TORONTO -- For the first time in 19 years, the Cleveland Indians are heading to the World Series!
After building a three-game lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series only to lose in Game 4 Tuesday night, the Indians clinched the pennant with a 3-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 5 at Rogers Centre Wednesday.
The Indians last represented the American League in the World Series in 1997, and will go in search of the club’s first championship since 1948.
The Indians had trouble scoring runs against the Jays in Game 4 of the ALCS, but they came out swinging and took an early 1-0 lead in Game 5 thanks to a two-out rally in the top of the first inning.
After second baseman Jason Kipnis had a deep fly out to the wall in left field, shortstop Francisco Lindor got the rally going when he took a 2-2 pitch from Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada the opposite way for a single to left.
Designated hitter Mike Napoli followed with a double to deep left-center field. With the crack of the bat, Lindor sprinted around the bases, and an error on Blue Jays left fielder Ezequiel Carrera allowed him to score. Carrera went to field the ball on a ricochet off the wall, but it popped into and out of his glove and bounced behind his back.
By the time Carrera located the ball and delivered a throw to the cut-off man, Napoli was in safely at second base and Lindor was heading for the dugout after touching home plate.
Then, with one out in the top of the third inning, Indians first baseman Carlos Santana swung at a 1-0 pitch from Toronto starter Marco Estrada and crushed it over the wall in right field for his second home run of the postseason.
Santana’s blast gave the Indians a 2-0 lead over the Blue Jays.
The Indians were far from done with the long ball after Santana’s blast, as for the second time in three close-out games this postseason, left fielder Coco Crisp belted a home run.
Down in the count, 0-2, after swinging and missing the first two pitches from Estrada, Crisp smashed a solo home run into Cleveland’s bullpen, and that two-out round-tripper gave the Indians a 3-0 lead over the Blue Jays.
Crisp also had a home run in Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park, which ended up proving to be the deciding run in the Indians’ sweep of the Boston Red Sox.
While the offense produced three runs, the Indians got a stellar pitching performance from left-handed rookie Ryan Merritt and the bullpen combination of Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.
Merritt allowed just two hits and no walks with three strikeouts over 4.1 innings of work against a Blue Jays lineup with plenty of pop. Merritt set the Blue Jays down in order in each of the first three innings, and when third baseman Josh Donaldson smacked a one-out single to center field, he got a ground ball that Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana turned into a 6-4-3 double play.
When catcher Russell Martin hit a one-out single in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Indians made the call to Bryan Shaw out of the bullpen. Shaw promptly gave up a single to left-handed pinch hitter Michael Saunders.
However, just one day after struggling through the seventh inning, Shaw struck out outfielders Ezequiel Carrera and Kevin Pillar swinging to quell any potential rally for the Blue Jays.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista reached base on a one-out single to center field, and the Indians once again went to their bullpen, this time for left-handed hurler Andrew Miller. On his only pitch of the inning, Miller got the Blue Jays to hit into a 6-4-3 double play.
Although the Blue Jays challenged the out call at first base, a replay review upheld the play, which brought the inning to a close.