PUSKAS: Once again, defeat snatched from jaws of victory

Admit it. This was the most Cleveland way the Indians’ historic 2017 season could have ended.

Win the first two games of the ALDS against the hated New York Yankees, including rallying from a five-run deficit to force extra innings and eventually take a 2-0 series lead.

Then somehow blow three chances to finish the job, including the grand finale started by former Indians ace CC Sabathia.

If you didn’t see this coming in your mind’s eye, you were wearing blinders.

After two games, people were talking sweep. I even let my own mind wander there — despite decades of relevant evidence that should have prevented me from entertaining the thought.

But why not? Trevor Bauer had been brilliant in the opener and the Indians somehow stole the second game after an uncharacteristically bad start by ace Corey Kluber. And Carlos Carrasco, a legitimate ace himself on most teams, was starting Game 3 in New York.

At that point, with Yankees fans ready to fire or whack — take your pick — mis-manager Joe Girardi, the Indians looked like a sure bet.

That’s when we were most confident and being Cleveland fans, we should have known better.

If we’ve learned nothing in northeastern Ohio, it is this:

Any team without LeBron James will somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in excruciating fashion, even when it seems impossible even for a Cleveland team to accomplish the feat.

But even after a 1-0 loss in Game 3 that was decided by one swing by Greg Bird and a sloppy 7-3 loss in Game 4 in the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium, everything was looking up for Cleveland going into Wednesday night’s decisive Game 5.

The Indians were going back home.

They had Kluber starting, and there was no way he was going to pitch another stinker.

The Tribe’s hitting had disappeared after Game 2, but this team really never stopped hitting for long all season. Surely Frankie Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Jason Kipnis and the rest of the bats would find their stroke back at Progressive Field.

And the Indians — who put together that brilliant stretch of play in winning an AL-record 22 consecutive games from August into September – hadn’t lost three straight since July 30-Aug. 1 – wouldn’t suddenly pick October to do it again.

But I had a bad feeling about this game and I know I wasn’t alone.

Things just don’t go the Indians’ way this time of year.

You can go back to the World Series last season, when the Tribe couldn’t close out the Cubs after taking a 3-1 lead.

You can go back to 2007, when the Indians couldn’t close out the Boston Red Sox – and then-manager Terry Francona – after taking a 3-1 lead in the ALCS.

Need more?

You can go back to 1999 when the Indians couldn’t close out the Red Sox after taking a 2-0 lead in the ALDS. That ill-timed, three-game October skid cost then-manager Mike Hargrove his job.

Grover’s 1997 team needed only one strike to close out the Florida Marlins in Game 7 of the World Series. You know how that ended.

Throw in the 1995 World Series against the Atlanta Braves if you wish. That Indians lineup was the best-hitting team I’ve ever seen, until they ran up against Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. I’m still angry about the corners Glavine got in Game 6, a 1-0, one-hitter by the crafty lefty.

And speaking of getting calls on the corners, how about Sabathia on Wednesday night? That alone could make for an entire column.

And of course, consider the 1954 World Series, in which the Indians were swept 4-0 by Willie Mays and the New York Giants after winning 111 games in the regular season.

So, yes, we should have seen this coming to some extent. We’re used to it.

But the up side of getting your heart broken repeatedly is that you almost become numb to it. It hurts, but we’ve been here before. And by the time spring training rolls around, it will be just another annoying memory.

I promise. That much, I have a good feeling about.

Write Vindicator Sports Editor Ed Puskas at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @EdPuskas_Vindy.

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