Four of the Cleveland Indians’ Biggest ‘What Ifs’ in Recent Memory
What if it never rained?
Cleveland Indians fans love to play this game when recalling the 2016 World Series. Well, “love” might be a strong word.
Still, many Tribe supporters believe, had there not been a rain delay after Rajai Davis’ game-tying home run in Game 7, Cleveland would’ve maintained its momentum and won it all.
Obviously, there was no controlling the weather that night. Knowing this, it's hard for me to put too much stock in the rain delay theory.
That’s not to say there aren’t several “what ifs” which have haunted the Indians over their past postseason runs. In fact, these four moments may give Cleveland fans far more to ponder than wondering what would’ve happened under a more favorable forecast on the final night of the ‘16 Series.
What if Ian Kinsler wasn’t a big jerk?
Sorry, aggressive start. Still, the Detroit Tiger’s infamous September line drive drastically changed the 2016 season for Cleveland.
Kinsler lined Carlos Carrasco’s second offering of the night right back off his hand, resulting in a season-ending fracture. Many assumed the Indians’ playoff hopes ended that night, too.
You could easily argue a healthy Carrasco greatly increases Cleveland’s postseason chances. It certainly would’ve made for a better rotation than Corey Kluber, Josh Tomlin and nine-fingered Trevor Bauer. Carrasco’s presence also should’ve ensured Kluber didn’t have to log three starts in seven World Series games.
One factor to consider, though, is the impact Carrasco’s injury had on the Indians.
The Tribe thrived on late-season doubt in 2016, seeing the loss of Carrasco not as a death knell, but as a rallying cry. Cleveland entered October determined to stun the league and make a run despite working with a makeshift rotation.
Do the Indians still carry this energy if Carrasco is at full-strength? Who knows. That said, it certainly gives you more to consider when it comes to the impact his injury had.
What if Joel Skinner gave Kenny Lofton the green light?
Before 2016, another Game 7 “what if” was plaguing Indians fans. It involved Franklin Gutiérrez at the plate and Kenny Lofton at second, with the Indians facing a 3-2 deficit in Game 7 of the ALCS against Boston.
Gutiérrez singled over third base, sending the ball ricocheting back into fair territory. As former Indian Manny Ramirez chased it down, third base coach Joel Skinner stopped Lofton from running home. One double play later, the scoring threat was over.
Many Tribe fans are convinced Skinner’s decision denied Cleveland a trip to the World Series. Before pondering that, is it even safe to assume Lofton would’ve scored if given the green light?
At 40-years old, Lofton was still an above average baserunner (2.3 BsR in 2007). To put it politely, Ramirez was never known for his defense. A freeze-frame from the game broadcast shows Lofton already around third before Ramirez had even tracked the ball down.
So, yes, Skinner likely prevented a 3-3 score. Saying Cleveland would’ve won the game had he let Lofton go still feels lofty, though.
By this point, Boston was ripping Indians pitching apart, eventually outscoring Cleveland 30-5 in the final three games of the series. Just after Skinner’s hold, Tribe reliever Rafael Betancourt imploded, allowing six earned runs in 1.2 innings pitched.
Lofton would’ve scored if Skinner allowed it, but assuming the Indians would’ve gone on to win still seems like a stretch.
What if Jose Mesa listened to Mike Hargrove?
One of the popular fan gripes from Cleveland’s Game 7 loss to Florida in the 1997 World Series is “why didn’t Mike Hargrove stick with Michael Jackson in the ninth?”
After all, Jackson had only allowed one earned run that whole postseason, and had made quick work of the first two hitters he faced in the eighth. That closer Jose Mesa went on to blow his save the next inning adds more context for this complaint.
However, Jackson had pitched two full innings in Game 6. Asking him to do the same the next night would’ve been extremely risky. Add in the fact Jackson was lifted for Brian Anderson after recording his second out, and you’ll realize there are holes to poke in this theory.
That’s not to say there isn’t a massive “what if” from this game, though.
As we learned in the MLB Network doc “The Dynasty That Almost Was,” Hargrove was calling pitches for Mesa from the dugout, something Cleveland’s closer wasn’t thrilled with. With one out and Moises Alou at first, Hargrove wanted Mesa to throw inside against Marlins catcher Charles Johnson. Mesa shook it off, choosing to throw outside.
We all know what happened next. Johnson singled, Alou moved to third, later scoring on a sac fly which tied the game 2-2.
Would Mesa have gotten Johnson out -- thus avoiding the full collapse later that night -- had he thrown the pitch Hargrove wanted?
Obviously there’s no way to know for sure. All we do know is Hargrove called one pitch, Mesa threw another and Johnson lined said pitch into right to move the tying run into scoring position.
Looking back, this is a much more significant question mark than Hargrove’s decision to pull Jackson in the eighth.
What if Tyler Naquin called it?
Frankly, this one stuck with me more than the Game 7 rain delay. Mainly because it makes me wonder if a Game 7 would’ve even been necessary.
The Indians were back in Cleveland for Game 6 against the Cubs, holding a 3-2 series lead. Josh Tomlin gave up a solo homer to Kris Bryant in the first, and was trying to escape a two-out jam with runners on the corners. He induced a bloop from Addison Russell which carried out to right center.
And then, it happened.
Actually, the issue was that nothing happened, i.e. outfielder Tyler Naquin let a ball which was right in front of him fall to the ground.
Naquin apparently assumed right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall would make a play for it, and didn’t call him off. Instead of ending the inning down 1-0, both Chicago runners scored, resulting in a 3-0 advantage.
Would Cleveland have pulled off a win if it ended the first down one instead of three? No idea. However, it’s fair to wonder how much of an impact this gaffe had, especially considering the Indians were facing Jake Arrieta, who completely shut them down in Game 2.
Based on the post-play facial expressions, said 3-0 hole apparently felt like a 20-run deficit.
To his credit, Naquin owned up to the blunder afterwards. Likewise, the Indians had one final chance to close the series out in Game 7.
Still, this moment carries much more weight for me than anything weather-related from 2016.
Surely there are more “what ifs” Indians fans can dig up than just these. I’ll be happy to let you take up the task of adding more to this list.
After all, drudging through these four is about as much as I can take for one day.