CLEVELAND - It's win or stay home for the Cleveland Indians tonight.
A once comfortable two-game lead dissolved into an even series, meaning the Indians are out of options. If they win, they'll advance to the American League Championship Series to face a Houston Astros team with an entire city on its back. If they lose, they'll face the chatter of a disappointing team that failed to meet World Series caliber expectations.
But throwing in the rally towel on a team that crafted a 22-game win streak behind the fire power of names like Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor and Andrew Miller would be a misguided move. It may be an elimination game against a potent Yankees lineup with a veteran workhorse on the hill, but the Indians have some key elements working in their favor.
Here are five reasons Indians fans can feel optimistic about Game 5:
1. Corey Kluber
Kluber was disappointing in Game 2 at home as the Yankees managed to catch him on a rare night in which he wasn't very sharp. He struggled with command and it was evident something wasn't clicking with his mechanics. But if anyone knows how to correct his mistakes, it's Kluber.
Kluber's struggled in his last two postseason appearances dating back to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, where he coughed up four runs on six hits, but he also crafted a Cy Young caliber season this year, leading starters in ERA (2.25), WHIP (0.87) and strikeout-to-walk-ratio (7.36-1). Kluber will stick to his routine and if he locates his pitches, this time around will offer a different ending.
2. The Red Sea
The Indians have urged fans to "Rock your red" Wednesday night. But the sound volume will speak louder than the volume of red shirts and rally towels.
It's called home field advantage for a reason and Indians fans have worked hard to avoid another scene like last October, when Chicago Cubs fans infiltrated Progressive Field. Tribe fans will be loud and unrelenting in their support.
3. Parrot power
Terry Francona said he thinks Edwin Encarnacion will be ready for Game 5 after missing games 3 and 4 with an ankle injury. Encarnacion is undoubtedly the X factor for the Indians' lineup and the team needs him, and Jose Ramirez, to contribute. Prior to his Game 2 injury, Encarnacion failed to hit in the series, but getting his bat back in the lineup is a huge boost.
4. Lucky No. 7
Look back to the Indians' previous postseason matchups against the Yankees and you'll notice a pattern. In 2007, Joba Chamberlain and the Yankees fell to the Indians (with some help from the midges) in the ALDS. In 1997, Sandy Alomar Jr. sent a Mariano Rivera pitch over the Jacobs' Field right wall to tie Game 4, boosting the Indians to an eventual win and series clinch. If history really does repeat itself, the year 2017 favors the Indians.
5. Fake news
Take a look at some of the recent headlines covering the ALDS. It seems many of the national beat writers and media don't see much hope for the Indians. Of course, the national media has a history of picking on Cleveland, and in some cases, it was justified. But Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci said the Indians' Game 3 loss brought more pain to Cleveland's history of despair. At the time, the Indians still had a 2-1 series lead.
The New York Post published a story Tuesday with the headline, "The Indians have the weight of failure on their shoulders."
The Washington Post went with, "The Cleveland Indians bring a tortured history in closeout games into another closeout game." The Post also said the Houston Astros should be rooting for the Indians this series, because they'll have a better chance of beating them in the ALCS.
The national headlines thrive on playing up Cleveland's past. If the Indians are looking for some bulletin board motivation, they've got plenty to prove wrong.
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