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Mike Shalin's Working Press: Be afraid, very afraid, of Indians

August 20. 2018 10:42PM
Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona looks on before the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park Aug. 20, 2018. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Note to baseball fans: Don’t sleep on the Cleveland Indians.

While the Red Sox dismantle the East and the Cinderella A’s charge in the West, the Indians, the runaway leaders of a terrible division, are quietly moving along under the radar.

They are visiting Fenway this week for the first four of seven games with the Sox that could be a preview of the ALCS. But no one seems to be talking about Tito Francona’s team.

They have problems. Trevor Bauer’s leg is a major question. We don’t know when and how strong he will come back from a fracture that happened last week.

And Cody Allen has been struggling most of the season.

But there’s plenty there to make you think this team could end a drought that goes all the way back to 1948.

Remember how special it is to have something like that come to an end, Sox fans? Yours ended. The wait for the Cubs’ faithful ended. Could this be it for the Tribe? Like the Red Sox, they have not one, but two MVP candidates. They have as many as two Cy Young possibles. Andrew Miller is healthy. Brad Hand has been added to the bullpen mix. Sunday, Mike Clevinger became the fourth Cleveland pitcher to record his 150th strikeout of the season (Bauer leads with 214).

Edwin Encarnacion has been hurt but should return soon. Michael Brantley is finally healthy.

Said Baltimore’s Mark Trumbo, who just finished playing the Indians: “Their offense is top tier, they have great starting pitching, and they play great defense. There’s a number of things to say about them. They’ve got it going on.”

And, of course, they have Francona.

“The Indians, they’re a good team. They’re a really good team,” Alex Cora said Sunday. “Very similar to us, offensively: They steal bases, they put pressure on. And those two guys, (Jose) Ramirez and (Francisco) Lindor, they’ve been doing damage. ” … Hopefully they struggle against us, and we still have fun before the game and after the game.”

As far as this series, Cora said, “We really don’t get caught up in (the hype),” Cora said. “Since the big series (against the Los Angeles Angels) early in the season, it seems like every series is something big … we don’t get caught up in that. “Tomorrow is the same day, same focus, and we’ll prepare and we’ll go out there and play.”

Talking Tito

Cora, of course, played for Tito when they won a World Series in 2007.

“He trusted me. And he was very honest and genuine,” Cora says. “I still remember in ‘07, we had these meetings in spring training, they would map out how it was going to play during the season. It was Theo (Epstein), Tito and myself, and he goes, ‘The first two months you’re going to play a lot, until this kid (Dustin Pedroia) gets right. He’s going to try to do a lot of things out of character. He’s going to swing hard and struggle a bit, but when he gets it, he gets it.’” Pedroia became the ’07 Rookie of the Year.

Cora recalled gift incentives offered by Francona, telling one story about J.D. Drew and hitting The Monster — and another involving himself.

“Pedey was hitting .140, I was hitting .450 and I hit a home run and he goes, ‘Four RBIs, you guys get a gift,’” Cora said. “I hit a homer right away. Boom, I’ve got two RBIs. Then I have a man at first in like the seventh and I hit a fly ball to right in the old Yankee Stadium, the ball hit the wall and it was a triple so I only got one RBI and the other guy scored. When I got to the dugout, he was like, ‘I was just hoping that ball didn’t go out.’ He was rooting against me, actually.

“But he was special. He was very special with us. Like I said, we talk about managing a little bit, the whole chasing wins thing, be careful with that, be careful with the bullpen, and this was in ‘06 when we weren’t that good. He’s a special guy. He’s a special guy.”

Column pal Paul Hoynes tweeting on Bauer, who tends to tick folks off: “Bauer said some people are glad he’s injured. A reporter asked, ‘Who would be happy you’re hurt?’ Said Bauer, ‘Go do some research. There’s plenty of them.’

Time to debut

Michael Kopech, the valuable young right arm traded with Yoan Moncada in the Chris Sale deal, makes his first big-league start for the White Sox tonight. Throwing 100 mph but not always knowing where the ball is going, Kopech has been impressive of late. Kopech, 22, is 7-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 24 starts with Triple-A Charlotte this season, but is 4-0 with a 1.84 ERA in his last seven starts. He has 170 strikeouts in 126 1/3 innings. It’s time!

Speaking of traded Sox prospects, Jalen Beeks was great in beating the Red Sox out of the bullpen Sunday. He also led to the line of the weekend from Dennis Eckersley, who said on NESN, “Boy, if I was Beeks I’d want to stick it to the Red Sox.”

