CLEVELAND — Coco Crisp has cried on a baseball field just once in his life, a memory he hasn’t been able to shake throughout his meandering career in the major leagues.
In 2005, the Indians stormed into September, a playoff spot within the grasp of a group loaded with young talent. Then 25, the switch-hitting Crisp hit .300 that year, still his best mark in 15 seasons.
“I felt like we had a team that could have won the World Series back then,” Crisp said recently. “And we didn’t do it.”
Not only did the Indians fail to win the whole thing, but they missed the playoffs altogether in one of baseball’s worst second-half collapses. They dropped six of their last seven games by a total of seven runs. Elimination came in the final game of the season, a 3-1 loss to the eventual champion White Sox.
After the final out, several Indians players lingered in the dugout at Progressive Field, their confidence replaced by a sorrow. The end had come abruptly. Crisp remained planted on the top step, tears welling up in his eyes.
“It didn’t feel like that’s where we should have been going as a team,” said Crisp, who has relished his second chance to bring a title to Cleveland. “We should have been going to the playoffs.”
Of course, things are different now. At 37 — his birthday was Tuesday — Crisp is a veteran presence who has helped the Indians defy expectations to come within one victory of winning the franchise’s first championship since 1948.
“He’s helped us a ton,” Indians manager Terry Francona said before Game 6 against the Cubs on Tuesday. “I think he’s having a ball.”
Crisp broke in with the Indians in 2002 before winding up with the Red Sox, where he played for Francona from 2006 to 2008. He helped the Red Sox to a World Series championship in 2007. After a one-year stint with the Royals in 2009, Crisp became a staple with the A’s from 2010 until he was traded in August to the Indians, who were in need of another outfielder.
“He’s a veteran guy who knows how to play the game,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “He’s great at teaching guys about stealing bases, picking up signs and all that stuff. He’s a great guy to have in the clubhouse. One of our better under-the-radar signings that we’ve got.”
Crisp played 20 regular-season games for the Indians in leftfield, hitting just .208. But his presence stretched beyond the numbers, especially as the Indians worked around injuries and closed in on a playoff spot.
“It’s been great having him,” Francona said. “You add a player that late and you kind of have to be a little careful because your team has formed its personality and things like that. But Coco, I had a history with Coco.”
While much of support staff remains the same, the players are all different from when Crisp debuted with the Indians.
During his first stint, Crisp noticed how his first child had often been the youngest child waiting in the family room after games. His daughter is now 11 and is one of the oldest of the children in the family room.
Yet, Crisp has provided a jolt for the Indians down the stretch, piecing together a string of big hits. He homered to help the Indians in the victory to clinch the AL Central.
In the playoffs, he went deep in the clinching game of the ALDS against the Red Sox and again in the clinching game of the ALCS to get past the Blue Jays.
In Game 3 of the World Series, a 1-0 victory by the Indians, Crisp knocked in the only run with a pinch-hit single in the seventh inning. In Game 4, Crisp ripped a pinch-hit double and scored on Kipnis’ three-run homer, helping the Indians to a 7-2 victory.
“He’s been very clutch,” Kipnis said.
And because of it, Crisp and the Indians pulled themselves to the brink of winning a World Series.
“To be able to come back here where it all started for me, in the big leagues that is, is very special to be in this situation,” Crisp said. “This is a blessing.”