Well, that happened.
Feel free to apply that to any one of the three events of Sunday, none of which could have made anyone very happy: the Indians extra-inning loss; the end of The Sopranos or the Cavs deer-in-the-headlights performance against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
It’s hard to draw any cosmic connection between the three events beyond the obvious disappointment underlying each. Still, if bad things happen in three then that quota was certainly reached yesterday, which mean that things are looking up for Tuesday.
At last look, the Indians, entering game two of their own version of the neverending story with the Seattle Mariners, had lost five of their last nine. There certainly is an ebb and flow to the season and sometimes a team wins when it should lose and vice versa, which is why it is often better to not get lost among the trees that represent each individual game and just take stock of the forest. But every once in awhile there is a game that demands strict scrutiny, Sunday’s game with the Reds being a prime example.
Manager Eric Wedge called it one of the worst offensive efforts he could remember. Who’s to argue? Outside of pitcher C.C Sabathia, who had two hits, one would be hard pressed to find a quality bat among the 27 outs made. It’s not even so much that the regular hitters appeared to have no approach toward any of the Reds pitchers, it’s that they didn’t even look like they were trying. As Wedge noted (courtesy of Paul Hoynes game story) “you can't allow a game like that to happen . . . not collectively. There are going to be individuals that struggle, but you can't have a total breakdown from the entire ballclub.”
But a total breakdown it was, which is why, in the end, a stellar effort by Sabathia was wasted. For those keeping track, the Indians offense has turned pathetic with Sabathia on the mound. In his last two starts, he’s been the recipient of exactly one run. Amazingly, he’s 1-0 in those starts, which pretty much is all the evidence that is needed to place Sabathia on the All Star team.
Part of that may be due to the fact that when Sabathia is on the mound, the Tribe is usually facing the opposition’s best pitcher as well. But that just further fuels the urgency for the hitters to ensure that they remain disciplined and focused at the plate because the opportunities are likely to be fewer. For whatever reason, though, the Indians hitters were neither disciplined nor focused on Sunday. Perhaps they, too, were waiting for the finale of The Sopranos to begin.
But no such excuse could be made for the Cavs. They were actually playing opposite of Tony and the crew, which was probably a good thing if you care about the team’s reputation nationally. It’s easy enough to record one show and watch another in this day and age, but hopefully most decided against it and tuned into The Sopranos instead. At least then those viewers would have missed one of the most miserable halves of basketball the Cavs have played all season.
It’s true enough that the Cavs also, naturally, played a miserable third quarter Sunday night. But by the time the third quarter rolled around, the Cavs were already pretty much out of the game due to, as Wedge might say, a total breakdown by the entire club.
If fans of The Sopranos were disappointed in how writer David Chase chose to end his opera, at least they can take solace in the fact that it was, after all, only a show. The Cavs, on the other hand, were real life and whatever one might think of Chase’s final Sopranos script, it still ran rings around whoever scripted the Cavs first half approach.
At this point, the conventional wisdom is putting the blame on head coach Mike Brown and his decision to continue to start an injured Larry Hughes. His inability to guard Tony Parker has created a sort of domino effect that seems to have taken the other four, including LeBron James, out of their rhythm. There is a fair amount of validity to that wisdom, but it misses the point. It’s unlikely that a healthy Larry Hughes would be faring much better.
It’s pretty likely at this point that Brown is merely trying to protect rookie Daniel Gibson, preferring to bring him in off the bench rather than place undue pressure on him by starting him over Hughes. While it’s hard to argue with a coach when he is in a much better position to know his players than the average fan, nothing in Gibson’s make up even whiffs at him being intimidated by the enormity of the situation. Brown’s caution seems, at the very least, unnecessary.
In this regard, Brown should take a page from Mike Hargrove’s handbook when he started rookie pitcher Jaret Wright in the fourth and seventh games of the 1997 World Series. Wright was a much more heralded rookie than Gibson and, consequently, had more pressure on him. But Wright also had the kind of swagger and bravado that allowed him to easily handle the situation. And handle it he did, winning game four and giving up only one run in 6 1/3 innings in game seven. Not only was Wright not the reason the Indians lost that series, he was the reason they almost won it.
Gibson is in much the same situation. Though seeming to lack the overt swagger and step of Wright, he doesn’t lack for confidence either. Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals proved that. He doesn’t seem to need Brown’s paternal approach, particularly when he has James covering his back on the floor. The guess is that Brown will give in and Gibson probably will start on Tuesday night. If not, then Brown will have exhibited the true flaw of the inexperienced coach: stubbornness. It was on full display Sunday night and if Brown, like the rest of his team, is going to take the step to the next level, then he has to have the courage to admit when something’s not working and try something else. If not, then the Cavs in this series will quickly find themselves suffering the same fate as The Sopranos: canceled.