When this Indians' season began, I postulated that Cleveland would benefit from a quick start, as the stage was basically theirs now that the Cavaliers were LeBron-less and the Browns were months away from starting up.
In that column from April I said that a 25-15 start would be nice. The Indians did better than that, of course, beginning 30-15 and leading the Central Division by a comfortable seven games well into the second half of May.
But now -- as of Saturday evening, June 25 -- the Tribe is about to see the Detroit Tigers once again basically draw even in the race for first place. And of course, in the past couple of weeks, the Tigers actually grabbed a one-game lead, only to have the Tribe creep back ahead.
This season reminds me a bit of 1988. That was a year in which little was expected, but a hot start ignited fan interest...right about in time to see the Indians swoon.
A little stage-setting first, about that year of 1988.
In 1986 the Indians had had their most successful season in years, going 84-78 and famously receiving a cover story in Sports Illustrated before the 1987 campaign. Yes, there was that much expectation that the Tribe was the flavor of the year to come.
But then Cleveland went on to lose over 100 games in 1987, in a total regression.
This is what I remember about the beginning of 1988 -- as said earlier, a year in which little was expected. And the sampling from 1988 will be small in terms of games, but will show that a hot start can sometimes only draw forth disappointment.
The Tribe lost the season opener in 1988, then won six in a row before losing. A 6-2 start was nice, but nothing to get overly excited about.
Then the Indians won five in a row to improve to 11-2; lost one game and then won three more to move to 14-3. Another loss was followed by a two-game winning streak, and Cleveland was 16-4, and leading the American League East by two full games.
But then reality began setting in, as the Indians dropped nine-of-ten to fall 2.5 games back and into fifth place.
However, the Tribe showed resilience and went on another run, winning 13 of 16 to climb to 14 games over .500 at 30-16, and eventually reached their high-water mark at 36-21.on June 8, only a half-game out of first.
From that point until the end of the season the Indians went 42-63, and finished 78-84.
The moral of the story (and seemingly a contradiction of a lot of what I wrote here in April)?...a fast start can bring glory to a team and fire up a fan base. But it must be sustained. Otherwise, a great start becomes only a curiosity, a footnote, instead of a season to always remember.
The Indians were 15 games over .500 on May 23. Now, just over a month later, they are five over break-even and falling fast.
But before we embark on some sickening attacks on players or ownership, let's remember that things which have been terrific and have gone bad can turn around and go good again.
Criticize? Yes, sure, criticism is a part of being a fan of any sport.
But nastiness (I write this having seen some downright atrocious verbal attacks on the Indians on various sites in the past month) have no place among true fans.
I called this a cautionary tale. So it is. In a season where little was expected, and there is an unforeseen start...let us not attack a team that really was not supposed to even be in first place as late as June 25.