While the A’s are getting a lot of the attention as they sat just a game behind the Astros in the West, how about the Rockies over in the NL. Through Sunday, when they completed a four-game road sweep of the Braves, they had played 46 straight games against teams over .500 when the game was played — and gone 30-16. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 46-game streak ties the longest such streak in NL history (also 1926 Phillies).

By the way, Mookie Betts and Ted Williams are the only Red Sox ever to record three 100-run seasons before turning 26.

Nice event

You had to enjoy the Mets and Phillies playing Sunday night in Williamsport. The best part was four members of the Mets rotation going into the stands to sit with Staten Island Little Leaguers after the team arrived late for an event earlier in the day.

The Mets damaged the Phillies’ postseason run by winning three of the five games in the series.

The Cubs and Pirates will play in this game next year and while starting it at 7 p.m. was better than 8, I agree with column pal Dan Schlossberg, who would like to see it even earlier so more kids can watch.

The two 2019 Williamsport teams just finished a series in Pittsburgh, where they combined for just nine runs — the lowest run total in a four-game series since 1958.

Helmet talk

We covered this very confusing new helmet-first NFL rule in Sunday’s column. Opinions continue to flow in and we go to the ever-quotable Richard Sherman for his thoughts on players having to adjust.

“There is no “make adjustment” to the way you tackle,” Sherman said. “Even in a perfect form tackle, the body is led by the head. The rule is idiotic. And should be dismissed immediately. When you watch rugby players tackle. they are still led by their head. Will be flag football soon.”

Carson Wentz, recovering from knee surgery, is back to splitting the reps in Eagles practice. Meanwhile, Nick Foles, who led his team to the title, is battling a shoulder issue. Tackle Lane Johnson, talking about Wentz, said, “The sheriff is back in town.”

The troubled Josh Gordon is back with the Browns.

“As I humbly return to being a member of this team with an opportunity to get back to playing this game I love, I realize in order for me to reach my full potential, my primary focus must remain on my sobriety and mental well-being,” Gordon said in a statement Saturday.

Hey, if he can still play, he and Jarvis Landry form a pretty neat 1-2 wideout pair.

Landry was under fire for a hit on rookie Bills CB Taron Johnson, a hit the Bills called “dirty.” Let’s see how Hard Knocks handles it.

Stand-up guy

Kurt Walker, one of the early Boston-area guys to make it to the NHL, passed away Friday night at age 64.

Walker, a tough guy — you can Google a fight he had with Stan Jonathan — played only 71 games in the NHL, all with the Maple Leafs, back in the 70s. But it’s what he did after his playing days that gives him a special place in the game.

Quoting Sportsnet: “His biggest impact came off the ice with Dignity After Hockey, a non-profit group created with the goal of assisting former players that fall on hard times.” He was also part of the charge taking down corrupt players’ head Alan Eagleson.

From the Toronto Sun: “Walker’s efforts began nearly a decade ago with a web page and from there he was able to open doors to affordable health care and later, stem cell research.

Walker and his group were also active in concussion research and its post-career effects. He often fought with the NHL and the players alumni association to get more done for ex-players and raise money for the cause.

“Suffice to say, Kurt Walker was a warrior for mankind,” friend and former NHL goalie Steve Baker said by phone.

Asked in an interview about head injuries, Walker said, “I remember getting a few head shots, going to the bench, and the trainer would talk to you and you’d be in a fog. You’d get a little smelling salt, take a bit of a rest but there was still so much peer pressure.”

Here and there

Yu Darvish, who hasn’t pitched since May, walked away from a rehab assignment asking for another MRI. Not good news.

… Blue Jays manager John Gibbons let Kevin Pillar have it in the dugout after Pillar was the third out of an inning trying to steal third base.

… The Yankees honored their 1998 title team Saturday. Then, Sunday, the first six Yankee batters reached and scored, the first time that happened since … 1998.

Derek Jeter skipped the celebration for his daughter’s first birthday party and said, via video, “I’m a little biased but in my mind it’s not only one of the greatest baseball teams in history, but one of the greatest sports teams of all time.”

… Finally, the Connecticut Sun, winners of nine of their last 10 to end the regular season, finished fourth and got a first-round bye in the WNBA playoffs.

They host a one-game second round game Thursday night.

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is

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