Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 5/21/12

Wow. What an interesting 48 hours it has been in Wahooland. Here the Indians sit atop the AL Central division, two and a half games ahead of the Chicago White Sox and three in front of the Detroit Tigers. They have won four of six and are in the midst of a big homestand. The starting pitching has been great. The bullpen for the most part has been solid. While the offense continues to be up and down, there have been some encouraging signs from the likes of Shin-Soo Choo and Casey Kotchman. Over 82,000 fans filled Progressive Field on a beautiful weekend by the shores of Lake Erie. Yet all of a sudden, there is this prevailing negative vibe over the ballclub.

That is because Indians closer Chris Perez opened his mouth and let the truth fly. The comments and his subsequent refusal to back off of what he said after Saturday’s 2-0 win, have dug an even deeper hole with a fan base that, right or wrong, already didn’t seem crazy about him. But hey, there were games to be played against the Miami Marlins, who came to Progressive Field hovering just over the .500 mark, but playing much better of late. Since the Perez story has dominated the Tribe landscape, the majority of this post will dedicated to it. So let us jump right in, as we do each Monday morning in this space.

The Chris Perez incident isn’t going to go away, and the Indians P.R. department deserves some of the blame. Brendan layed it all out to well yesterday, but I want my take on all of this on record. First and foremost, I have zero issue with what Perez said after Saturday’s game. I fancy myself as one of the bigger Tribe fans I know. It is not just lip service either. I go to the games. I read the articles. I watch them on television when I am not there or they are on the road. I am dialed in. I am not the least bit offended by what he said. Because there are a lot of truths in his comments.

However, a day later, with time to think it over, he didn’t back away from what he said. Again, that is fine. But the Indians P.R. staff allowed him to literally be out there to dig himself into a deeper hole with the fans and the organization. His comments yesterday morning seemed to make things worse on himself and Chris clearly doesn’t seem to care. The worst part to me is dragging his teammates into this mess:

 They feel the same way. They just won’t say it.

Was that necessary? Now after yesterday’s 5-3 loss, the first question to Manny Acta and to many of the players was “what is your reaction to the comments made by Chris Perez.” They don’t need to be dealing with that dumpster fire he set. We are trying to win a division here. The added distraction of these comments just wasn’t needed.

The other Sunday morning quote that will get the goat of many Tribe fans was when Perez spewed his commentary on playing in Cleveland in general.

It’s not a good atmosphere. It’s not fun to be here. Especially when you’re not playing well or not getting that many hits or you’re not pitching well. Baseball is supposed to be fun. At the end of the day, this is a game. It’s a child’s game, I understand that. But if you have the choice to go an atmosphere where it’s fun every day, like Philadelphia or some place like that where every day it’s fun just to go there, that helps you get through some seasons sometimes, some games.

First off, I heard this quote in the pregame general dugout media session as well as an interview with Jim Rosenhaus on the Indians radio pregame show. Perez mentioned how the Cardinals, Red Sox, and Phillies have it so good with their fan support. Guess what, you are talking about three teams that have deep fan bases and have drawn consistently for years, not to mention have all World Series titles in the past five years. For every Cardinals fan base, I will show you Tampa Bay, who still can’t draw despite being a top flight organization. The Cardinals/Indians fan base dynamic just isn’t a fair comparison in 2012.

When Perez said “It’s a disgrace” that the Indians are last in the majors in attendance, he got no argument from anyone, me included.

Should our attendance be better? 100% yes. Is the lack of attendance an issue when it comes to signing free agent? I don’t believe so. Perez cited Carlos Beltran signing in St. Louis over Cleveland as a prime example. Correct me if I am wrong, but the Cardinals are the defending World Series champs who reportedly offered just over what the Indians did, and they have arguably the best fan base in all of baseball. Who would you choose to play for? The big name free agents when they hit the market, nine times out of 10, are going to go wherever they can get the most money and the most years. What does Perez say about the fact that Josh Willingham would be an Indian if they were willing to go to a third year, like the Twins did? Willingham wanted to play in Cleveland.

What about in 2009 when the Indians signed free agent closer Kerry Wood to a two-year, $20.5 million deal? The fans weren’t showing up that summer either. You know why Wood signed here? Because the Tribe ponied up. All things equal, yeah, the Indians have trouble signing free agents and would have to offer more to a guy like Beltran to come here, but that is not the way Chris Antonetti is building this team.

The more Perez spoke Sunday, the worse it sounded. The Indians P.R. staff needs to shoulder some of that blame. I know that both Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti talked to him before he made more public comments on Sunday morning. Instead of having him say his piece and move on, they let him continue on during an open media session and then the interview with Rosenhaus, which I heard. The smart thing would have been to nip this in the bud and try to make it go away. Perez just added more gasoline.

