"If you get eliminated," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "it doesn't open the door or give you the right to just show up and mail it in [for the rest of the season]. We'll never do that."
The Indians could have done that months ago.
Back on Aug. 7, when Cleveland completed a dramatic roster shakeup by trading veterans Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to Atlanta, the Indians slipped 10 games below .500 with a record of 49-59. Over the past two months, though, rather than pack it up and slog through the remainder of the regular-season slate, the Tribe picked up their play and made things interesting.
That is why Francona wants his team to be happy with how they finished.
"I want them to be proud of the way they plugged away the last half," Francona said, "because we're proud of them."
Then again, this is an Indians team that was expected to not only contend for the American League Central crown, but push for its first World Series triumph since 1948. Sports Illustrated went as far as putting the Indians on one of their preseason preview covers and declaring them the favorite to win it all. With that in mind, Francona wants his players to understand that this year's finish was not acceptable.
"Where we're at is not where we want to be. We need to recognize that, too," Francona said. "I think you can get a little bit of a false sense of security, like, 'Oh man, we did this in the second half.' Yeah, but we didn't get where we want. I think we're aware of that.
"We just try to be as honest as we can about our evaluations and everything. I would much rather, though, be sitting here knowing that we fought through a lot of things to get better than just let the season go."
Indians starter Corey Kluber, who won the American League Cy Young Award last season, was pleased to see the team improve down the stretch.
"Until you are eliminated, you're not out of it," Kluber said. "There's that mindset that we're going to fight until the end. Just because we were a ways back, we weren't feeling sorry for ourselves or giving up or thinking that we didn't have a chance."
Jason Kipnis said the midseason roster shift -- led by the promotion of star rookie Francisco Lindor -- was critical to the turnaround over the final two months.
"Different players bring different things to the table," Kipnis said. "If you bring in people who are willing to buy in, to play hard, to do the right things, the little things, to win ballgames, it doesn't matter what their name is or how much they make. They're going to have a positive effect. I think we've gotten guys who have done that."
That is why the Indians remained in contention as long as they did.
Then again, Tribe fans were expecting more games in October.
"I still think we've made strides -- and we needed to," Francona said. "Where we were in June wasn't good enough."