Hope and promise ran high for the Indians as 2008 began.
Two months before they had come within a game of their first World Series appearance since 1997 and many expected 2007 AL Cy Young winner CC Sabathia would lead Cleveland back to October baseball. But a poor start to the season and key injuries led the team down a much different path that left fans wondering what went wrong.
Here’s a look at the best and worst of the 2008 Indians’ season.
The left-hander started his year defeating Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers for the final rotation spot in spring training and never looked back. Lee kept the Cy Young in Cleveland with a 22-3 record and a league best 2.54 ERA. Lee also became the first 20-game winner for the Tribe since Gaylord Perry in 1974 and the first Indians’ pitcher to start the all-star game since Charlie Nagy in 1996.
CC Sabathia traded
Cleveland’s ace entered 2008 in the final year of his contract and broke off negotiations with the club in spring training. As the Tribe slipped out of contention General Manager Mark Shapiro traded Sabathia to Milwaukee for four prospects. Leading the prospects is left fielder Matt LaPorta, who won a bronze medal with Team USA in the Beijing Olympics. Sabathia ended his career in Cleveland with a 106-71 record and 1,265 strikeouts. The big left-hander led the Brewers to the playoffs and signed a record $160 million contract with the Yankees.
Kerry Wood signed
After closer Joe Borowski was released July 10, the Indians struggled to find a replacement until Wood signed a two-year contract worth $20.5 million. Wood saved 34 games for the Chicago Cubs this season after being converted from a starter.
Injuries and early struggles
After winning the opening series the Indians failed to win the next six series, opening the year with a 7-12 record. As the team struggled to find its bats injuries began to mount as catcher Victor Martinez, designated hitter Travis Hafner and starting pitchers Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook spent a combined 11 months on the disabled list.
The center fielder became the face of the franchise after Sabathia’s departure in July and did not disappoint. Sizemore became the second Indian to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a season, finishing with 33 homers and 38 steals. The 26-year old was awarded his second straight Gold Glove, named to his third consecutive all-star team and won his first Silver Slugger.
The Jake no more
Also making news at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario was Progressive Insurance, who purchased the naming rights to Jacobs Field in January. The park was renamed Progressive Field, after being known as Jacobs Field for the first 14 years of its existence.
Former Indian great Omar Vizquel made his return to Cleveland with the San Francisco Giants. Before the game the Indians’ showed a five-minute long highlight reel of Vizquel’s time in an Indians’ uniform.
After the video, the fans gave him a standing ovation. There was another in store when he came to the plate for the first time in the second inning. The Indians cooperated by dropping the first two games of the series.
Blake and Byrd gone
Shapiro was not done after trading Sabathia. The GM also moved third baseman Casey Blake and starter Paul Byrd, who were both in the last year of their contracts. Blake went to the Los Angeles Dodgers for AAA reliever Jon Meloan and A catcher Carlos Santana. Byrd was sent to Boston in August for cash, mostly as a favor to one of the classiest guys in baseball.
Hall of Fame
Former second baseman Joe Gordon was inducted into the Indians’ Hall of Fame and elected to Cooperstown in 2008. Though he only played four years in Cleveland, Gordon was a part of the 1948 World Series team.
In November, Bob Feller celebrated his 90th birthday.
Former broadcaster and pitcher Herb Score died after a long illness in November. Score had spent more than 30 years as an announcer for the Tribe and famously had his career cut short after a line drive hit the 1956 Rookie of the Year in the eye.
For the second year in a row, the Indians turned a triple-play. This year it was an unassisted one from second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera against Toronto in May. It was the 14th unassisted triple play in MLB history.
Before Sabathia departed he gave the Indians’ offense a present when he hit a 440-foot home run in Dodger Stadium. His home run gave him more than Martinez for much of the season and was one of the longest of the year for Cleveland.
For 44 1/3 innings in May Tribe starting pitchers did not allow a run. The streak was the longest in the majors since Baltimore starters combined for 54 innings in 1974. The streak came to an end when Aaron Laffey allowed an unearned run.
Once the closer’s role fell into his hands the 24-year old didn’t let it go. He converted 13 straight save opportunities to finish the season.
The Indians’ season ended with an 81-81 record without the hope that 2007 left the city, but with the promise from Shapiro to return to contention next season.