Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Indians offense could not get the job done and sweep the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 4 of the ALCS.
Ryan Merritt was a different story.
The rookie southpaw only allowed two hits and set the stage perfectly for Andrew Miller and the Cleveland Indians bullpen en route to a 3-0 victory in Game 5 of the ALCS from the Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON.
The win places the Tribe in the MLB World Series for the first time since 1997 when the club lost in seven games to the Florida Marlins.
Second major league start. Fifth major league appearance. First playoff experience.
With all odds against him, Merritt was nearly untouchable facing the minimum through his first four frames pitched. After allowing a Texas leaguer of a base hit to Russell Martin in the fifth, Merritt exited after just 49 pitches in favor of Bryan Shaw. His first postseason start shaped out like this: 4.1 IP 2 H 0 R/ER 0 BB 3 K (49 pitches, 33 strikes, 67.3%).
"I know they were counting on me," said Merritt. "Before the game, they came and told me they had my back, good or bad. That takes some pressure off and I just went out there and pitched and trusted my team."
The slow-throwing southpaw showed composure and had complete control of the game by not allowing a hit to the first 10 batters he faced. Josh Donaldson's line-drive single in the fourth inning was the first knock of the game for Toronto but Edwin Encarnacion grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to quickly conclude matters.
"The only guy that really in the way was probably me," said manager Terry Francona. "I thought where he got, we could turn it over to our bullpen, the guys that have been doing it all year. But for him to do what he did under those circumstances, he may not look smart, but he is beyond his years, and it was one of the most phenomenal things I've ever seen."
Despite the no-decision, Merritt figures to make the World Series roster and play an integral role for the organization moving forward.
Napoli, Santana, Crisp deliver in the clutch
Getting to Marco Estrada early in the game was a critical part of the Indians offensive game plan. Four innings into the contest and the Tribe found themselves with a three-run advantage courtesy of a Mike Napoli double, Carlos Santana home run, and Coco Crisp long shot.
Coming off a game in which the offense could only muster two hits, the timely hitting from the trio proved to be a decisive factor in the winning effort.
It all started in the top of the first inning when Francisco Lindor (single) and Napoli (RBI double) jump-started the visiting bats. Two innings later, and Carlos Santana belted an 87 mph cutter well over the wall in right field for a 2-0 lead. Concluding the day of clutch hitting was Crisp with his third career postseason home run, a solo bomb to right field.
The 3-0 lead was more than enough for the bullpen trio consisting of Shaw, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen.
No surprise, Miller and Allen breeze past Blue Jays
Eight games into the playoffs and the relief duo of Miller and Allen has still yet to allow a run. On this occasion, the scoreless efforts were more important than ever before.
Miller entered a little earlier than expected with a runner on first in the home half of the sixth inning. One pitch was all the lanky lefty needed as Donaldson grounded into a double play on a well-located 93 mph fastball. Miller retired six of the next seven batters he faced in what Pedro Martinez defined as "the most dominating playoff performance ever."
Despite allowing a leadoff double to Jose Bautista, Cody Allen struck out Donaldson and Encarnacion before inducing a Troy Tulowitzki popup to officially punch a ticket to the World Series.
"We've got a little more work to do," said owner Paul Dolan. "I know the people of Cleveland are really excited and ready to take that next step with us."
After the game, president Chris Antonetti, general manager Mike Chernoff, Dolan, and Francona were awarded the American League Championship trophy.
"We have a collective group and I think we embodied what a team is all about," Antonetti said. "Every single player made a contribution. Without all of their individual efforts, we wouldn't be standing up here."
Alongside Antonetti, Chernoff was seen with a wide smile sporting the latest World Series gear with the Cleveland Indians logo featured smack dab in the middle.
"I think what we saw is a team that really fought through adversity," said Chernoff. "It was every single guy, one through nine in the lineup, all the bench guys, (and) our entire bullpen. So a huge organizational accomplishment in that way, and fun to see the resiliency of this team."
Shortly thereafter, Miller was named Most Valuable Player of the series.
"It's (World Series) going to be an incredible experience, I can't wait," Miller said. "We get a chance to celebrate for a brief moment, but we'll be focused and we'll be ready to go."
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs continue their NLCS showdown with Game 4 scheduled to be played on Wednesday night at 8 PM ET from Dodgers Stadium. Toeing the rubber in the pivotal Senior Circuit clash will be RHP John Lackey (11-8, 3.35) and LHP Julio Urias (5-2, 3.39).
With the series-clinching victory, the Indians advance to the 2016 MLB World Series against either the Cubs or Dodgers. Game 1 will be played on Tuesday, October 25th from Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH.
The start time and probable pitchers for the contest have yet to be announced.
Fox will have the television coverage and ESPN Radio will provide a radio broadcast for all games.null