The sporting gods work in wonderfully ironic ways. Tomorrow night, LeBron James and his all-conquering Cleveland Cavaliers will lift the NBA championship banner for the first time in a history littered with stomach churning despair.
The phenomenal James inspired a championship series comeback against the Golden State Warriors in June, ending a 52-year title drought for this proud sporting city. Yet just a slam dunk away from what will be a rocking Quicken Loans arena, another quest to expunge decades of hurt begins.
That the Cleveland Indians are in the World Series for the first time since 1997 has given their downtrodden, devoted followers further reason to believe. So long the butt of everyone’s jokes, Cleveland are laughing now.
A 4-1 thumping of the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series punched their ticket to the big one.
While the Chicago Cubs – who’ve got their own 108-year drought to deal with – and LA Dodgers have slugged it out in an epic National League dust-up, the Indians have had their feet up waiting for the chance to lift a trophy they last held three years after the end of World War II.
The franchise threw its first pitch in 1901. Two championships is a shocking return. All those matches. All that hope obliterated year after dismal year. Written off by everyone outside Ohio, the Tribe are on a glory march few saw coming.
When star pitcher Danny Salazar was injured in September along with Carlos Carrasco, you’d have been carted away for owning visions of world domination. As the play-offs began, scriptwriters were busy penning the next installment of the David Ortiz farewell tour for the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS match-up before a comprehensive clean sweep was dished out.
Once that hurdle was emphatically cleared, all eyes were on an exciting Blue Jays side. Fans in Toronto know about failure. Their 1993 World Series win was, incredibly, the last time they’d reached the postseason until 2015.
While baseball and basketball devotees rejoice, the pain of watching the wretched Cleveland Browns, however, gives the outlook a very, well, Cleveland feel.
Boasting an 0-6 record going into this past weekend’s games, the NFL team are the party guests who turn up unnanounced and set fire to the kitchen. One of only four teams to have never reached the Super Bowl, the Browns are the bane of Cleveland. Their only title came in 1964 – two years before the introduction of the Super Bowl. Since then, all you can see is heartbreak and close call stories.
The same could be said for the Cavs until last year. Don’t forget the paltry 48 years with no titles. In LeBron’s first coming, hearts were broken and then ripped apart following his defection to Miami.
That he returned as the knight in shining armour to crown his greatest moment was pure, unforgettable theatre. It’s also helped the Indians. There’s no curse hanging over red hot pitcher Andrew Miller and coach Terry Francona’s side, which is probably for the best considering their own back catalogue of agonising defeats.
It’s a horror story dating back to that last appearance in the Fall Classic 19 years ago. A ninth inning lead against the Florida Marlins in Game 7 was blown and ended in a crushing defeat in the 11th. The hurt from losing the 1995 World Series intensified. Three defeats on the bounce against the Red Sox in 1999 saw a 2-0 lead in the ALDS disappear.
The hopes in 2001 at the same stage were understandably skyhigh following an astonishing 17-2 win in the third game. Yet it wasn’t to be.
In 2007, Boston were 3-1 down in the ALCS but a comeback was completed with a 11-2 destruction in the decider. The Tribe were ahead in every one of those series before disaster predictably struck.
“For the city I was thrilled when the Cavs won. It was hard not to get caught up in that,” said Francona. “The timing was unique where we went on a 14-game run after that. But I don’t think it’s fair to the players to go back 70 years. We’re trying to stay in the moment.”
He’s spot on. The thousands who will pack Progressive Field over the next two weeks in the World Series against the Cubs can’t look back in anger. They must instead remain positive and remember peering over at the posh seats where James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have been cheering on the Indians during this post-season run.
Forget history. If the Cavs can do it, why not the Indians?
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