At least the Cleveland Indians fans trudging away from Progressive Field on Wednesday night could not claim to be experiencing misery as a novel sensation.
Yes, the Indians had a 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series. A 102-win team should have put the New York Yankees away in Game 3, but they couldn't work out Masahiro Tanaka. Should have seen off a team that is apparently years ahead of schedule in Game 4, but Trevor Bauer fell apart. Should have had more run support from the likes of MVP candidate Jose Ramirez throughout the series. Should, at least, have squeaked home, clothes damp with cold sweat, in Game 5 with a Cy Young candidate on the mound. But the Yankees found Corey Kluber anything but unhittable, for the second time in five games.
Yes, this must have been painful. As painful as losing Game 7 of the World Series, though? At some point in the life of a fan who follows a forever nearly team like the Indians, you can learn to modulate pain. Expect the worst-like hurling away a series when two games up with the wildest pitch outside the strike zone-and the worst won't be so bad. Through the tears, you can laugh, bitterly.
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Maybe it's easier still to find the tragicomedy in a city whose sports teams specialize in the niche but fruitful world of messing things up. The 1995 Indians, for instance, only won the American League Central Division by 30 games from the Kansas City Royals, with the best hitter in the game in Albert Belle. Then they went to the World Series against the Braves, and lost in six games, and fell out with Belle soon after.
They had a hockey franchise, once, that existed like a butterfly. The Cleveland Barons played two NHL seasons, from 1976 to 1978, lost more than 40 games in both, and merged with the Minnesota North Stars before they could think about breaking .500, let alone the playoffs.
They said goodbye to LeBron James, Akron's favorite son, in a manner the great English science-fiction writer J.G. Ballard might have imagined 2010 being like: via a television studio, vicarious hopes and dreams distilled into reality television and one supremely talented athlete's stoic face. James came back; he could leave again next summer, and it likely won't hurt enough to send his jersey up in flames. Then again...
They have the Browns, who can't seem to get up off the basement floor even with a system designed to haul them up. Myles Garrett looks good. DeShone Kizer doesn't. Maybe they will get a win this season.
At some point, walking away after another should-have-been moment, maybe the fatalism takes over and the sadness morphs into grim humor. There's always next year, right?