Indians picked the wrong week to give up winning every game

NEW YORK -- To paraphrase Lloyd Bridges' character in the movie "Airplane," the Cleveland Indians picked the wrong week to give up winning every game.

After rolling into the postseason with 33 wins in 37 games, the Indians were tagged as postseason favorites by the Las Vegas oddsmakers and lots of media wise guys. They justified everyone's faith during the Ohio portion of the American League Division Series, riding the excellent pitching of Trevor Bauer and a Francisco Lindor-fueled comeback to take a 2-0 series lead back to Yankee Stadium over the weekend.

Maybe the law of averages finally caught up with the Tribe. Every team is due to have a bad game once every two months or so.

The New York leg of the series wasn't kind to the Indians' comfort level or self-esteem. After suffering a tough 1-0 loss in Game 3, the Tribe turned in a sloppy, distracted performance while going down 7-3 in Game 4 on Monday night.

Cleveland's hitters struck out 14 times. The defense committed four errors leading to six unearned runs. And in a rare departure from the norm, manager Terry Francona's decision to bring Bauer back on short rest against Yankees ace Luis Severino didn't yield much in the way of positive results.

The result: Cleveland's first two-game losing streak since the Tribe dropped back-to-back games to the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 22-23.

"You could say one thing led to another," center fielder Jason Kipnis said. "It's hard to win a ballgame when you dig a hole that deep by giving away runs and at-bats and not making adjustments [at the plate].

"I don't think any of us went into this thinking we were going to win every single game. This is the playoffs. Every team that's left is still good. Everyone comes to play. That said, we were either tight or flat or whatever you want to label it these two days. Now we're very excited to go back home. We'll be at full throttle coming into Game 5."

The Indians prided themselves on their improved fielding this season and considered it a major component of their success. Baseball Info Solutions ranked Cleveland's 56 defensive runs saved as the fourth-best total in the majors behind Tampa Bay, Boston and the Dodgers in 2017.

But a succession of misplays and indignities contributed to the Indians' undoing against the Yankees. The six unearned runs allowed by Cleveland were one short of the MLB postseason record shared by four teams -- most recently the Oakland A's in the 2002 ALDS against Minnesota.

"We don't do that very often," Bauer said. "We make other teams beat us, and I think we contributed to beating ourselves tonight. It's a very different game if you take out a couple of plays."

There were several culprits in this mess of a game:

  • Giovanny Urshela, who is in the lineup at third base almost exclusively because of his glove, made two errors that led to five unearned runs for New York. In the second inning, Starlin Castro hit a bolt that dipped below Urshela's glove and struck him in the shin. Urshela received an error on a tough scoring decision, then had to take a break to limp around the infield until the pain subsided.

  • Lindor, who has assumed the role of team counselor/cheerleader/comforting sage at age 23, took Urshela aside during the game and preached positive thinking to help get him through the night.

    "He's going to help again," Lindor said. "He's a big part of our team, and he's extremely good at third base. He made a couple of mistakes today, but that's part of the game. I just tried to keep him up and let him know we were OK. We still had a chance to win the game. And I told him to believe in himself. No matter what happens, the ball is going to going to come find you."

  • Jay Bruce, who had struck out four times in Game 3, missed a cutoff man and spent half the night listening to "Jay Bruce sucks!" chants from the always-welcoming fans in the Bronx. And Kipnis, who has made an admirable transition from second base to center field in the postseason, failed to get enough oomph on his throw to cut down Todd Frazier on a fly ball to shallow center field in the fifth.

  • The final indignity was delivered via a classic rock staple when first baseman Carlos Santana failed to corral a hot shot by Aaron Hicks and the PA system at Yankee Stadium played "I'm Only Human" by the Human League.

The Indians' offense is sufficiently tenuous at the moment that any mistakes are going to be magnified. Cleanup hitter Edwin Encarnacion is listed as day-to-day with an ankle injury, but he's still wearing a boot and walking with the aid of crutches, and he hasn't played since an awkward and painful stumble over the second-base bag in Game 2. The Indians miss Encarnacion's patience and quick-strike power and the threat he presents each time around the order in the cleanup spot.

Michael Brantley, pressed into service after missing most of August and September with an ankle injury, looks like a guy who's in the midst of spring training in October. And the dynamic young double play combination of Lindor and Jose Ramirez is hitting a combined .097 (3-for-31) with 12 strikeouts. Lindor's grand slam off the Progressive Field foul pole against Chad Green in Game 2 was his only hit of the series.

The Indians struck out 25 times in the two Yankee Stadium games against Masahiro Tanaka, Severino and the New York bullpen. This from a Cleveland lineup that amassed only 1,153 regular-season strikeouts -- second fewest in the majors behind the Houston Astros.

"I've probably had 15 of those," said Lindor, who has logged only five.

Maybe it's a good thing that the Indians don't have much time to dwell on their deficiencies. They've been good enough for an extended period to chalk it up as just a lousy road trip rather than allow negative thoughts to creep into their heads.

"We have a way of bouncing back," Kipnis said. "We always have. You don't have our kind of record over the last two months without learning how to bounce back after a tough time or dealing with adversity.

"Teams are holding home court right now. Hopefully it continues."