CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Joe Smith was a member of the bullpen when the team made a trip to the Wildcard Game of the 2013 MLB Playoffs, but back then, the current stars were just getting started in their professional careers.
Now, those younger players have become leaders at their respective positions, and after competing against the Indians in the 2016 World Series, Smith again finds himself in Cleveland’s bullpen, and is in awe of the development he has seen out of his teammates.
“I think that’s probably the coolest thing,” Smith said. “If you’re fortunate to stay around in this game and you see the guys come up, Kipnis, Lonnie, Brantley, Kluber, you see all these guys come up, Tomlin, and to see what they’ve turned into, especially last year, when I’m sitting across the field watching them, it’s cool.”
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As the Indians went through their American League-record 22-game winning streak, which ended with a 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals last Friday night, fans flocked to Progressive Field in droves to support the team.
And following the final out of their first loss since August 23, the Indians recognized the fans and showed their gratitude by exiting the dugout, applauding the crowd and tipping their caps to the 34,025 in attendance.
“I think that was pretty cool,” Smith said. “To win 22 in a row, it’s a team game and everybody has a part in it. For the crowd to acknowledge that, that’s a class act on Cleveland’s part.
“You heard about it when we were here, about the 90s. With my mom growing up here, and obviously, my wife’s family is from here, and that’s what they talk about, the 90s, and how this place was just rocking.
“Naquin asked me on the bench, ‘Was this what it was like?’ I’m like, ‘In the play-in game it was in ’13, but we haven’t seen this.’ It’s unbelievable. It’s so much fun to come to the yard and play and just feel the energy in the building. It’s awesome. I can’t wait for October to start.”
Now, the mission is using the passion of the fans in the stands and the skills of those on the field to the utmost in order to lock up the No. 1 seed in the American League, and possibly, all of MLB, and find success in the postseason, where the Indians are working to be one win better than in 2016, when they lost the World Series in seven games.
“It’s unbelievable seeing that because just watching them turn into true big leaguers and unbelievable big leaguers, that’s why they went to the World Series last year,” Smith said. “That’s our goal this year. Twenty-two in a row, it’s unbelievable, and it was cool for a lot of reasons, but everybody in this clubhouse has one goal, and that’s to win a World Series.”