Imagine talking to the prettiest girl at the party all night long. Imagine her interest in you as you make her laugh, as you compliment her dress, as you admire her hair. Imagine her smiling as you talk about how good she is at her job, about her favorite rock and roll band, about her crazy yet irrepressibly beloved mother. Imagine her touching your arm, sharing her phone number, and talking about going to see her favorite rock and roll band when it comes to town next week.
Then imagine the front door bursting open as a young, strapping, semifashionable young man enters carrying a bottle of champagne wrapped in a bow. He smiles as he enters the room, and you see all eyes on him. You see him scan the room, then lock eyes with the prettiest girl in the room -- the girl you have been chatting with all night. Eyes on the prize, he moves in. You're left standing alone against the wall.
Now imagine being a Cleveland Indians fans and watching the Detroit Tigers knock off the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. Imagine watching catcher Pudge Rodriguez spray champagne on the fans through the net behind home plate; imagine watching Jim Leyland kiss his wife through the net, then kiss a drunk Tiger fan on the hat; imagine hearing a sellout crowd roaring with delight.
After yesterday, there's no imagining required. The Tigers are that young, strapping, semifashionalbe young man who have entered the room carrying a bottle of champagne with their eyes on the prize. After 14 consecutive losing seasons and no playoff appearances in 20 years, the Tigers now have claws once again.
Meanwhile, the Indians and their fans are sitting along the wall, all alone, wondering how everything has slipped away. After all, didn't the Tribe do everything right? Didn't they harvest the farm system, lock up their young players, and put together a top offense? Didn't the Indians' brain trust, spearheaded by GM Mark Shapiro, put a plan into place to spur the Indians back into contention?
Remember when after the Florida Marlins beat the Indians in the 1997 World Series, then sold off their team, then-GM John Hart said the Tribe would remain a contender by doing things "the right way"? Of course, the Marlins won another World Series before the Indians even got back to one.
And now the Tigers have vaulted to the top, right where the Indians thought they would be. So the Indians will enter Year 5 of the sped-up rebuilding plan trying to build around the edges of what they already view as a championship contender. They'll keep chatting up the prettiest girls, like B.J. Ryan, like Trevor Hoffman, like Nomar Garciaparra, and hope that strapping young men like the Tigers don't keep crashing the party and stealing away the prize. Maybe the Indians need to call Charles Atlas and stop playing the role of 97-pound weakling.