TORONTO -- Hours from now, Cleveland Indians pitcher Ryan Merritt will go from relative unknown to the man tasked with starting the most important game of the 2016 season when he takes the mound for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
With the Indians holding a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Blue Jays, Merritt could pitch the Indians into the World Series for the first time since 1997, and those who will share the field with him are confident the rookie can get the job done.
“He’s a performer,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “He’s going to get out there and he’s going to get outs. He’s going to help us win. He’s going to help us win. I’m confident in him. If he has fun, relaxes and executes, it’ll be a good game like these past four games.”
Merritt pitched for the Indians just twice before September call-ups, but made a critical start during the final week of the regular season.
With the Indians playing for home-field advantage over the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series, Merritt took the ball and allowed just three hits and one earned run with no walks and four strikeouts over five innings of work in a winning effort.
“I haven’t seen him leave too many balls over the heart of the plate,” right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall said. “He’s aggressive. He works quickly. You won’t see anything over 90 miles an hour really. He gets a lot of weak contact. He pitches to contact and he’s fun to play behind.”
Originally, the Indians were planning to leave Merritt off the ALCS roster, but changed course when injuries continued to besiege the starting rotation.
Already without Carlos Carrasco (broken bone in right hand) and Danny Salazar (right forearm strain), the Indians suffered another issue when ahead of Game 1 of the ALCS at Progressive Field, it was announced that Trevor Bauer would be scratched from Game 2 because of a lacerated finger suffered while performing “routine maintenance” on a drone.
When that injury happened, Merritt was added to the roster, and now, has a chance to pitch the Indians to their first American League pennant in 20 years.
“I think if you have everyone in your ear, it kind of gets in the way,” starter Corey Kluber said. “I think he’s obviously a good enough pitcher to get himself to this point. I don’t think he needs any of us going out there and telling him what to do. I think he knows what he needs to do to get ready.”
According to Lindor, the key for the Indians will not just be what Merritt does on the mound, but rather, what the team is able to accomplish at the plate, which they did not do in the Game 4 loss.
“We’ve got to get runs, period,” Lindor said. “We’ve got to score. One run’s usually not going to be good enough, especially with their lineup. We’ve got to go out there and give our best and be ourselves. It’s going to be a good game.”