By Jason Keidel
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Forgive some Yankees fans if they have a physical reaction to the ALCS, as you will find two glaring allergens employed by the Cleveland Indians.
Terry Francona, the face of the worst playoff series in Yankees history, is now one win from managing again in the World Series. Maybe the scars of 2004 will never entirely heal, but just as Red Sox fans found it hard to hate Joe Torre, it’s equally hard to hate on Francona, a baseball lifer and son of a major leaguer. The man they affectionately call Tito (after his father) is charming, self-effacing and clearly knows how to run a baseball club.
Francona just pulled some bullpen magic in Game 3 of this year’s ALCS, all but draining his entire relief corps to get Cleveland a 3-0 series lead. If you need a sense of Francona’s baseball mastery, consider this: In the 1948 World Series — the last time Cleveland won a title — six Indians pitchers recorded an out in the entire series, whereas Francona used seven pitchers to record at least one out in Monday night’s 4-2 win over the Blue Jays.
Which leads us to the other symbol of recent Yankees past.
Andrew Miller has made the 2016 playoffs his personal demo reel, striking out 20 batters in just two series. When the Yankees held their midseason fire sale, most thought that Aroldis Chapman was the gem of the trade deadline. But it’s Miller who has been utterly unhittable, with a slider that befuddles both lefties and righties.
Miller has yet to allow a run in nine innings and has a 0.67 WHIP. Miller has thrown 59 pitches in this postseason, and hitters have swung and missed on 30 of them.
Assuming Cleveland doesn’t blow its 3-0 lead — we recall the only time that happened — they could enter a most charming Fall Classic, between two teams that have been anything but charmed over the last century.
Each of the teams in MLB’s final four bring a World Series drought of sorts — no team still playing has won a ring since at least 1993 — but this year is clearly about Cleveland and Chicago.
And if we can let bygones be bygones, those of us who lean to the American League can easily root for the Indians. And there’s a certain synergy or karma or momentum with the city of Cleveland.
The world will likely wear a giant Cubs hat, based on billy goats and the most alarming four numbers in the sport: 1908. And it’s hard to argue with the hard luck that lasts 108 years.
But Chicago is, by all accounts, a metropolis, the Second City, a mainstay of American commerce. And there’s the whole Michael Jordan thing. Cleveland, at the heart of the Rust Belt and the butt of too many jokes to count here, is just getting out of its shell, with LeBron James and the Cavaliers giving all natives a reason to believe again.
Maybe the Cleveland Indians don’t have a branded curse, a name or number tied to its woeful past. But Cleveland has gone through enough on and off the diamond to warrant a few fans east and west of Ohio.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel