The best and bizarre from the Indians’ 2014 campaign

The Indians didn’t make the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean it was a season devoid of drama or fun moments. In fact, this was one of the more bizarre and entertaining seasons I’ve covered. There were elite individual performances, records broken and plenty of oddities experienced. Let’s take a tour of the Tribe’s memorable 2014 season. There are links to videos and stories throughout the events listed below. Enjoy.

MLB: Cleveland Indians-Photo DayPitcher of the Year: Corey Kluber

Was there any doubt? The Klubot ended with 18 wins, a 2.44 ERA and 269 strikeouts. His 7.3 WAR (via Fangraphs.com) was the highest by a Tribe starter since 1972 (Gaylord Perry). Kluber’s 269 strikeouts were the most in a season by an Indians starter not named Bob Feller or Sam McDowell. Led by “Klubes” (as manager Terry Francona often calls him), the Indians set the Major League record for strikeouts by a team (1,450) in one season. The right-hander was a machine and now he’s a Cy Young candidate. CLICK HERE for a feature I wrote in early August on Kluber’s ascension to the top of Cleveland’s rotation.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland IndiansPlayer of the Year: Michael Brantley

Another no-contest in terms of Tribe picks. In fact, if it weren’t for some guy named Mike Trout, we might be sitting here arguing for Brantley as the American League’s MVP. He was named to his first All-Star team this season and then became the first Indians batter in history to turn in a 20-homer, 20-steal, 40-double, 200-hit campaign. His 59 multi-hit games were the most by a Cleveland hitter since 1999 (Omar Vizquel) and he joined Victor Martinez as the only batters in baseball this year with fewer than 60 strikeouts and more than 50 walks. Brantley reaching 200 hits in his final game of the season was one of the highlights of Cleveland’s season.

AllenReliever of the Year: Cody Allen

Allen became the primary ninth-inning man by mid-May and was the clear-cut closer by the season’s second half. The hard-throwing righty was a force in the final frame and turned in a dominant campaign for Cleveland. An Indians pitcher has had at least 20 saves 24 times. Among those instances, Allen (24 saves) turned in the second-highest strikeout total (91) and the fourth-lowest ERA (2.07). His 76 appearances were the most among any Tribe pitchers with at least 20 saves in one year.

T.J. HouseRookie of the Year: Trevor Bauer and T.J. House

I’ll go with co-winners for this category. The Bauer backers will cite the fact that he logged 153 innings, shoring up the middle of the rotation The House homers will note his consistency and improvement down the stretch (2.53 ERA in the second half), giving Cleveland a solid fifth starter. As a duo, Bauer and House gave Cleveland only its fifth pair of rookies with at least 100 innings apiece in a season during the Expansion Era (since 1961). With apologies to Jose Ramirez and Kyle Crockett, this honor goes to two members of the stellar five-man staff that the Tribe utilized down the stretch.

ChizOffensive Game of the Year: Lonnie Chisenhall

On June 9, Lonnie Chisenhall became Lonnie Baseball. In not only one of the greatest games in Indians history, but one of the greatest individual shows in baseball history, Chisenhall delivered three home runs, five hits and nine RBIs in a romp over the Rangers. He became the fourth hitter in MLB history to have at least that many homers, hits and RBIs in one game, joining Boston’s Fred Lynn (June 18, 1975), Brooklyn’s Gil Hodges (Aug. 31, 1950) and Cincinnati’s Walker Cooper (July 6, 1949). Chisenhall was the only player in that group to do so in only five plate appearances.

TomlinPitching Performance of the Year: Josh Tomlin

As overpowering as Kluber was all season long (he was fifth in the Majors with an average game score of 62.6), it was Tomlin who turned in the greatest single pitching performance of the year for Cleveland. On June 28 in Seattle, the righty struck out 11, walked none and spun a one-hit shutout. For perspective, Tomlin’s 96 game score was the same as the rating for Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter. Tomlin joined Len Barker as the only Tribe pitchers int he past 100 seasons to have a shutout with at least 11 strikeouts, no walks and no more than one hit allowed. Barker did so in his perfect game in 1981.

