In­di­ans rel­ish un­der­dog role

Baltimore Sun - - MLB & ORIOLES - By Tom Withers

CLEVE­LAND — For months, they’ve been ig­nored, over­looked and mostly dis­missed.

The Cleve­land In­di­ans weren’t sup­posed to be play­ing in Oc­to­ber, but here they are: AL Cen­tral champions with a chance to end a World Series drought ap­proach­ing 68 years.

While many fans are fix­ated on the Chicago Cubs’ at­tempt to re­write base­ball his­tory, the In­di­ans have qui­etly over­come in­juries to put them­selves in po­si­tion to bring an­other cham­pi­onship to Cleve­land, still giddy af­ter LeBron James and the Cava­liers won the NBA ti­tle.

“We don’t mind if we have to play the un­der­dog,” sec­ond base­man Ja­son Kip­nis said. “We don’t mind if we have to take peo­ple by sur­prise. We know what kind of team and or­ga­ni­za­tion we have — and we’re pretty happy with what’s go­ing on.”

The In­di­ans have de­fined re­silience this sea­son. They played all but 11 games with­out star out­fielder Michael Brant­ley and didn’t have start­ing catcher Yan Gomes for most of the year. They lost start­ing pitch­ers Car­los Car­rasco and Danny Salazar down the stretch to in­juries and won’t have them in the post­sea­son.

But guided by man­ager Terry Fran­cona, the In­di­ans cleared the ob­sta­cles thrown at them. With un­ex­pected con­tri­bu­tions from Jose Ramirez, Mike Napoli and Ra­jai Davis, the con­tin­ued rise of short­stop Fran­cisco Lin­dor and a lights-out bullpen, they grabbed the di­vi­sion lead in June, won 14 straight games and never looked back, dom­i­nat­ing the Detroit Tigers and de­thron­ing the de­fend­ing cham­pion Kansas City Roy­als.

As they pre­pare to take on the Red Sox in the best-of-five ALDS start­ing tonight, the In­di­ans are again be­ing given lit­tle chance to ad­vance. Kip­nis and his team­mates have grown ac­cus­tomed to a lack of re­spect na­tion­ally.

“It’s Cleve­land,” he said. “It’s a smaller mar­ket and peo­ple tend to for­get that. It’s OK if we’re not the fa­vorite. We’ve been prov­ing peo­ple wrong all year.” Walk-off: The Red Sox are hop­ing an­other long play­off run will be a proper send­off for DH David Or­tiz, al­ready one of the great post­sea­son per­form­ers in base­ball his­tory. Big Papi hit .688 in the 2013 World Series to earn MVP hon­ors. Fran­cona fac­tor: With two World Series rings with the Red Sox, In­di­ans man­ager Terry Fran­cona knows his way around Oc­to­ber bet­ter than any­one else. He has a knack for mak­ing the right moves with his bullpen, lineup and pinch hit­ters, and his steady hand might be the big­gest rea­son the Tribe over­came so many ob­sta­cles in 2016. Mag­nif­i­cent Miller: In­di­ans re­liever An­drew Miller’s slider might be base­ball’s most dev­as­tat­ing pitch. More than once, the for­mer Ori­ole twisted hit­ters into knots as they tried to han­dle a div­ing pitch that would be hard to hit with a surf­board. The 6-foot-6 lefty has taken the In­di­ans bullpen to an­other level, and his abil­ity to both set up and close gives Fran­cona in­ter­est­ing op­tions. Home cook­ing: Home­field ad­van­tage could mean more in this series than oth­ers. The In­di­ans are a dif­fer­ent team at Pro­gres­sive Field, where they scored 452 runs (5.6 per game), and 3B Jose Ramirez (. 347) and SS Fran­cisco Lin­dor (. 344) had the top two home bat­ting av­er­ages in the AL.

PAUL SANCYA/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Short­stop Fran­cisco Lin­dor and the In­di­ans sur­prised many by win­ning the AL Cen­tral by eight games. Game 1: 8:08 tonight Red Sox (Por­cello 22-4) at In­di­ans (Bauer 12-8) Game 2: 4:38 p.m. Fri­day Red Sox (Price 17-9) at In­di­ans (Klu­ber 18-9) Game 3: 4:08 p.m. Sun­day In­di­ans (Tom­lin 13-9) at Red Sox (un­de­cided) Game 4: TBA Mon­day* In­di­ans at Red Sox Game 5: TBA Wed­nes­day* Red Sox at In­di­ans

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