. That’s not exactly an ideal situation, especially in Toronto, where 50,000-plus help create an eardrum-bursting pressure cooker. The Jays will counter with Marco Estrada, who was excellent in Game 1.
If the series is extended back to Cleveland, the Indians will be forced to find an overhead compartment to tote a suitcase full of newfound pressure. Francona will be be able to use Josh Tomlin in Game 6 and, in a worst-case scenario, lean on Kluber again on short rest in a winner-take-all game of historic implications.
The problem is that, across the diamond, manager John Gibbons has 20-game winner J.A. Happ and Marcus Stroman waiting in the wings.
What’s even more alarming is the knowledge that the Jays’ bats could wake up at any time and Cleveland’s offense hasn’t exactly been wearing out the basepaths (scoring 9 total runs in four games).
There’s no reason for Francona or fans to press the panic button yet. Cleveland’s longest losing streak throughout the entire year was three games. Andrew Miller and the best bullpen and baseball are waiting to shut the final door if given the chance.
And yet. There’s something pesky about a 3-1 lead.