425CarrascoComeback Player of the Year: Carlos Carrasco

If we were going with an in-season comeback player, I’d probably go with a different Carlos. Santana hit .159 (.628 OPS) through the first two months and then hit .266 (.872) over the final four, finishing with a team-high 27 homers and Major League-leading 113 walks. As for Carrasco, he was winless by the end of April, making him 0-12 with an 8.09 ERA in 17 starts across the 2011-14 seasons. He was banished to the bullpen and it seemed unlikely he’d return as a starter. That changed in August, when Cleveland gave him another chance. Carrasco seized his moment, spinning a 1.30 ERA with 78 strikeouts against 11 walks in 69 innings over his final 10 starts of the season.

avilesDefensive Play of the Year: Mike Aviles

Aviles has served mainly as a utility infielder throughout his career, but the Indians used him plenty in the outfield this season. On July 13, Aviles did his best Yoenis Cespedes impression, making an incredible throw from the side wall in foul ground down the left-field line to first base, doubling up a baserunner for a jaw-dropping double play. CLICK HERE to watch the gun show.

KluberFrownDefensive Blooper of the Year: Ryan Raburn

I hate to do this to you, Ray, but a season recap just wouldn’t be complete without the Royal Spike. With one out in the eighth inning of a scoreless game in Kansas City, Mike Moustakas sent a ball tailing down the left-field line. Raburn made a sliding catch attempt, missed and hustled after the baseball. When he retrived it, he accidentally spiked it to the ground, giving Moustakes a four-base double. Kluber’s expression as he watched from behind home plate said it all.

(To be fair, I present to you the runner-up for the defensive play of the year. Check out this spectacular diving catch that Raburn made in late August: CLECK HERE)

3playReplay Play of the Year: Triple Play

Yes, I’m making up categories now. With apologies to Roberto Perez’s first career home run (a double overturned by replay), Cleveland’s best replay moment took place in Chavez Ravine on July 1. L.A.’s Adrian Gonzalez flared a pitch from Crockett to left, where Brantley made the catch and threw out Dee Gordon at the plate. Yasiel Puig tried to move from first to second on the play, but Gomes fired a throw to Jason Kipnis for the third out. The plays at the plate and at second were each reviewed, both results in outs and Cleveland had the first triple-double replay-play in Major League history… or something like that. CLICK TO WATCH.

twoballsplayBizarre Play of the Year: Two balls on the Field

This is one I’ll be telling my grandkids about, if I haven’t lost my mind by that point. On Aug. 5 against the Reds, the Indians were on the wrong end of a truly bizarre turn of events. On a double to right field by Yan Gomes, David Murphy hustled from first to third base. At the exact moment that the cut-off man caught the throw from right field, Reds reliever Jumbo Diaz uncorked a wild pitch from the bullpen, sending the baseball to shallow right-center field. Murphy, confused upon seeing the second ball in the grass, drifted too far off third base and was thrown out. It was a crazy play, one that could not be examined by instant replay and one we are unlikely to see again.

SwishSlamWalk-off of the Year: Nick Swisher

Swisher’s season was a trainwreck due to knee issues that led to surgery on both joints in August. Still, the Tribe’s living, breathing energy drink delivered one of the best moments of the season. On June 19, in the bottom of the 10th inning, Swisher launched a pitch from Ernesto Frieri for a walk-off grand slam. Cleveland will be hoping for similar heroics from Swish come 2015. Swisher’s shot was one of seven walk-off home runs on the season for the Indians.

kottarascowCult Hero of the Year: George Kottaras

Never forget what King George did for Cleveland. On May 4, the catcher crushed two home runs, becoming the first player in Indians history to have two homers in his first two plate appearances with the franchise. By the time he left town, Kottaras had a .714 slugging percentage and 1.099 OPS in an Indians uniform (in 10 games). Oh, and Kottaras (Cowtaras?) successfully defended his cow-milking crown during Cleveland’s series in Texas in June. Multi-homer games and multi-milking championships. That’s the stuff of legends.

