In­di­ans ad­vance to World Se­ries

Young­ster pitches past Cleve­land past Blue Jays

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Noah Tris­ter

TORONTO >> 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 in the ALCS for the sec­ond 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.”

Mer­ritt — a Texas na­tive drafted in the 16th round by Cleve­land in 2011 — hadn’t pitched in a game since his late Septem­ber start, although he’d got­ten some work in this month in the in­struc­tional league at the In­di­ans’ spring train­ing com­plex in Ari­zona.

A day af­ter Toronto averted a sweep, the crowd at the roar­ing Rogers Cen­tre ex­pected the Blue Jays to roll over the rookie.

Maybe the Blue Jays did, too.

“With our ex­pe­ri­ence in our lineup, I’m pretty sure he’s go­ing to be shak­ing in his boots more than we are,” Toronto slug­ger Jose Bautista said af­ter Game 4.

Af­ter the Blue Jays were elim­i­nated, Bautista took a dif­fer­ent tone.

“He seemed to make the right pitches at the right time,” Bautista said. “Hats off to him.”

Mer­ritt struck out three bat­ters in the first two in­nings — all look­ing — and didn’t al­low a baserun­ner un­til Josh Don­ald­son’s one­out sin­gle in the fourth. Af­ter Rus­sell Martin’s bloop sin­gle with one out in the fifth, Fran­cona leaned again on a bullpen that soaked up 8 1/3 in­nings in a Game 3 win Mon­day.

Shaw pitched an in­ning, and Miller came on with one out in the sixth and a run­ner on. Don­ald­son bounced into a dou­ble play on Miller’s first pitch, and the tall lefty made it through the sev­enth and eighth with lit­tle trou­ble be­fore giv­ing way to Allen.

Cleve­land took a 1-0 lead in the first when Mike Napoli dou­bled and left fielder Eze­quiel Car­rera mis­played the ball off the wall for an er­ror. Lin­dor scored from first on the play.

San­tana and Crisp added solo shots in the third and fourth off Toronto starter Marco Estrada to put the AL Cen­tral cham­pi­ons up 3-0.

Trainer’s Room

In­di­ans: Fran­cona said be­fore the game that Bauer was sup­posed to have his lac­er­ated right pinkie looked by a doc­tor again. The idea was to see if the right-han­der could po­ten­tially pitch out of the bullpen at all dur­ing this se­ries af­ter be­ing lifted when he was bleed­ing in the first in­ning of Game 3.

Now the ques­tion is whether Bauer can be of any help in the World Se­ries.

“Ob­vi­ously, he needs to heal, but he can’t just not throw,” Fran­cona said.

Bauer sliced his pinkie last week re­pair­ing one of the drones he en­joys fly­ing as a hobby. Dur­ing the boozy club­house cel­e­bra­tion af­ter Game 5, Bauer had his right arm wrapped in pro­tec­tive plas­tic.

Up Next

In­di­ans: Cleve­land re­turns home and rests up for the World Se­ries.

Blue Jays: Toronto faces an un­cer­tain off­sea­son af­ter mak­ing the post­sea­son as a wild card. Bautista, Ed­win En­car­na­cion and Michael Saun­ders are in the fi­nal year of their con­tracts.

CHAR­LIE RIEDEL — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cleve­land In­di­ans first base­man Car­los San­tana cel­e­brates af­ter mak­ing the fi­nal out in Game 5 of the Amer­i­can League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wed­nes­day.

FRANK GUNN — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cleve­land In­di­ans start­ing pitcher Ryan Mer­ritt, right, cel­e­brates with catcher Roberto Perez af­ter an in­nin­gend­ing dou­ble play against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wed­nes­day.

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