The Indians’ catalogue of postseason failure is fairly lengthy, but it is not especially varied. There are, after all, a lot of different ways to lose—blowouts and gentle fades and attempted comebacks that can’t come back enough. But Cleveland’s recent history of loss here is almost exclusively defined by singular moments of ridiculous, high-stakes heartbreak. José Mesa’s blown save in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series; Atlanta’s combined one-hitter to win the 1995 World Series; the decision to hold Kenny Lofton at third in the seventh inning of Game 7 of the 2007 ALCS; the brutal rain-delayed tenth inning of Game 7 in last year’s World Series; enough that listing them in one sentence feels like a stupid and overwrought exercise in melodrama.
This year’s early exit does not fit that pattern. This year’s ALDS loss to the Yankees had no instantly iconic piece of misery. It was just a good team playing poorly—getting beat, but also beating themselves—and losing one game and then another and then a third in a way that was so maddeningly pedestrian that it was impossible to feel too worked up about it or make excuses or isolate a scapegoat. The team played bad baseball. They had seven errors in their last two games. Their ace lasted less than seven innings combined in two starts.
Tonight’s Game 5 saw C.C. Sabathia pitching like a vintage version of himself, with nine strikeouts before getting pulled by a quick hook in the fifth. Meanwhile, Corey Kluber allowed two home runs to Didi Gregorius and was yanked in the fourth. Any hopes for a comeback fell apart in the ninth, when closer Cody Allen let Brett Gardner get the best of him in a 12-pitch at-bat and single to drive in two runs, aided by an error in the outfield and a misplay in the infield. Just as they were in Game 4, the Yankees looked wholly in control for essentially the entire game.
A series like this—one where a 102-win team gets soundly beaten in the first round—almost always generates the same tired conversations about the capriciousness of the postseason and the inability of any team to guard against that. But appeals to the hypotheticals that should have been (“should have been”) feel particularly weak when the reality is so unambiguous: not one close play or hung slider or bad hop away from making it, but instead full games clearly and deservedly lost by a team beat by itself and by its opponent in equal measure, or something like it. Which is, perhaps, a measure of consolation not offered by most of Cleveland’s postseason losses from the last two decades. Wondering what if is blissfully pointless when there are far too many hypotheticals are needed to engineer the win that makes it worth your while.