BalkoffNon-existent At-bat of the Year: Raburn

With the score caught in a 10-10 deadlock in the 13th inning on May 21, all Raburn had to do was stand in the batter’s box to help the Indians earn a win against the Tigers. With the bases loaded, Detroit’s Al Alburquerque balked, sending Cleveland to one of its wildest wins of the season. And, to go along with the quirkiness of baseball’s rules, Raburn does not get credited for a plate appearance for that clutch (cough) moment in extra innings.

RallySquirrelCritter of the Year: Rally Squirrel

The Indians had their Rally Chicken in 2013. One year later, the club had a Rally Squirrel pay a visit to Progressive Field. On May 21 against Kansas City, the critter caused a delay as it scurried around the infield and then headed to the outfield. It ran near the mound, avoided Swisher’s glove at first and was eventually led out through the center-field bullpen. Alas, the squirrel did not carry with it the same kind of magic as “Cody” the chicken.

Kluber1In-game Interview of the Year: Kluber

During a game against the Tigers in May, Kluber was asked to do a TV interview. The pitcher obliged and his teammates plotted. He was hit with water, sunflower seeds and powder. And Kluber did not flinch. He sat there, answered questions and remained unflappable as the players tested his poise. It was just another reason why he has earned the moniker “Klubot” over the past few years.

Bauer2Postgame Interview of the Year: Trevor Bauer

Get Bauer in a non-game setting and the young pitcher will hold court with insightful and intelligent thoughts on pitching, analytics and approach. A small group of us chatted with the right-hander for more than a half hour before the end of the season (Q&A coming soon to the blog). But, catch him in a postgame scrum following a loss, and Bauer can be a little rough around the edges. Chalk that up to the competitive side a kid. That side of Bauer was on full display in Kansas City, where his responses to a local reporter were classic in their abrasiveness. Bauer: “We lost.” Reporter: ” Can you elaborate?” Bauer: “We lost, 4-1.” I wasn’t there, so CLICK HERE to read a great account of it by Cleveland.com’s Zack Meisel.

HouseQuote of the Year: House

I used to keep a log of favorite on ad off-the-record quotes, just for my own entertainment purposes. Like the time Reed Johnson told me: “The last couple weeks, I’ve been struggling for pretty much a month.” My favorite from this season came from House during the final road series in Minnesota. With the Indians on the brink of elimination, the pitcher was asked what mentality Cleveland had to take in the final games of the season. House replied: “You’ve got to hit it right in the face. Just punch it right back in the face and hopefully get a knockout.” Hey, I’m not going to argue with a man with a Fu Manchu.

aviles-slideRain Delay Antics of the Year: Aviles, Kipnis and Chisenhall

Rain delays and Cleveland baseball go hand in hand. It’s not a question of if it will rain, but how often, and how many doubleheaders we reporters will have to cover. On Aug. 13, Aviles made the most of it. When the game was postponed, he picked up the phone in the dugout, called the manager’s office and asked if he could do some tarp slides. Terry Francona did not necessarily say yes, but Aviles heard all he needed to hear, hung up and put on a show with Kipnis and Chisenhall.

KipStacheTeam Bonding Exercise of the Year: Rally ‘Staches

It got ugly in late August, when a plethora of Indians players and staff decided to grow mustaches in an effort to start a hot streak. It was unfortunate that John Axford wasn’t around to see it in person. House went the Fu Manchu route, Kipnis had whatever it was that he had, while Chisenhall, Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski and Scott Atchison went with classic ‘staches. Aviles went thin, Tyler Holt tried his best, and Bauer and Crockett are still waiting for the first hairs to emerge. Even PR men Bart Swain and Curtis Danburg got in on the action, and it was not a pretty sight. All of that said, it was good entertainment and a fun part of a strange season.

BigGBig G Memory of the Year: Golden Boy

Could 2014 have been the golden thong’s swan song? Before the start of the regular season, Jason Giambi’s famous undergarment hung in his locker in the University of San Diego clubhouse. Big G told of its magic powers and Swisher confirmed that he once donned the thong. As of this writing, I can’t confirm whether any Indians players wore it under their uniform this season. I’ll be sure to investigate in the spring. For now, we’ll just wait to hear whether Giambi is going to hang the thong up for good.

