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There’s not really a test case that can be done for “postseason magic” and for good reason: postseason magic doesn’t exist. Or, at least, it probably doesn’t exist. It 99.99 percent does not exist. There’s some strange world that it does exist in, according to Infinite Universe Theory, but that world is almost certainly not ours. And even if it were ours, even if that were at all possible, how would we prove it one way or the other? What, in the absence of empirical evidence, could we use to posit the existence or, better, non-existence of postseason magic?

Ah, right, the 2016 Cleveland Indians. Yes, that will do.

Prior to the actual postseason, the Indians were not exactly a Cinderella story, outside of the team’s lengthy World Series drought: they handily won the AL Central, sitting eight games ahead of the Tigers at the end of the regular season, and they rode a wave of decent hitting and transcendent pitching to success–that’ll usually play in the postseason with or without magic. But then, of course, the much-talked-about injuries to two of the team’s above-average starters in Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar happened, and the team looked like it was going to face a “Corey Kluber and pray for a week of rain” situation against the torrid Red Sox.

And then the Indians ran through the Red Sox on their way to a decisive sweep. On to the offensive buzzsaw of the Toronto Blue Jays, who, so far, well, have fared much the same as their divisional compatriots. Last night the Indians put the Jays on the brink of elimination, winning 4-2 to take a 3-0 series lead. They once again silenced the Jays’ bats and looked like a team that rides defense, timely and patient hitting, and great pitching to success. The catch is that, last night, they really only should have had two of those three.

In the first inning, two outs and two walks in, Indians starter and Baseball Eccentric Trevor Bauer left the game for good after opening up a really bad cut on his pinky finger. Bauer suffered the cut–as we all found out together when a million Twitter jokes were born in a single moment–while working on his drone at home. Yes, yes, the nerdiest of all worlds became true, but lest you mock poor Bauer for his at-home activities, first heed the words of Michael Baumann and lament:

In any case, Bauer was knocked out two batters in, and it looked like the Indians, faced with an unexpected bullpen game, were about to see their streak of good luck end. And then they went ahead and got to Jays ace-in-training Marcus Stroman, as home runs by Mike Napoli and Jason Kipnis, along with well-timed walks and hits, hung four runs on the Jays’ starter. Meanwhile, a murderers’ row of Dan Otero, Jeff Manship, and Zach McAllister provided a bridge to the Indians’ formidable late-game trio of Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, and the T-1000 Automated Killing and Pitching Machine. I mean, uh, Andrew Miller.

And in this mess of seven pitchers, none of whom got recorded than five outs, and two of whom (Otero and Manship) were considered not good enough for the Phillies (yes those Phillies), the Indians gave up only two runs. Let that sink in. The Blue Jays, playing in Toronto in a park that plays well to offense, playing with a lineup that was fourth in the league in home runs with 221, and starting Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion, could only muster two runs. This came in part, I’ll remind you, against Dan Otero (acquired from the Phillies for cash), Jeff Manship (minor-league free agent; ship that walks like a man), and Zach McAllister (perennial fantasy sleeper/disappointment).

And while Otero, Manship, and McAllister have been decent-to-good this year for Cleveland, the Indians could not have possibly expected to make it through the Jays’ lineup so many times while only getting touched up twice. It was an absolutely masterful performance by a group of guys that did not expect to pitch last night and, frankly, should not have been expected to pitch so well.

Well, heck, I’m no fancy city writer, but you might call that postseason magic where I come from, pardner. And I guess we could and perhaps should choose to accept the more reasonable explanation that variance in the postseason combined with Terry Francona’s extremely canny move to limit his relievers to half a time through the lineup allowed this upset to occur. But there’s something deeply compelling about this Indians team that seems to weather any and all injury, no matter how devastating or absurd.

Of course, all teams want to win in the postseason: any narrative that tries to sell you on how much more the Indians want it than the Jays is not serious. And the series isn’t over yet; the Jays might have their own magic in store. But the Indians are putting together something special, and if the existence of postseason magic can be observed anywhere seriously, it is in the aftermath of a successful and memorable run.

When we look back, we’ll see all the rational explanations of this game under a patina of myth and hyperbole, and like countless games before it, baseball will transform this game into a story of myth, magic, and scripted destiny. I implore you: don’t let the fact that this impression isn’t quite true ruin the feeling for you.

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drawbb
10/18
"And the series isn't over yet" Ironic that the writer includes an old saw like this one near the end of a piece that largely aims to dispel a different old saw of the mainstream. Believe me, I've been hoping most of the season for a Cubs/Indians World Series that would pit the two longest current championship droughts against one another in a feel-good finale for the ages...but the symmetry of that aside, I have no actual rooting interest in the Cleveland/Toronto ALCS. Just wanted to see a competitive 6-7 gamer. Despite superficially close scores of 2-0, 2-1, and 4-2, these games have had the feel of uncompetitive 10-0 blowouts. Cleveland has been in about as much "jeopardy" as James Bond. There hasn't been a single moment when Toronto felt like an actual threat. I know there have been other postseason series when one team never had a lead, but this one seems far more disappointing given what should've been a more evenly-matched donnybrook. Really sad outcome for a rare playoff series that involves two enjoyable teams.
bhacking
10/18
Seeing more and more pitchers facing fewer and fewer batters seems like a trend that is only increasing.
oldbopper
10/18
I am pleased to see the author recognize another tour de force by Francona. His limiting each reliever to one inning plus was canny indeed.