“I never understood why they paired some of you off,” Ed Harris sneers at two doomed robot sex slaves in the Westworld pilot. “Seems cruel. But then I realized: Winning doesn’t mean anything unless someone else loses.”
Yeah, a Westworld quote. Cleveland Indians fans would be wise to retreat to fiction. Fewer commercials, and no Joe Buck. No intentional walks, outfield flubs, freak injuries, boneheaded pickoffs, or insanely high-leverage Michael Martínez at-bats, either. The anxiety — and the shock, and the pain, and the crushing disappointment, and the resulting insomnia — borne equally by the entire viewing audience, not just half of it. (More like 30 percent of it, max, actually pulled for the Tribe on Wednesday night. Lotta Cubs fans on the internet, it turns out! Lotta mad-rich Cubs fans physically at Progressive Field, too! Bullshit! We won home-field advantage fair and square!) Plus it’s all fake. The situations, the outcomes, the people are all made up. Some of those people are robots, even. None of it matters.
It is tempting, on this grim and drunk–Bill Murray–oversaturated day, to regress to full-blown Cleveland Fatalism, our time-honored civic identity. God hates us, and we hate ourselves. A proud and resilient sports city reduced to a cruel montage of branded catastrophic failures: the Drive, the Shot, the Decision, the José Mesa, the Browns Leaving, the Browns Returning. (How would you even distill Wednesday night’s game thus? “The Twitter Apocalypse”? “The Clusterfuck”?) It’s a safe space, comforting in its total cynicism. “How will these clowns screw this up?” you grimly announce to the room at the first gleam of optimism — a tenuous lead, or even a hard-fought tie — and then, be it the Indians or the Browns or even, historically, the Cavs, those clowns screw it up, and you get to feel like the world’s saddest, most irritating genius.
That approach worked for decades, but it is entirely inapt for 2016, bizarre and terrifying and very occasionally exhilarating a year as it’s been. There are a few reasons to abandon the urge to abandon all hope now. Here’s the first.
The Block. Hell yeah. Actually, we need bigger, bolder type.
The first argument against Cleveland Neo-Fatalism is that the Cavaliers are reigning NBA champions, which is soothing to type, and know, and feel. We’re not allowed to whine anymore. It’s always liberating to have fewer options. The immediate cross-sport symmetry — the Indians reeling off a 14-game winning streak that coincided with the Cavs’ Game 7 win, and Progressive Field hosting Game 1 of the World Series the same night Quicken Loans Arena raised the championship banner, and the Browns not playing at all on most days — only heightened the euphoria. We were just an ordinary city now, delighting in the only somewhat extraordinary experience of having won a major sports title recently enough. The whole town awash in a fresh, new, intoxicating Winning Atmosphere, or at least a Not-Always-Losing Atmosphere.
This often manifested as unwise cockiness, sure, hoisted by our own petard of “the Warriors blew a 3–1 lead in the Finals” jokes. There is only one person in town who even truly earned the right to gleefully seize that meme, and he finally got around to it on Halloween. This is a drag, but even that embarrassment is a refreshing novelty to us. We’d never had cause for cockiness before. The thrill of even having a hand to overplay.
The second argument against getting too depressed and angsty is that it sucks.
It’s boring, and self-aggrandizingly defeatist. There is no glory in self-pity, or demanding the pity of others. For years my father has vocally feared a Cubs World Series win, no matter the opponent, simply because they were the only team with a longer streak of futility than our own. It’s not a mantle you want, the team everyone feels sorry for. (This is also a good place to acknowledge that there are far more devout and longer-suffering Tribe fans in my midst, including the close family member who texted me, “I can’t explain why, but I needed to watch this at home alone” when the game was tied 6–6.) We don’t need the extra attention — any extra attention. Far better to simply be an ordinary city slogging through the entirely unextraordinary experience of losing most of the time. Which is what we are now, or can be, if we can overcome how goddamn extraordinary Wednesday night’s game was.
Game 7 will likely go down as the single-biggest baseball game of the past quarter-century at least, and maybe the best, and definitely the most melodramatic. (The near-midnight rain delay alone! Fuck your tarp! Get off the field!) The bad news is we lost it, and will go down in history as having lost it. We are the Washington Generals, the Soviet hockey team, the New York Yankees in Major League. That kid from Room will probably play Kyle Schwarber in the Oscar-winning movie some asshole makes about all this, 15 years from now.
The good news is we helped make that game as great as it was. We didn’t roll over. The Indians could’ve folded after Dexter Fowler’s leadoff home run, or after the Cubs’ lead stretched to 5–1, or even after we went down 8–6 in the 10th, after a rain delay that seem designed by a vengeful god to sap our momentum. But we didn’t, not quite. A parade of unlikely heroes did a series of unlikely-yet-heroic things, and that they ultimately fell one run short does not make them tragic heroes, not quite. It was not, as so many of the city’s prior high-profile sports failures at least now seem to be, a feeble and shameful effort. We died pretty.
You’re welcome, America.
Yeah. Sure. Brought low but with our heads held high and all that shit. If we talked ourselves into feeling so sorry for ourselves for so long, we can talk ourselves into this. Let’s retool and get the rest of our starting rotation back and teach Tyler Naquin how to field and ditch the racist logo and Get ’Em Next Year. That was always the self-defeating rallying cry, the pitiful empty threat. Now it sounds, mercifully, just a little bit more ordinary. Like a plausible goal. Like a promise.