Here is the thing – Perez’s heart is in the right place. He wants to know why people don’t come out to see a first place ballclub, as do I. The Browns could go 0-16 nine consecutive years, and the lemmings would still flock to the lakefront to see their team. Yet in 2007 with the team locked in a pennant race and on their way to 96 wins, they were still only drawing in the mid-20,ooo’s for midweek games in July and August.

Nobody likes to be booed by their home fans. Chris said what he said out of frustration, but he needs to have a thicker skin. That skin better have body armor around it the next time he comes out of the bullpen at Progressive Field. Who knows what kind of reception he will get. Things could get ugly, especially if he blows his next save. However, Perez claims he will be just fine. I for one, will not boo him for saying what he said. It is over and done with. Time to move forward.

As long as the Indians are in contention, Perez isn’t going anywhere and it behooves him to perform well. If he throws the way he did during Saturday’s 2-0 win where he struck the side, all will be well in the world. I also truly believe that no matter what happens this season, the Indians will look to deal Perez in the offseason with Vinnie Pestano ready to assume the closer’s role. He will be arbitration eligible again after the season and will most likely be in line for a raise from his $4.5 million salary.

Perez’s comments weren’t necessarily wrong, he just should have either kept them “in the room” as the great John Tortorella once said, or delivered his message differently.

Now that I got that off my chest…. Some quick hits from the weekend.

The Tribe’s rotation was strong again all series. Justin Masterson, Jeanmar Gomez, and Derek Lowe gave up just four earned runs in 19 1/3 innings of work. The fact that they lost two of three despite these quality starts speaks to the lack of offense, but as we have said all along, this team will go only as far as the pitching will take them. Gomez continues to get better (he’s in the midst of a  16 inning scoreless streak). Masterson’s Friday start (seven innings, two earned runs) was a step in the right direction for him. And Lowe had a great two-start week (two earned runs in 15 innings).

Lets see what Ubaldo Jimenez and Zach McAllister can bring to the table in the first two games of the Detroit series this week.

When will Jack Hannahan be back? The Tribe’s third baseman missed the entire series and hasn’t played since May 13th in Boston because of a bad back. The offense spent the weekend struggling, but it wasn’t because of his replacement. Jose Lopez, recalled last week to take Jason Donald’s utility spot, has done a nice job filling in and adding a right-handed bat to the bottom of the order. The former Mariner hit safely in all seven games he started in place of Hannahan, capping off with a 3-4 Sunday. So the Tribe is in good hands.

Jackie is close to being ready and with Lopez swinging the bat so well, the decision for Manny Acta to sit him Sunday to give him two extra days off (no game today) was easy. Expect Hannahan to be back in the lineup Tuesday night against the Tigers.

What to do about Johnny Damon? I feel like each week, we are having this same conversation. How long will it take for Damon to round into form? Well, the longer this goes on with Damon being a black hole of sorts in the seven hole, the more the left field issue continues to rear its ugly head. GM Chris Antonetti said in Sunday’s PD “It’s been a process for Johnny to get re-acclimated to major-league pitching. Over the last week or so, the quality of his at-bats have continued to improve.” That is all well and good, but it is not translating.

Damon is hitting .172 (10-58) with just two extra base hits and two RBIs (both on a triple). We thought he would have his big moment yesterday in the seventh when he hit a deep fly ball to right with the tying run on base, but it was caught at the wall by Giancarlo Stanton. It was a Yankee Stadium home run; a 314 foot pop out anywhere else.

“I knew I hit it well, I knew it had some backspin,” he said. “Unfortunately, the wind was blowing in. The guys have told me the wind always blows in from right, and that’s certainly been the case since I’ve been here. It would have been nice to get my first home run as an Indian, but when things go bad, they go bad.”

His glove looks worse them more you see it. Anyone who saw his wall crash in the eighth inning Sunday had to just shake their head. Damon hasn’t been a good outfielder in five years. He is a DH trying to make his way out in left field. The routes he takes are awful and his arm is one of the worst you will ever see.

The clock on Johnny is ticking and the time for him to produce something is now. The Indians continue to get nothing from left field and it is a problem that isn;t going to go away.

Even though Chris Perez says nobody comes to see this team play, the Indians actually had fans in the seats this weekend. I was thrilled to see over 82,000 fans come through the gates at Progressive Field this weekend. You had great weather for all three games, promotions all weekend, and unfortunately, two losses. Even though the Marlins took two of three, the Indians front office is hoping that the experience will translate for the casual fan enough to bring them back to the park again this summer.

It should be very interesting to see how the Indians draw during the big three-game set with the Tigers. Detroiters will no doubt drive down to see their team, but even so their should be a strong presence inside of Progressive Field.  It starts on Tuesday with Ubaldo Jimenez (4-3, 5.09 ERA) facing righty Rick Porcello (3-3, 5.12 ERA).

(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)

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