In­di­ans fin­ish off Jays to win pen­nant

Rookie Mer­ritt helps lead Cleve­land to first World Se­ries ap­pear­ance since ’97

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Noah Trister AP Base­ball Writer

A most un­likely pitch­ing per­for­mance helped put a most un­ex­pected team into the World Se­ries.

Cleve­land rookie Ryan Mer­ritt came out of nowhere and coolly de­liv­ered a lead to the An­drew Miller-led bullpen, and the In­di­ans won their first pen­nant since 1997 by blank­ing Toronto 3-0 Wed­nes­day in Game 5 of the AL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries.

Cleve­land, which has never hosted a World Se­ries opener, will play Game 1 at Pro­gres­sive Field on Tues­day night against the Chicago Cubs or Los An­ge­les Dodgers.

Man­ager Terry Fran­cona’s team will try to aug­ment what’s al­ready been a scin­til­lat­ing year in Cleve­land after LeBron James and the Cava­liers earned the city’s first ma­jor pro sports cham­pi­onship since 1964. The In­di­ans’ ti­tle drought dates to 1948.

“We al­ways said if we could do it with this group it would be so special be­cause this is as close to a fam­ily feel as you can get in a pro­fes­sional set­ting. So for that part of it, it is be­yond feel­ing good,” Fran­cona said.

The Dodgers led the Cubs 2-1 go­ing into Game 4 of the NLCS on Wed­nes­day night. Cleve­land didn’t play ei­ther club this sea­son.

Miller, ac­quired from the New York Yan­kees in a mid­sea­son trade, was selected the ALCS MVP as the In­di­ans took their sixth pen­nant.

“I feel like I’ve said the word ‘special’ a mil­lion times in the last 20 or 30 min­utes. But it’s

the truth. It’s a blast to be a part of,” Miller said.

With all of 11 ma­jor league in­nings un­der his belt — and only one start, on Sept. 30 — Mer­ritt took the mound and looked just like a sea­soned vet. The 24-year-old lefty re­tired the first 10 bat­ters and al­lowed a mere two hits be­fore being pulled after 4 1/3 in­nings.

“I know they were count­ing on me,” Mer­ritt said. “Be­fore the game, they came and told me they had my back, ev­ery­body had my back, good or bad. So that takes some pres­sure off, and I just went out there and pitched and trusted my team.”

Mer­ritt got taps on his heart and hat from team­mates when he left the mound. Then it was up to Cleve­land’s tire­less re­liev­ers to hold a three-run lead against the wild-card Blue Jays.

Miller again did most of the heavy lift­ing, go­ing 2 2/3 in­nings be­fore Cody Allen worked the ninth for a save. Win­ning pitcher Bryan Shaw tossed an in­ning be­fore Miller came in.

Car­los San­tana and

Coco Crisp home­red for the In­di­ans.

With start­ing pitch­ers Car­los Car­rasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer deal­ing with in­juries, the In­di­ans kept de­fy­ing the odds.

Cleve­land over­took de­fend­ing World Se­ries cham­pion Kansas City and topped a $196 mil­lion Detroit team to win the AL Cen­tral, then put an abrupt end to Big Papi’s ca­reer, sweeping David Or­tiz and the Boston Red Sox in the Di­vi­sion Se­ries.

The In­di­ans stayed on a roll in the ALCS, shut­ting down the bang­ing Blue Jays. Cleve­land won de­spite hit­ting .168 in the se­ries, with slick-field­ing short­stop Fran­cisco Lin­dor lead­ing the way in go­ing 7 for 19.

Toronto lost ALCS for the straight year.

“I’m sure there will be some dis­ap­point­ments and grum­bling and com­plain­ing about how you fell short again, but that’s not com­ing from me,” man­ager John Gib­bons said. “Be­cause I know what th­ese guys did, and I think it’s a pretty good ac­com­plish­ment. The key is we want to take that next step one of th­ese days. Hope­fully, it’s next year.” in the se­cond

NATHAN DENETTE — THE CANA­DIAN PRESS VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cleve­land In­di­ans re­lief pitcher Cody Allen and Roberto Perez cel­e­brate the team’s 3-0 vic­tory over the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto on Wed­nes­day night.

MARK BLINCH — THE CANA­DIAN PRESS VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cleve­land In­di­ans start­ing pitcher Ryan Mer­ritt pitches in the first in­ning against the Blue Jays.

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