TOP OF THE THIRD: INDIANS 1 – (1) 2 RED SOX
How long has it been…
Since this Indians team knocked off the Boston Braves for a World Series win…
Since Vic Wertz flew out at 420-plus feet, in the deep center field of the Polo Grounds…
Since they lost it to the Braves, since they lost it to the Marlins…
Since they blew a 3-1 ALCS lead against the Red Sox…
How long has it been, since the Indians last won big?
Long. Very long. Too long. Long.
— Old Baseball Photos (@OTBaseballPhoto) August 2, 2016
Fast forward most of a century. 2016. The Red Sox in town, Terry Francona peering out from the Cleveland dugout at his former team, the glint of must-win nerves in his eyes.
There’s a sign in the home crowd above the dugout, lost in time: “86 RED SOX: CHOKERS!!”
The endless taunt of Bambino’s ghost that no three-championship decade (apparently) will ever erase.
— Adam Pellerin (@adampellerin) October 7, 2016
The game is locked at 1-1 in the early goings, with the bottom spots of the order up, a rookie out of the cast of Saved by the Bell, his surfer locks shorn and here now looking for a fastball. “The next super B,” says Ron Darling on the telecast, after Bogaerts, Bradley, Betts. Benintendi. College player of the year at Arkansas, just turned 22.
A 3-1 count and a Trevor Bauer fastball down the middle. Connects clean on it, and it’s into the third row in right field.
2-1 Red Sox lead.
BENINTENDI LET’S GOOOOO https://t.co/bBkazCzdyX
— Sox Lunch (@Soxlunch) October 7, 2016
And as the top of the order cycles back around, the TBS feed cuts over to Cal Ripken Jr., down by the dugout, handling Pedroia’s custom-shaped bat, cut at angled like an axe handle down by the hands. “It’s designed to take the pressure off that knob,” he says, “…stick it in your hand… it’s pretty nice.”
Pedroia sets up, his fidgety, blinking routine. Flicking his fingers around for comfort on the handle. Reaching out and tapping a dribbler foul down the line. And then he strikes out, caught looking on a fastball pinned onto the outside corner.
Bauer strides back atop the mound, a kind of spoiled-kid frown to his face as he watches the ball tossed around the horn.
Benintendi’s still jazzed in the dugout, his first-ever playoff game, first-ever playoff hit, home run, RBI. Chatting with Sandy Leon. Thin silver chain draped over his neck. A kind of Wahlberg-Stamos-Swayze swagger in the air around him, taking a seat on the bench and staring off at the scoreboard.
Benintendi’s chain is way too shiny for a rookie. Show some g-d respect man
— David Fourtiz (@ColeyMick) August 19, 2016
And Bauer gets Brock Holt to fly out to left, Mookie Betts to grounds out to short. Three outs. A massive crowd of red and navy rises in cheer, unclear who’s for whom, two colors shared by all.
BOTTOM OF THE THIRD: INDIANS 4 (1) – 2 RED SOX
The crowd gets up and up, and up and up and up. Making for the sleepy 2013 lull in the stands, the scoreless Wild Card game.
Roberto Perez steps in first for the Indians. Toes digging into the dirt, his back arm up in the air as if to keep his balance. Works a full count on a breaking ball just outside.
The crowd gets loud.
Rick Porcello deals a looping curveball to Perez. Again. Left over the plate. And it’s into the first row in right. Opposite field. A planet of leaping fans stampede the beer man, the ball at his feet. Earthquake tremors along the shores of Lake Erie.
The Indians smell blood. The Porcello breaking ball overused, imprecise, predictable, hittable.
— MeGustanLosDeportes (@PalillitoArnold) October 7, 2016
Jason Kipnis steps up, at-bat number two after an ugly three-pitch strikeout in the first. 0-1 count on yet another curveball.
And then—the second pitch, fastball down the middle. 90 MPH. Shot into the sea of red in right-center field. Two giant hot dog costumes body slam all the neighbors, a frenzy breaks out for the ball. And a high-school kid snags it, throws up his arm in the air, the ball in his palm, his cellphone exploding from the buzz of inbound calls.
These Cleveland fans going wild.
— Gabriella Kreuz (@thesportsGab) October 7, 2016
And then, Francisco Lindor steps up. On the second pitch, ANOTHER. Ernie Johnson’s voice cracks on the broadcast as the ball crash-lands in the first row in right. “THAT ball is gone!!!” Mookie Betts leaping for it at the wall, short by five feet.
Indians back into the lead, 4-2 in this third inning. Indians ahead, at home. Against Boston. Cleveland Indians, in the playoffs. Winning a game.
And in the last moments of this third inning, Jose Ramirez drives a deep shot the other way, going, going, flying straight at the double-high wall in left, the fans on top look down just at the last moment. It comes up short—into the glove of Jackie Bradley Jr., leaping across the warning track, a spinning pirouette, hauling it in for the third out.
The last flash of best single inning this park has had in years.