“I think everybody in this clubhouse wants to get a ring.”
By Mike Lopresti
Sept. 12, 2015 — Now, a championship shot sits before the Indianapolis Indians. Now, the Governors’ Cup is close enough to envision, and almost touch.
One more series. Three more wins. Never mind the usual dual mission of Triple-A baseball, where a man tries to hone his game with one ear always on the phone, waiting for the Pittsburgh Pirates to call. Right now, the ring is the thing.
What was it Keon Broxton said the other day, after helping win the series opener against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with both glove and bat? “During the season, everybody’s working, trying to get better. When it comes to the postseason, we’re not thinking a bit about developing. We’re not thinking about our mechanics. We’re thinking about going out and playing and letting everything we’ve learned up to this point carry over.
“I think everybody in this clubhouse wants to get a ring.”
What was it Vance Worley said after shutting down the RailRiders in game 2? “I think this is the time to shine, and show what you’re really made of.”
So they have, with the three-game sweep of SWB, punctuated by a four-run ninth-inning rally in game 3 Friday that had the Indianapolis clubhouse afterward looking like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
“That’s a big step for these guys, a big hurdle to overcome,” manager Dean Treanor said the morning after. “Watching these guys grow, I want it for them. I think I could safely say a month ago that I wanted it more for them than they did. Now I don’t think that’s the case.
“You can tell just by watching them and you can feel how much they want this.”
How did the Indians just blow through a three-game sweep? Let us count the ways.
Timely hitting. The Indians were 12-for-21 with runners in scoring position. “That’s been our Achilles’ heel all year,” Treanor said. But not the last series. That’s how a team outscores its opponent 17-6 in three games while getting outhit 29-26.
Strong defense. In game 1, Broxton’s one-handed grab after falling down in left field ended up No. 4 on ESPN SportsCenter’s plays of the day. Meanwhile, his teammates turned five double plays. In game 2, eight of Scranton’s 27 outs settled in Gorkys Hernandez’ glove in centerfield, including two on spectacular catches. The man was a vacuum cleaner.
Big innings. The Indians began the series with six runs in the first inning of game 1. They ended it with four runs in the ninth to rally for game 3. In between, they scored four runs in the fifth inning to take control of game 2. So they scored eight more runs in those three innings than the RailRiders scored in three games.
Clutch hitting, defense, pitching. Gee, that sounds like Postseason Baseball 101. “When it’s playoff time, you have to find a way to win, and these guys are doing that,” Treanor said. “I think that really speaks to their intent.”
For no extra charge, the Indians just made a little history. They won their first postseason series in 10 years, and their first home playoff game in 15.
“Wow,” Treanor said at hearing that news.
“Wow,” seconded Broxton.
All in all, the Indians handled postseason pressure. “This is different,” Boscan mentioned, “because it’s the playoffs.”
They handled the disappointment of the deflating regular season-ending walk off loss at Louisville that cost them sole ownership of the division title. “We had a meeting today before the game and that game never came up,” Treanor said after the series opener. “It was about this is a new season. It’s the playoffs and we need to go out there and play the way we’re capable of.” The Indians promptly scored six runs in the first inning.
They handled a 4:30 a.m. bus to the airport to get to Scranton Friday, barely seven hours after they had won game 2. In other words, the Indians seem pretty serious about this. “To watch them celebrate that win was pretty special,” Treanor said of Friday night. “I think these guys are trying to do something pretty special.”
Imagine if it is Norfolk. Six of the nine meetings between the Indians and Tides this season were decided by a single run.
Imagine if it is Columbus in an I-70 Series. The Clippers and Indians have been as close this season as butter on bread. They tied for the West title with the International League’s best records. They played 21 times and Columbus eked out an 11-10 edge. Twelve of those 21 games were won by either one or two runs.
“Whoever it is,” Treanor said, “it’s going to be a very tough and another lively series.”
Indianapolis’ bid for the Cup will start with pitching. The Indians’ staff ERA of 3.09 during the season was the best the franchise has seen in 26 years, and looked that way against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Start with Boscan, who hasn’t lost since June 22, or 12 starts ago.
“He’s really upped it to another level,” Treanor said. “His command has really improved, his secondary stuff has really improved.”
Boscan mentioned his growing confidence in the change-up as his secondary pitch. Against Scranton, he didn’t have his A game working, and still managed to find a way to win. “One of his guttier performances,” Treanor called it.
Then there is Worley, who spent much of this season with the Pirates. Let’s face it, he’d rather be in PNC Park. But he’s dialed in here. To wit, one unearned run allowed in eight innings in game 2.
“I had a conversation with him,” Treanor said that night. “He’s not happy about being here and it was completely understandable. I asked him to try to be part of this. In our small world, it was important for him to buy into what’s going on here. He’s done that. To me, that says a lot about him. He was into this game tonight big time.
“I think he likes being a part of this playoff atmosphere. I have to believe whatever happens here, he’s going back up there.”
Worley said his motivation is pretty simple.
“The guys who didn’t get called up in September, you’ve got to make the best of what you’ve got here. Not everybody gets an opportunity to be in playoff baseball.
“If you can get a ring, it doesn’t matter what level it is. I don’t have a ring at any level.”
Treanor said he wants to take the next step for the Indians front office leaders who have been around for so long. For the Indianapolis fans, who set an attendance record this season. And for his players.
“There’s a whole lot of factors working for me,” he said. “I like to think they’re not going to be denied on this. That’s the way they’re going to go out and play.”
Three more wins.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 17, 7:05 p.m.
— AND —
FRIDAY, SEPT. 18, 7:15 p.m. (if necessary)
— AND —
SATURDAY, SEPT. 19, 7:05 p.m. (if necessary)
_________________________________________________________________________________________________Mike Lopresti is a Ball State University graduate and Richmond, Ind. native and resident. He was a sports columnist for Gannett newspapers and USA Today for 31 years, and covered 30 World Series and 33 Major League Baseball All-Star Games. He is a voter for Baseball Hall of Fame. When he retired he was 16th in nation in seniority on Baseball Writers Association of America.