What a year, and I’m sure I missed plenty. Feel free to share your favorite moments from 2014 in the comments.

–JB

6 Comments

I really enjoyed reading your “best and bizarre” article. You were right on with your “bests” especially with Kluber, Brantley, Carrasco, Allen, Bauer and House. Your story also brought back some great memories as I saw more than a few of the instances you mentioned while watching the Tribe via MLB.TV from my home in Port Orange, FL. It will be interesting to see what Giambi decides – I think he’ll retire. If he doesn’t get a manager’s gig it would be awesome if the Indians keep him on staff in some capacity. His post-season experience would definitely be a plus for the team.
We can’t overlook the impact Terry’s managing had on the team. His ability to make the team believe in itself – particularly the younger players – was definitely a plus. In addition his managerial skills, predominantly his use of the bullpen, make him an invaluable to the Indians.
Certainly, improvements need to be made this winter; however, I’m looking forward to the 2015 season!!

This was a very entertaining article that all Cleveland fans should read!

JB
Awesome read! You already know how I feel… this was one of the most memorable seasons in history because of all the historical moments, playoffs or not. I just can’t feel disappointment that strongly because of the many amazing memories.

If I had to add any, there would be two more. First was Kluber’s back-to-back 28 batters faced games. That still blows me away. Two games, 54 outs, 56 batters. That was beyond incredible.

The other was more bizarre… the one-hitter followed by a one-hitter followed by a one-hitter stretch with Tomlin, then Hernandez, then (I remember it was Dodgers but not the pitcher). One team involved in three straight one-hitters. NOT something you will often see.

It was a great year and you captured it well as always.

Have a great offseason.

JB in Japan

Jordan, Thanks for your quality articles about the Tribe. I am 57 years old and a Tribe lifer. People ask me how can you root for a losing team? I tell them I can wait. They think they are fans and to some degree they are. We are real fans. We came up 30 homers short this last season. We have the pitching, we have the bullpen. We have the ability to pack that stadium. Look up to the right field corner by Louis Boudreaus retired number and see that 455. I have lived in California since 1977 and was blessed enough to attend 2 Fantasy Camps with the Indians in Goodyear Arizona. I made 1 trip back to Cleveland for the reunion game. I had a torn miniscus and I requested to play third base because of the brace from ankle to thigh. Our shortstop Steve asked me if I could pitch and I did. When I stood on the mound I took a moment to look around the venue. I looked at the left field bleachers where John beats the drum. Silent today but I could feel the energy. I looked at 455. Wow what a place this must have been when it was sold out for 5.5 years. I went to a dinner in Ontario, California and heard Pete Rose speak before the season had started and comment, You can’t buy a ticket for a game this year, they are sold out. I looked at the 3 decks behind home plate and wondered how crazy this place must have been with people hanging over the railings screaming and cheering. I thought about Bobby D. working for the Tribe and waiting and waiting. We went to Lakewood High School but didn’t know each other. At the second Fantasy Camp farewell dinner I crazy sat next to Bob Feller. I got to ask him how was it to pitch to Lou Gehrig. He told me about the All Star Game he started and Ted Williams finished it with a home run. I kept looking at his blue Hall of Fame Blazer and realized this man signed in 1936. Jordan I have 2 words for the Tribe. Jose Batista. We need this guy now. Jays are dealing dropping salary. He was upset they didn’t make any deals at the deadline. 1 year left, wrap him up for a few more. Fill the seats. The guy across the street already has.

Cool Article. This offseason, I think we should trade Bourn, and maybe Chisenhall, for a veteran Starting Pitcher. Our young staff needs a veteran to look up to. Bourn isn’t as fast as he was with Atlanta and seems to always be hurt. We could move Brantley to CF, Murphy to LF, and either put Swish in RF, or sign a free agent Right Fielder. Ramirez could go to Third, and Lindor at Short.

I’m still watching highlight games from 2013 on MLB/TV. I can’t think of a single game in 2014 that I want to see again. In my 50-plus years as a Tribe fan I can’t remember a more boring bunch with a winning record.

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