Monday, May 2, 2011

This is getting real

The Tribe began the new month the same way it ended the old - hotter 'n Georgia asphalt in high summer - and is giving Cleveland media types and bloggers reason to construct such happy sentences as "best record in the American League" and "holy hell the Indians have the best record in the American League."

Carlos Santana pirouettes home against Detroit.

As the calendar flips its pages, this may also be the time for fans to start taking this ballclub seriously, if that hasn't happened already. Paul Cousineau of The DiaTribe blog suggested that seasons both good and bad can be defined by one seminal moment or inning - a single at-bat or play that acts as a linchpin for everything that comes after. For Cousineau, that "aha!" moment came on Friday night when Carlos Santana's game-winning moonshot of a grand slam landed in the right-field stands at Progressive Field.

I'd extrapolate Cousineau's hypothesis out a bit further: If the Tribe has finally arrived in our collective consciousness, it did so over the entire weekend against the Tigers. Three games, three comebacks built on the sturdy shoulders of timely hitting, lockdown relief pitching and aggressive base-running. So far in this early campaign, this Indians team feels like a lunch pail version of the power-laden 1995 squad, but with unglamorous fundamentals replacing ninth-inning home run heroics.

Similar to those '90s glory days, it never feels like this team is out of a game. The 2011 club effectively hammered that sentiment home over the last three days, and maybe it's past time for the Indians' arrival to be recognized as something more than just a hot start delaying the inevitable fiery crash that us sad-stop-unlucky Cleveland fans know is looming above our heads like a defective rocket.

The Tribe isn't exactly magicking their way to victory every night. The team's tops-in-MLB run differential ranking proves at least that much. The dumbest argument against the Indians' success is that they haven't played anyone yet. First, the Indians weren't supposed to be "anyone" themselves, and second, the rule of thumb of any winning season is to knock around the chaff while going .500 against the wheat. The season is still in it's relative infancy, but you'd have be the most disappointment-hardened Cleveland skeptic to not believe that something special may be growing on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Few have been more skeptical of this franchise than yours truly. For the last three years I've viewed the Indians as a Quadruple-A feeder club triple-screwed by poor drafting, timid ownership and MLB's crazy-cakes financial landscape. In Cleveland Sports Torture's exclusive Indians preview, I had the Tribe finishing with 85 losses. I'm happy to be wrong so far. Should expectations continue to be defied, I'll be pleased to look like an even bigger idiot.

Now for the caveat that all Cleveland sports bloggers are contractually obligated to add when one of our teams is winning:

Look, C-town fans know the all the sad songs; we know them so well we should be getting royalties. Still, what's the point of approaching hope as one would a mean-looking dog that may bite? There's no percentage in that kind of attitude. Take a cue from our hippie forefathers and just go with the flow, man. Emotional investment does not have to be a requirement, at least not yet. This Cleveland baseball summer has the potential to be some serious fun, and perhaps we should treat it as such.