CLEVELAND -- For one final time, the Cleveland Indians recognized and celebrated the 2016 American League Championship victory over the Toronto Blue Jays and the franchise’s first trip to the World Series in 19 years.
Prior to the 2-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox in the home opener in front of a sellout crowd of 35,002 at Progressive Field, the Indians raised the American League Championship flag in center field, unveiled a pennant on both the dugout and in right field, and presented rings to the entire organization.
“They worked so hard for it last year,” Indians outfielder Michael Brantley said. “It was a team effort all the way around and they accomplished so much.
“We accomplished so much, so just to take a second to enjoy it and understand what they did, how hard they worked, we worked to get there. I think that is what’s most important, but now, we’ve gotten past this, so now, it’s time to look forward to this season and throughout this season.”
A shoulder injury and subsequent surgery forced Brantley to watch from the dugout as the Indians mounted several last at-bat wins during the 2016 season, one that resulted in a trip to the World Series for the first time in nearly 20 years.
But with two outs and a full count in the bottom of the 10th inning of the home opener Tuesday night, Brantley smacked an RBI double to the corner in left field and drove in shortstop Francisco Lindor in a 2-1 walk-off win over the White Sox (2-4).
Brantley’s game-winning hit gave the Indians (4-3) their fourth walk-off win in a home opener at Progressive Field (1994, 1998 and 1999), and their second last at-bat victory in just seven games this season.
And now that the celebrations are over, the Indians are focused squarely on doing better in 2017 than they did by coming up one win short of the franchise’s first World Series Championship since 1948.
“I think (it) was a special day, but I don’t think you play the game differently because of what happened last year,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Home openers, the place is always packed and there’s a lot of emotion.
“We need to find a way every day to come out and make that the most important game, and I think our guys do a pretty good job of that. It’s kind of easy on the openers because the place is going crazy, but it’s what you do as you get into the grind. We can now turn the page on all the firsts. We’ve got everything out of the way. Now, we can see how good we can be.”