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The Indians Playing Meaningful Games in September is Always Special


* The Indians never finished above fourth place from 1960 through 1993 except in 1968, when they came in third, 16 1/2 games behind Detroit. The last date Cleveland was within 10 games of first place was on Aug. 5.

* The best record for an Indians team during the 34-year stretch was 87-75 in 1965. The Tribe finished fifth, however, 15 games behind Minnesota. Cleveland was tied for first place on July 4, but the closest it was to the league lead during September was nine games out on the 7th. The 1968 Indians, at 86-75, had the second best record in the 34-year span.

* The closest the Indians finished to first place in the 34 seasons was 11 games back in both 1988 and 1990. The ’88 sixth-place Tribe trailed the league leaders by at least nine games through September. The ’90 fourth-place Indians began the month 15 games back. Boston won the division both seasons.

* The 1986 Indians, who went 84-78, finished fifth, 11 1/2 games behind the division champion Red Sox. It was the closest they were to Boston through the final month. It was that Indians team that prompted Sports Illustrated to feature Joe Carter and Cory Snyder on the cover of its 1987 baseball season preview issue. Even some Indians players were skeptical, knowing the team had questionable pitching at best. Alas, the Indians went on to win 61 games and lose 101, coming in last, 37 games behind Detroit.

* The only non-strike season during the 34-year drought in which the Indians played anything resembling meaningful September games was in 1974. They were 67-67 and in fourth place, 4 1/2 games behind the league-leading Yankees when the contending Orioles came into town for a four-game series beginning on Sept. 6. Baltimore took three of the games, but the Indians were still fourth at 71-70, five games back of New York, when they acquired 39-year old Frank Robinson via trade from the Angels on Sept. 12. Cleveland lost its next four games and came in at 77-85, 14 games behind Baltimore. The Indians fired manager Ken Aspromonte and replaced him with Robinson, making the future Hall of Fame outfielder Major League Baseball’s first African-American manager.

* The 1981 players strike was an odd exception to the norm. The two-month stoppage from June into August resulted in two “half seasons.” The Indians were 26-24 in the first half, in sixth place, five games behind the Yankees. When the strike hit, it wasn’t known for certain that “first-half champions” would advance to an expanded playoff format, as would the second-half leaders. The Indians didn’t seriously threaten in that second half, finishing fifth at 26-27, five games behind Milwaukee.

Given that history, it’s cool to yet again see the Indians play some games in September that matter.

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Mike Peticca covered the Indians and Cavaliers for The Associated Press from 1976 to 1998 and the Browns from 1976 to 1995. The Akron native doubled as a Plain Dealer sports writer for several years, and then covered high school, college and professional teams for The PD until 2013. He is a longtime baseball Hall of Fame voter.

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