Indians ride unknown youngster to unthinkable World Series

Indians ride unknown youngster to unthinkable World Series

TORONTO — This was a merit scholarship all the way to the World Series. Ryan Merritt, to be exact. The Indians finished off the Blue Jays in the ALCS Wednesday with an amazing 3-0 victory at the Rogers Centre to take the series in five games and stun not only Canada but the baseball world for the American League pennant. This is the Indians’ first trip to the World Series since 1997, when they lost to the Marlins in seven games. The Indians haven’t won a Fall Classic since 1948. They will face the winners of the Dodgers-Cubs battle in the NLCS. Terry Francona, who managed a magical series, turned to Merritt, looking for a miracle, and found one in the crafty left arm of the youngster. Merritt, 24, was making just his second pro start as he became the second player to make his postseason debut with only one major league start. The other was Matt Moore in 2011 with the Rays. To keep Merritt stretched out in case they suffered any more pitching injuries, the Indians sent him to their instructional league in Arizona. So he went from meaningless games in the desert to starting the Indians’ biggest game of the year, the one that sent them to the World Series. Merritt went from facing 19- and 20-year-old hitters to facing some of the best hitters in the world, but that speaks to what these Indians have done this October, losing starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar and still finding a way. The last thing the Indians expected was a drone accident and a bloody pinkie suffered by Trevor Bauer, giving Merritt his chance to come from nowhere to start. With his fiancée in attendance, Merritt pitched 4 ¹/₃ innings, and after giving up a bloop single with one out in the fifth — the second hit he surrendered — Francona turned it over to his shutdown bullpen, led by ex-Yankee Andrew Miller, who was spectacular once again. Merritt breezed through the first three innings, getting all nine batters and after retiring the first hitter in the fourth, Jose Bautista, for the second time, before giving up a single to Josh Donaldson. He quickly got the heavy-hitting Edwin Encarnacion to bang into a 6-4-3 double play. It was Bautista who had said of Merritt, “I’m pretty sure he is going to be shaking in his boots more than we are.’’ In the end, Merritt did exactly what Francona hoped he would do, getting 13 outs and setting up his bullpen. Bryan Shaw pitched an inning and gave way to Miller with one on and one out in the sixth, but on his first pitch Miller got Donaldson to hit into a 6-4-3 double play. Merritt had all of 11 major league innings under his belt before taking the mound at Rogers Centre. Teammates said he is not the type of player to get wrapped up in baseball history and is into the strategy video game “Clash of Clans.’’ He excelled in this clash and got the game to the bullpen, which had pitched 17 ¹/₃ innings over the first four games. Merritt typically throws in the 80s but his first pitch was 69 mph to Bautista, signaling he was going to bring the funk. The Indians got the firepower they needed. In the first inning with two outs, Francisco Lindor dropped a single to left off Marco Estrada and then came around to score on Mike Napoli’s booming double to left. With one out in the third, Carlos Santana crushed a solo home run to right. Then in the fourth, Coco Crisp, who came over in a waiver-wire deal from the A’s, lifted a solo home run to right to put the Indians on top 3-0. As Crisp rounded first he gave the No. 1 sign. The Indians are indeed No. 1 in the American League. Next stop for BelieveLand: the World Series.

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