Fresh from one of the more hurtful playoff defeats in the modern history of a franchise that deals in the currency of hurtful playoff defeats, the Cleveland Indians had a little more salt rubbed into fresh wounds on Wednesday night.
After Didi Gregorius’s two home runs, after Brett Gardner’s insurance, after C.C. Sabathia rolled back the years to consign one of his former teams to another miserable October of introspection, the baby Yankees found a new way to humiliate the Indians. They dug up a picture they had first posted on Twitter last Friday, when an epic, drawn-out and ultimately shocking series was in its infancy.
“Winners respect winners.” The tweet read, above that picture of LeBron James that everyone will soon have burned into their retinae, if they haven’t already. A young James, back when he was a Cavalier for the first time, in 2007, during Games 1 of the 2007 ALDS between the Yankees and the Indians at Progressive Field. James, the Akron native, the man tied to northeast Ohio for his career and his life no matter what he does or where he goes or plays, holding up a Yankees cap and grinning.
The Indians won that game 12-3 a decade ago (Sabathia, in a bitter tangent, was the Indians’ starting pitcher), en route to one of those hurtful playoff losses, four games to three against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. The image from that night, though, is of James. Last October, when the Indians were making another run that ended in pain, in a Game 7 defeat to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, James foreshadowed the hurt.
“I’m a supporter [of the Yankees],’’ James said in quotes reported by the New York Post. “I’m a supporter of winners. As a kid growing up, I needed inspiration to get out of the situation I was in. I loved the Bulls, Cowboys and loved the Yankees. Those are winning franchises. I liked them because they gave me hope of being a winner. That’s part of the reason I loved those teams but I definitely support what the Indians are doing right now.’’
It’s part of the strange logic of sport that the Yankees could crow about being “winners” over a team that finished the regular season with 102 wins. The Indians came into this series as favorites to reach another World Series; the Yankees, at least according to the conventional narrative, weren’t even meant to be here.
But like a tick buried just beneath the skin, frailty brought about by so much pain is a hard thing to dig out. James’ “winning franchise,” that had to beat the Minnesota Twins in a one-off game just to get here, is moving on to an American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros. The American League’s winningest team is going home to nurse its hurt. Jesting the Yankees may have been in their moment of triumph. But that old picture of James speaks more than a thousand words.
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