CLEVELAND (AP) — Months have passed since the Indians’ last home game, an epic, once-in-a-generation Game 7 that will be forever remembered as the night the Chicago Cubs finally ended a championship drought spanning 108 years.
The World Series memories aren’t as wonderful here.
“It still hurts,” Indians star shortstop Francisco Lindor said last week. “It’s tough. But we’ve got to turn the page.”
Following a winter and early spring spent at training camp in Arizona and a season-opening, six-game road trip, the Indians return home to begin their schedule at Progressive Field on Tuesday against Chicago’s other team, the White Sox. Carlos Carrasco, who missed out on Cleveland’s 2016 postseason run because of a broken right hand, starts against James Shields.
The Indians are 3-3 to start a season they hope ends with a champagne-spraying and not a gut-wrenching loss. They began with an impressive sweep at Texas before losing three straight at Arizona.
The AL champions still aren’t at full strength as second baseman Jason Kipnis and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall are on the disabled list. Chisenhall, though, could be activated before the opener after he went 4 for 4 in a rehab appearance for Triple-A Columbus over the weekend.
On Tuesday, there will be a few minutes for the Indians and their fans to reflect and celebrate last year’s division championship, AL pennant and an unforgettable Series before saying goodbye to what might have been.
“It’ll be the last time that we talk about last year, but I want our guys to enjoy it,” manager Terry Francona said. “I think the fans will and I know we will. It’ll be a special day.”
There hasn’t been a World Series championship banner raised in Cleveland since 1948 as the Indians have replaced the Cubs for baseball’s longest streak of futility. They’ve had close calls along the way, losing Game 7 in 1997 to Florida in 11 innings before last year’s 10-inning heartbreaker, which completed a 3-1 collapse by the Indians.
But there’s reason to believe that the defending AL Central champs — blessed with pitching depth, a loaded lineup and Francona, arguably the majors’ best manager — will be knocking on the title door again.
“We’ve got the right personnel,” said Lindor, who hit a ninth-inning grand slam to beat Texas last week. “We’ve got a great group of guys. They all work hard. The chemistry is awesome. I would love to be part of a team that makes it to the playoffs every year. Is it possible? Not sure. Would I love to be there? Yes. That’s what we’re all working for. We all want to be in the playoffs, year after year, and give it to the fans. They deserve it.”
Cleveland feels like a baseball town again.
The Indians’ magnificent journey in 2016, which was followed by the club’s shocking signing of slugger Edwin Encarnacion in January, triggered a major uptick in ticket sales. Last week, the Indians announced they have already sold more than 1.2 million tickets, a number they didn’t reach until July 4 last year. They’ve also had a 123 percent jump in season-ticket holder accounts.
Poor attendance — the Indians ranked 28th last season — has been a major issue for several years with some fans feeling owner Paul Dolan wasn’t doing enough to re-invest in the team. That’s no longer an argument as the acquisition of elite reliever Andrew Miller in a blockbuster trade last July was followed by Encarnacion’s signing, and the club locked up several young players to long-term contracts.
Those wait-’til-next-year days are in the past.
For the Indians, the time is now.
“There’s definitely excitement,” said closer Cody Allen. “We have a really good team. And I feel like the team we had last year, we got better. A lot of guys that were on that team last year, we grew. Guys have gotten better. Some really young players, guys like Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez and Tyler Naquin, guys like that are all going to get better. It’s exciting.”
AP Sports Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.