TORONTO -- The Cleveland Indians know adversity well, but while many in baseball were writing them off, they just kept on playing, hitting and hustling their way through the season. And now, they are on the precipice of returning to the World Series for the first time since 1997.
Despite the loss a potential American League MVP candidate in outfielder Michael Brantley on May 11 and a rash of injuries in the starting rotation, the Indians fought their way to the American League Central Division Championship, a sweep of the Boston Red Sox in the Division Series and a 3-0 lead over the Toronto Blue Jays in the A.L. Championship Series.
“I’ve been proud of our team all year for the way they’ve played the game,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Our style, we have to be aggressive on the bases. We can’t just throw the bats and balls out there, or we’d win very few games.
“They’ve done that all year, and for that, I’m really proud of them.”
Adversity continued to challenge the Indians between the sweep of Boston and Game 1 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays.
Already without Carlos Carrasco (broken bone in right hand) and Danny Salazar (right forearm strain), the Indians experienced 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.
Although Bauer started Game 3, he failed to make it out of the first inning when his wound opened up and the bleeding could not be stopped in a reasonable amount of time.
Prior to Game 3, Francona announced that ace Corey Kluber would start Game 4 if Bauer struggled and Ryan Merritt would be moved to Game 5 if necessary.
“It doesn’t really seem that nutty to us,” Francona said. “I think we’re just trying to be organized, and it helps when every, single player we’ve talked to just says, ‘Okay. Kluber didn’t even bat because we wanted to talk to him first.
“It’s fine for us to be organized, but if he’s not ready to do it or if it’s going to bother him, that doesn’t help. He said, ‘Just let me know when, and I’ll be raring to go,’ and the same thing with Merritt. Everybody just kind of tries to do what you ask. It’s been kind of fun."
Originally, the Indians were planning to leave Merritt off the ALCS roster, but when injuries continued to besiege Cleveland’s rotation, he served as the backup plan, something Francona attributed to President Chris Antonetti and his player personnel staff.
“They are, in my opinion, so much under the radar or unheralded or however you want to put it,” Francona said. “They’ve done more with less, and they’re so good that, not only are they fun to work for, but they’re organized.
“We sat down and talked it through, and then, we started talking to the players, and we talked it through until it made sense because the first couple of times, it didn’t. But then, we eventually get where we want to be.”