Cleveland Rocks, or, The Sox Don’t Rock Yet Again

Sunday morning dawned gray and muggy, help and it looked like maybe our luck would finally run out and leave us rain-delayed on getaway day. Maura used the Internet to find an hour-by-hour forecast for Cleveland, sales and it didn’t look good, alternating between storms, showers, and drizzle all day.

Undeterred, we crossed the bridge, left Pittsburgh, and made our way in the direction of America’s poorest city, Cleveland, where we met Cleveland residents Dan and Dianne. The two MLB employees in our party could get two others of us into the game free, but that left one unaccounted for, so we headed to the ticket window. But our good fortune continued, as a man who was heading a group of 37 people but had 40 tickets gave us ticket 38, gratis.

Jacobs Field, right in downtown Cleveland, is a definite improvement on Municipal Stadium. I liked Municipal the one time I was there, for a fireworks night in 1993, because it was huge and squareish and old, but the odd configuration of the stands, built for multiple sports, meant the sight lines ranged from okay to crick-in-the-neck lousy. The Jake, one of the earliest of the throwback stadiums, is similar to all the new parks we have been to: huge concourses, lots of food stands, comfy seats. But it’s got cozy dimensions, a high left-field wall, and, even for a meaningless game in August, a good, attentive crowd. The field itself seemed extra-pretty and green, though it might have just appeared that way in contrast to the threatening skies.

My search for vegetarian food today took me to the garlic fries booth (The garlic fries were good, but not quite as good as San Francisco’s.), then to a burrito place, where I asked if I could get a burrito without meat. The concessionaire a) looked at me as if he had never heard that question, b) looked at me as if he couldn’t imagine why anyone would ask that question, c) looked at me as if maybe the burritos were just meat wrapped in a tortilla, and he was imagining a tortilla full of air, then d) said he guessed I could. I decided to press on, and press on I did, until I found a sushi booth. The vegetarian sushi combo was better and consisted of more, and more varied, pieces than the one at Skydome. But perhaps I should have kept searching, because later, Maura returned to our seats from a food run with a chocolate-ice-cream-covered crepe that, as Dan said, made everyone around her stare as if she’d just walked by topless.

Having decided, due to our Clevelandite hangers-on, to root for the Indians and reserve our Sox rooting for tomorrow’s game, we settled down in our seats along the first-base line to await what we expected would be a high-scoring affair. Neither the Indians starter, Scott Elarton, nor Jon Garland for the White Sox has been particularly distinguished this season, but apparently the full confidence of the BRPA 2004 team had a powerful effect on Elarton, who pitched brilliantly. He gave up a walk in the third,and a scratch hit on the infield in the fourth, but due to double plays, he faced the minimum all the way through the first eight innings.

Meanwhile, Jon Garland was giving up home run after home run after home run, as the Indians put up nine unanswered runs despite hitting into the best double play we’d ever seen. In the secondd inning,with Ben Broussard at second base, Ronnie Belliard grounded a ball back to Garland on the mound. He whirled and threw to shortstop Jose Valentin, catching Broussard too far off second. Broussard, knowing they had him dead to rights, headed for third, his only thought being to keep in the rundown long enough for Belliard to sneak up to second base safely. But third baseman Joe Crede forced Broussard back towards second, and, seeing that he had to stay alive a moment longer, Broussard headed that way; Crede hesitated a bit too long with the ball, and it looked as if Broussard might just make it back to second.

It was at that point that everyone in the stands and on the field realized that something extremely unusual might be about to happen. Broussard was sliding back into second, while Ronnie Belliard, running at top speed was dropping into his slide on the other side of second base. Shortstop Valentin, crouching on the third-base side of second, took the throw, slapped down a tag on Broussard, then swung his glove around and laid a tag on Belliard. The umpire, appearing to be as surprised as the rest of us, pointed to the left side of the bag and threw up a thumb, then pointed to the right side and threw it up again. The crowd erupted in a mix of surprise, awe, and laughter.

But it didn’t matter. Elarton just kept cruising along in the best start of his career. In the ninth, having faced the minimum, he hit a batter intentionally as payback for a beaning of Ben Broussard the previous inning, then gave up a sharp single, the second hit of the game for the Sox, but then he shut the door. His final line: 9 innings pitched, 2 hits, 1 walk, 1 hit batsman, 0 runs, 6 strikeouts, 101 pitches. And it was all over in 1:56, the fastest game I think I’ve ever seen, and too fast for the promised storms ever to make an appearance.

Oh, and the Cleveland scoreboard needs a quick mention. Between innings early in the game, it showed the shell game with a ball and caps, but rather than show an animated version like at most ballparks, the Indians sent an employee into the stands to play with a kid and real caps and ball. All that was lacking was a shill to lay down $20 and show the kid how easy the game was. Later, they featured a Slurpee-drinking contest among three young girls, each slurping a different flavor. The winner, drinking the red Slurpee, bleary-eyed and staggered from her sudden ice-cream headache, walked away with a DVD set of the Kubrick Collection, or something like that. It was hard to see from far away.

Now we’re on the road back home, about to hit I-94, the first doubling back of the trip. Tomorrow, we put our 9-0 record to the test, first at Comiskey, then at Milwaukee.

Original comments…

Dan: You forgot to mention the seventh-inning vocal chord stretch featuring William Hung.

Levi: And I forgot to mention the scabrous mascot of the Indians, some pink fuzzy nasty thing that looked like it had crawled out of the Cuyahoga back in its fiery days.

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