CLEVELAND: Swing and a drive, waaaay back & gone!
While the current pace of the Indians’ home-run barrage might be hard to sustain, the man who made those words one of his trademarks, Tribe play-by-play announcer Tom Hamilton, watches, enjoys and remembers.
For Hamilton, some of the recent blasts — including the 460-foot shot Mark Reynolds hit Monday against the Oakland Athletics — underscore just how long it’s been since the Indians had this kind of power.
July 16 will mark 18 years since Dennis Eckersley’s “Wow” moment, which the A’s closer mouthed after giving up a walk-off home run to Manny Ramirez.
That season was the first of six times in seven years that the Indians hit 200-plus home runs and they were two shy in 1998 of making it 7-for-7.
The 1995 Opening Day lineup had Kenny Lofton, Omar Vizquel, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Eddie Murray, Jim Thome, Ramirez and Paul Sorrento hitting first through eighth. It was as close as the Tribe had come to Murderers’ Row.
But since that run ended with the 2001 season, the Indians have hit the 200 mark only once, in 2005. Of late, the Tribe’s stars have been pitchers, not hitters.
Last year, the Indians ranked 12th out of 14 teams in the American League with 136 home runs, 109 fewer than the major league-leading New York Yankees. No team in the AL had a home run leader with as few as the Indians’ Carlos Santana’s 18, except for the Houston Astros, who switched from the National League in 2013.
That’s what makes what’s happening now so stunning. The Indians have gone from a power outage to a power outrage.
The Indians entered Tuesday night’s game against the visiting A’s tied with the Atlanta Braves for the major-league lead with 44 home runs. They had four or more homers in a game four times after accomplishing the feat only once last season.
Even after squeaking out a homerless 1-0 victory, they are on pace for 237, which would shatter the team record of 221 in 2000.
Going into the night, the Tribe’s Mark Reynolds was leading the American League with 10 home runs, only eight away from Santana’s 2012 total.
Nonetheless, Tribe manager Terry Francona downplayed the long-ball prowess.
“I think maybe you guys are getting more carried away about the homers than we are,” Francona said before the game. “What we care about are scoring runs and winning, however we do it. Some nights it might be a home run. Some nights it could be a ball in the dirt and a guy moves up on a base hit. That’s really what I care about.”
That could be Francona’s way of saying he doesn’t want his players swinging for the fences every time up. It could also show his disregard for (or ignorance of) the Indians’ powerless past.
Francona didn’t re-watch Reynolds’ smash on Monday, when the ball hit four rows from the top of the left-field bleachers.
“We get so caught up in the game,” Francona said. “If they started giving you extra credit for the length, then I would. As long as it goes over, I’m good.”
Reynolds saw the replay, but only because his teammates were talking about how far it went.
“Normally I rarely watch video,” he said.
Reynolds, 29, is on pace to surpass his career high of 44 home runs with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009. He is making Tribe General Manager Chris Antonetti look wise for giving him a one-year, $6 million contract after the Baltimore Orioles elected not to resign him.
But Reynolds is not projecting anything.
“There’s none of that going on, trust me. I’m worried about wearing the same pair of underwear, not shaving, putting my socks on the same way each day,” he said.
Hopefully he was joking about his superstitions, at least when it comes to the first.
“I’m not worried about September,” Reynolds continued. “If you did that, you’d go down the drain so quick in this game it would eat you alive. I’m living in the moment and enjoying the ride I’m on right now. Struggles will come, trust me.”
When that happens, the Indians might have another from the likes of Nick Swisher, Jason Giambi, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Drew Stubbs and Santana on a power surge of their own. It could make for an exciting season for Tribe fans, and a nostalgic one for Hamilton.
Swing and a drive, waaaay back & gone!
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.