As the innings passed by on Thursday, and the Indians attempted to push a run across the plate in extra innings of a tie game by sending guys like Aaron Cunningham to the plate, I thought two things:
1. Who is Aaron Cunningham?
2. Maybe the Tribe should have signed Casey Blake after all.
The me of five years ago would have shook his head in disbelief. Aside from mediocre 1980s reliever Rich Yett and 2007 utility out machine Mike Rouse, Blake ranked as my least-liked Indian of all time.
It had nothing to do with Blake personally, who played for the Indians from 2003-2008. He is, by all accounts, a wonderful human being, and he became, as I later came to begrudgingly admit, a fine ballplayer.
But he drove me crazy from 2005-07, as the Indians kept starting him at an RBI spot (third, first, right field) and kept watching him fail to come up with big hits.
In two of those three seasons, the Tribe was a playoff contender. The organization has been hinting to people that it is again, despite an offseason that contradicts that belief.
Again, who is Aaron Cunningham?
As I write this, Blake's career seems close to over. He was released by the Rockies last week, and hasn't been picked up by anyone. I'm not sure if the 38-year old can help the Indians, but after watching the offense that is weaker than a failed drug test excuse over the last three days, it might be worth a shot.
Blake used to drive me crazy. He arrived in Cleveland the same year as former manager Eric Wedge, and for the next five and a half years, was a regular in the Tribe's lineups.
His statistics were never all that bad overall. He never hit less than 17 homers in a season with the Tribe, and his average was usually around .260 or better. Well, aside from an abysmal 2005 when he hit .241. That was when the Indians bottom three batters consisted of Ben Broussard, Aaron Boone and Blake. It was where rallies went to die.
But Blake's main problem was hitting with runners in scoring position.
For his career, Blake has hit .274 with
the bases empty, but just .237 with runners at second or third. With two outs, his average drops to .224.
Things were more pronounced when the Indians won the division in 2007. Blake hit .271 and had 18 homers, but hit just .190 with runners in scoring position and .163 with runners in scoring position and two out.
It always seemed like Blake did his hitting when games weren't tight, and yet, Wedge, who like Blake graduated from Wichita State, stuck with him.
It always seemed like the Indians wanted people to believe that Blake was better than he was. The Indians' TV network, SportsTime Ohio, once did a special on him. One time the Indians' Web Site asked what the Indians best opening day moment was. The choices included Bob Feller's no-hitter, Frank Robinson's homer in his first season as manager, and Wayne Kirby's game winning single the season Jacobs Field opened.
And then there was Casey Blake's grand slam in 2006.
Who, aside from Indians' fanatics like Calvert baseball coach Matt Coleman, even remember that?
Things like this bothered me to no end. On the blog I was writing at the time, I started a daily "Casey Blake Watch," where I basically kept track of how many runners he stranded each game.
But the Indians got hot late in that season, and Blake was a big part of it. He hit a game-winning homer in a crucial game against the Tigers, and another big blast against the Red Sox in the ALCS. The Indians were a game away from the World Series, and Blake was a big reason why.
I finally acknowledged that yes, Blake was a good player, and was a big reason why the Indians were so close to the Fall Classic.
Then the Red Sox won two games to even the series.
Then came Game 7,
The Indians trailed 3-2 in the top of the seventh. With runners on the corners and one out, Blake came up and hit into a double play. Then to start the eighth, Blake made an error at third. The Red Sox scored eight runs over the next two innings and won 11-2.
The loss can't be blamed on Blake. The Indians were outscored, after all, 30-5 over the series' final three games. But it was the end of that group of Indians being contenders.
Blake played very well in 2008, but the Indians didn't. With the Tribe out of contention in July, the Tribe shipped him to Los Angeles for Carlos Santana.
It's amazing to me that the Blake trade netted a better player than either of the CC Sabathia or Cliff Lee deals. So I will always be grateful to Casey for that.
If Blake's career is over, it was a solid one, especially for a guy who didn't see regular playing time until he was 29. If it isn't, then the Indians should call him and give him another chance to surprise everyone.
At least this time we all know who Casey Blake is.
Seriously, who is Aaron Cunningham?