ANAHEIM, Calif. – "Duh, Winning."
"Appropriate for here, right?" he said.
It's the contained delight the Cleveland Indians wore into the second week of the 2011 season.
It's overheard through the metal clubhouse doors, a ruckus of shouts and laughter after another win – that's eight in a row for the Indians – and minutes later stuffed and protected behind clenched jaws.
"Trying to do our thing, you know?" said first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., the catcher for the last Indians team to reach the World Series, 14 years ago, a time of the franchise's last sustained grandeur.
It's life in spring for the tragically lost Tribe, undone by the game's severe economic realities, ignored by its fans, subjected to watching the superstars it created wear other colors into late October.
Ten games in, fed the sideways Boston Red Sox and underwhelming Seattle Mariners, waiting on Grady Sizemore(notes), playing in front of a vastly improved infield and behind the nobility of the Minnesota Twins and panache of the Chicago White Sox, the Indians are, well, competent and having a good time being so.
It is that time of year, of course, when the choice is to believe or not. To believe in a $50 million payroll. Or not. To believe the Indians' rotation has learned to throw strikes (after leading the American League in walks over the past two seasons), the defense has become sturdy (after committing 207 errors over the past two seasons) and the bats have become productive (after outscoring only the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners in 2010).
Maybe the choice is to wait and see. By summer, we'll all find out together. But, at the moment, the Indians have endured three lousy innings, all in the first two games, both at Progressive Field against the White Sox, the first in front of almost 42,000 people, the second in front of less than 10,000.
So maybe the Red Sox were in a slump, or maybe the Indians helped put them there. And maybe the Mariners are bad, or … never mind about that one.
On a cool night in Southern California, they put up four early runs on the Angels, huddled behind starter Mitch Talbot(notes), made a couple gorgeous plays in the infield – third baseman Jack Hannahan(notes) on a bunt by speedy Peter Bourjos(notes), the Cabreras on a sixth-inning 4-6-3 that might have brought tears to manager Manny Acta's eyes – and walked off with No. 8.
So, believe, or wait and see, or assume the Indians will be gone by mid-May, but they haven't started this well in nine years, haven't won as many in a row in three years, and since late September have won 15 and lost four. Aprils and Septembers tend to be as credible as a jailhouse narc, so take them for what they are: an excuse for hope, a reason to ignore the usual depth issues in a smallish market and an opportunity to discover what is right in an organization that has been forced into hard decisions since Oct. 16, 2007, the day they took a 3-1 lead over the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.
With 6 percent of the season behind us and an eternity ahead, the Indians rank third in the league in runs, sixth in ERA and second in fielding percentage.
Days before spring training began, the Indians signed Orlando Cabrera to a $1 million contract, making them his sixth team in five seasons. Two months before that, they signed Hannahan to a minor league contract. By about that time, Asdrubal Cabrera probably had fully healed from a broken left forearm, though he'd played the final two months of 2010.
While so much has gone right for a week-and-a-half, some of it holding reasonable promise for the summer, it is the defense – the infield defense, particularly – that has the Indians most enthused. Orlando has been an easy transition to second base, a position he has never played full-time in the majors. And the knock on Hannahan, who at 30 spent all of last season in Triple-A with Seattle and Boston, has been his bat. His glove is exceptional.
A year ago, the Indians committed 72 errors in their infield. Through 10 games in 2011, they've made two. It changes the pitching staff, wrought with sinkerballers, and it changes the game.
For that, Acta is thankful for a solid Hannahan, for a healthy Asdrubal Cabrera, and for a willing and giving Orlando Cabrera.
"Orlando doesn't really need Asdrubal," he said. "Orlando already has played 15 years, been a Gold Glove winner at shortstop, been to the playoffs and won a World Series. For him to do this, he's going to challenge Asdrubal. He's going to challenge Asdrubal to be the best shortstop he can be."
Already, Orlando has made an impact on Asdrubal in the batter's box. Once a game, he told Asdrubal, pick a spot, be smart about it, "And take one at-bat for you."
Asdrubal hit his fourth home run Monday night, a lightning bolt of a shot to dead center through the damp coastal air. He's batting .317. Orlando, seemingly at home in another new clubhouse, is batting .361.
It's eight games. Barely more than a week. The young starters are through two rotations. Sizemore is rehabbing in the minor leagues. The ball is bouncing true, and the weight of a nearly empty ballpark is not yet wearying.
So they win.
"Just good team baseball," Hafner said.
- Orlando Cabrera
- Asdrubal Cabrera