Indians finish off Jays to win pennant
Rookie Merritt helps lead Cleveland to first World Series appearance since ’97
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
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.
Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Ryan Merritt pitches in the first inning against the Blue Jays.