The 2005 Indians: A Story of a Team That Truly Was "What If"
In the wild card era of Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians have certainly had a great deal of success.
They've won three American League pennants ('95, '97, and 2016). They advanced to the AL Championship Series twice more, losing in 1998 and 2007.
And they've went to the post-season more than any other American League team, save for the big market behemoths New York and Boston.
Of the team's that didn't make the post-season, the one team that kind of gets overlooked is the 2005 edition of the Indians, managed by Eric Wedge.
The Tribe finished the '04 campaign at 80-82, and their biggest move of the off-season going into '05 was probably inking Kevin Millwood as a free agent, although the veteran right-hander was coming off an injury plagued season with the Phillies, throwing only 145 innings.
GM Mark Shapiro also traded OF Matt Lawton to Pittsburgh to fortify the bullpen, getting LHP Arthur Rhodes.
It was the fourth year of a rebuild that started following the 2001 season, when Shapiro dealt Roberto Alomar to New York. By this time, the last remnants of the great 90's teams were gone via free agency, Jim Thome to Philadelphia following 2002, and Omar Vizquel over the winter.
So, there weren't big expectations on the Tribe coming into the 2005 season.
And that was confirmed early in the year, and the Indians closed April at 9-14, while the Chicago White Sox started red hot, opening at 17-7.
On May 8th, Cleveland was sitting at 12-18, 11-1/2 games behind the front running White Sox, and the defending champion Central Division champions in Minnesota were also playing well at 19-11.
Wedge's squad started to play better at this point, going 35-23 to the All Star break, to sit at 47-41, still 11 games behind Chicago, who went through the first half on a torrid pace (57-29), but the Indians were clearly in the wild card race, just two games behind Minnesota.
At the point, Baltimore, Texas, New York, and the young Wahoos, who only had two players over 30 getting substantial playing time (Aaron Boone and Casey Blake), were very much in the race.
Cleveland was paced by their pitching, they wound up leading the AL in ERA, mostly a five man rotation that made all but four starts all season.
Millwood led the league in ERA at 2.86, but he, Jake Westbrook (15-15, 4.49 ERA), C.C. Sabathia (15-10, 4.03), Cliff Lee (18-5, 3.79), and Scott Elarton (11-9, 4.61) took the mound every fifth day.
The bullpen was strong too, led by closer Bob Wickman (45 saves) and set up men Bob Howry (2.47 ERA), Rafael Betancourt (2.79 ERA), David Riske (3.10 ERA).
The offense ranked 4th in runs scored, with big years from Travis Hafner (.305, 33 HR, 108 RBI, 1003 OPS), Jhonny Peralta (.292, 24, 78 885 OPS), Victor Martinez (.305, 20, 80, 853 OPS), and Grady Sizemore (.289, 22, 81, 832 OPS).
All of those guys were under 28, and Peralta was 23, while Sizemore was 22.
Cleveland struggled out of the break and finished July at 55-51, 14.5 behind the Pale Hose, and now four behind Oakland, who got hot and seized the wild card lead.
Then, it was the Tribe's turn to get hot, going 19-8 in August, while the Sox came back to the pack. The lead was seven games heading into September, and the wild card deficit was down to 1.5 behind the Yankees, who were also scolding hot.
The Indians started September 18-4, and after games on 9/24, the Tribe was just a game and a half behind Chicago, and held a game and a half lead in the wild card standings. They had the second best record in the AL at 92-63.
Unfortunately, they would win just one more game the rest of the year.
On the 25th, with the score tied in the bottom of the ninth, and Kansas City had a runner on second with one out, when Paul Phillips hit a fly ball that Grady Sizemore lost in the sun, and the Royals won 5-4.
Chicago and Boston won, so Cleveland trailed Chicago by 2.5 and led the wild card by just a half game, with a three game set at home vs. lowly Tampa coming up.
The Tribe dropped the opener to Scott Kazmir, who was staked to an early 5-0 lead, before the Indians clawed back at trailed 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth with runners on 1st and 3rd with just one out. Ronnie Belliard hit into a double play.
Cleveland was shutout the next night by Seth McClung, 1-0, wasting a great pitching performance by Lee, before Sabathia and Betancourt blanked the Rays, 6-0.
Heading into the final weekend at home vs. Chicago, the Tribe was 3 behind the Sox, and tied with Boston for the wild card.
The Indians mustered just 6 runs against the Sox in the three games, losing by counts of 3-2 (in 13 innings), 4-3, and 3-1. The Tribe tied the first game in the bottom of the ninth, but another double play ball, this one off the bat of Boone, killed the rally.
Cleveland wound up missing the wild card by two games. The White Sox won the pennant and ultimately the World Series.
Another frustrating chapter of baseball in our city.