CLEVELAND: With five games left in the regular season, Indians pitcher Justin Masterson said he didn’t believe in destiny.
“Not really because I’ve seen it many times when great things go in your favor and then it still doesn’t end up working in your direction,” he said.
He had the audacity to make that statement when that feeling still hung in the air. It was the afternoon of Sept. 25, hours after Jason Giambi had rescued the Tribe with a two-run, pinch-hit, walk-off home run after a ninth-inning meltdown by Chris Perez.
That’s when the thought first crossed my mind that something otherworldly seemed at work during a special Indians season. And it probably wasn’t the ghost of Bob Feller.
When I asked Masterson the question the next day before the Tribe’s final home game, he reacted incredulously. So I pressed on.
“Haven’t you ever seen a team of destiny?” I said.
“That’s a fan thing,” he said. “Fans just need something to believe in.”
Indians manager Terry Francona also seemed skeptical Monday as he began preparations for tonight’s American League wild-card game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Progressive Field.
But when it comes to destiny, Francona might be coming around.
“I don’t know if I believe in that. I don’t know, maybe I do, I’m not sure,” Francona said. “When [Giambi] hit that home run, you’re thinking ‘Pretty special.’ You’ve got to be good, you’ve got to be a little lucky and you’ve got to be good enough to take advantage of that luck. That would be that night summed up.
“Just about every team that moves on or wins a World Series, you look back and see times where they appear to catch a break. The Giants last year were almost beaten by the Reds, then two weeks later they’re the champions.”
Francona probably won’t consider the subject again until November. But too many things have already happened during the Indians’ 2013 season that defy Moneyball analytics.
• They won 92 games after losing 93 or more three of the past four years.
• Giambi hit two walk-off home runs, both against the Chicago White Sox.
• The Indians went 30-17 in one-run games, 18-5 at home.
• They were 10-2 in extra-inning games, their most victories in that category since 2007.
• Winning their final 10, they became only the sixth team since 1900 to finish a season with at least 10 consecutive victories and the first since the 1971 Baltimore Orioles.
• Previously shaky pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez posted a 1.82 ERA in 13 second-half starts and went 4-0 in September.
• They survived the free-agency busts of Mark Reynolds and Brett Myers and the collapses of bullpen anchors Perez and Vinnie Pestano.
• There were no catastrophic long-term injuries.
• If they beat the Rays, they will have a chance to avenge their loss to Francona’s Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series in 2007, when they fell four games to three after leading 3-1.
Masterson’s pessimism might stem only from his lack of a positive personal experience. Fans might have a tinge of romanticism about sports that prompts them to play along. But even long-suffering Ohioans have seen such magic, most notably from the 2002 national champion Ohio State Buckeyes, who won seven games by seven points or less and defeated the heavily favored Miami Hurricanes in double-overtime for the BCS title.
In the NFL as recently as last year, the Baltimore Ravens played the destiny card after they beat Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in double-overtime in an AFC divisional game en route to their Super Bowl victory. They survived much adversity, including injuries to star linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs and the death of owner Art Modell, and lost four of their final five regular-season games.
Part of the reason the nation is captivated by March Madness is that nearly every Final Four has a Cinderella, and some of them win it all.
Turns out Masterson might be in the minority in the Indians clubhouse. Before their workout Tuesday, a few willingly accepted their roles as destiny’s children.
“Yeah, why not? Are you saying this team’s destined for something? Hey, I’ll jump in that positive boat with you,” first baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher said. “I don’t necessary think destiny would be it, but it might be. We might be that Cinderella team. You can call us what you want.”
Reliever Joe Smith seemed like he could be convinced.
“Do you believe in what? Destiny? I don’t know. I’m starting to. I’ll tell you after tomorrow,” Smith said.
Catcher Yan Gomes didn’t just jump into the boat, he assumed the captain’s chair.
“Believe in destiny? Absolutely,” Gomes said. “That’s why we’re here.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.