TORONTO – Breaking down Game 5 of the American League Championship Series between the Indians and Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
Indians 3, Blue Jays 0, Indians win series 4-1
The final: For the first time since 1997, the Cleveland Indians are going to the World Series. And for the second consecutive season, the Toronto Blue Jays have been eliminated in the American League Championship Series.
Soft-tossing lefty Ryan Merritt tossed 4 1/3 innings of shutout ball and the Indians got solo home runs from Carlos Santana and Coco Crisp in winning for the seventh time in eight postseason games.
Cleveland was 68-1 this season when leading by three or more runs.
In a series that lacked offense, the Indians scored first in four of the five games -- just enough firepower to get the ball to their bullpen with a lead. And from there, the Jays had no chance.
Man of the moment: Merritt gave the Indians more than they could have possibly expected from a rookie making just his second-ever major league start. The 24-year-old lefty was masterful in keeping the Blue Jays off balance with his 70 mph curveball, mixed in with a fastball that peaked in the upper 80s.
He ended up being the perfect choice to pitch the clinching game. The Blue Jays batted .249 during the regular season against fastballs less than 90 mph, the fourth lowest average in the majors.
He retired the first 10 batters in order and allowed two hits – singles by Josh Donaldson in the fourth and Russell Martin in the fifth -- before turning things over to the stellar Cleveland bullpen. Although he didn’t qualify for the win, Merritt may have saved the Indians’ season.
Game 5 pivot point: The game may have turned in the top of the first inning when the Indians took an early lead against Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada. With two out and no one on base, Francisco Lindor ripped what seemed to be a harmless single to the opposite field.
However, Mike Napoli followed with a double off the top of the wall. The Jays might have had a play at the plate on Lindor, but Ezequiel Carrera mishandled the bounce as he tried to barehand it. Lindor scored the game’s first run without a throw.
Manager's special: Indians manager Terry Francona had a relatively easy call to remove Merritt after Martin’s single with one out in the fifth. The bigger decision was when to employ ace reliever Andrew Miller.
In the playoffs, Miller has been practically unhittable. Of the 33 batters he faced entering Game 5, he struck out 20 of them, walked two and allowed four hits. Miller’s postseason ERA: 0.00.
Miller didn’t pitch in Game 4, so he was more than ready to answer Francona’s call with Cleveland leading 3-0, a runner on base and one out in the bottom of the sixth – and the Jays best postseason hitter, Josh Donaldson, at the plate.
However, Miller rose to the occasion by getting Donaldson to hit a double play ball to end the inning.
Needing a mulligan: Donaldson would have liked to have that sixth-inning at-bat back. Not only was it the best chance the Jays had to score in the entire game, but allowing Miller to get two outs with one pitch may have enabled him to not only pitch the seventh, but the eighth inning as well.
State of the Series: By winning the ALCS in five games, the Indians will have five days off before hosting Game 1 of the World Series against either the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Chicago Cubs.
The Indians tied for the best home record in the American League during the regular season at 52-28. And the time off will give ace Corey Kluber plenty of rest before he throws the first pitch of the World Series.
The layoff will also give Trevor Bauer’s injured finger extra time to heal. And it may even give right-hander Danny Salazar, who hasn’t pitched since Sept. 9 because of a forearm injury, enough time to be healthy enough to rejoin the roster.
What you missed on TV: A gray-haired Jimmy Key threw out the first pitch to the strains of “Limelight” by Rush as part of the pregame festivities.
Key was selected by the Blue Jays in the third round of the 1982 draft – the same year Rush released “Signals,” the band’s first album to hit No. 1 on the Canadian charts. (Top single: “New World Man”)
Both had lengthy careers. Key went on to win 116 games in nine seasons for the Blue Jays, while Rush went on to sell 40 million albums and eventually earn a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which just happens to be located in Cleveland).