Earlier this year, fans in Cleveland watched the Cavaliers carry out a historic comeback from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals. The Indians had no interest in being on the opposite side of a similar comeback.

Ryan Merritt and the Indians bullpen combined for a six-hit shutout, and Carlos Santana and Coco Crisp homered as Cleveland earned a 3-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday to take the American League Championship Series, 4-1.

This is what Periscope was invented for:

The Indians will make their first World Series appearance since 1997, their sixth overall. It’s the third straight year, and the fourth in the last five, that the AL winner has come from the Central division. The Minnesota Twins are the only AL Central team to not win a pennant since the turn of the century.

Cleveland’s win Wednesday was a microcosm of its success across the series. Its pitching staff mowed through a potent Toronto lineup with surprising easethe Blue Jays scored more than two runs only once in the series.

While the Indians boasted a solid rotation during the regular season, their postseason run has been a staff-wide hot streak. In Game 5, it carried over to Merritt, perhaps the unlikeliest of Cleveland’s heroes.

With one start and 11 innings on his MLB resume—all scattered about in random appearances when Cleveland needed help because of injuriesthe 24-year-old hadn’t touched a ball in live action since Sept. 30. His Game 5 start came about thanks to Trevor Bauer’s freak accident with a drone.

No matter.

Merritt looked like nothing short of a seasoned veteran, scattering two hits while striking out three in 4.1 innings of work. He didn’t allow a hit his first time through the order and seemed to fool Toronto’s batters with a deceptive delivery—the speed of his fastball, which barely topped out at 90 mph, wasn’t doing it.

Manager Terry Francona pulled him midway through the fifth after only 49 pitches, though it looked like Merritt could have gone through the order again.

His performance drew deserved praise across the Twittersphere:

With that said, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, as FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan pointed out:

It helped that the Indians were able to create separation early. A first-inning Ezequiel Carrera error on a Mike Napoli double allowed Francisco Lindor to score from first with two outs. Jose Ramirez grounded out on the next at-bat, so that run would not have scored otherwise.

The Indians began tacking runs on with the long ball in the third, with Santana nailing a booming shot to right field.

Cue all of the “Smooth” jokes:

Santana has only five hits in 29 at-bats this postseason, but two of them were critical solo shots in the ALCS. He went 1-for-4 on the day.

Crisp hit his second home run in 14 playoff at-bats in the fourth inning. He went 1-for-2 before being pulled for Rajai Davis.

From there, the scoring ceased. Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada settled in and was sensational outside those two mistakes. Estrada gave up only five hits, struck out seven and did not walk a batter in his six innings of work. It was his third straight quality start of the postseason but his second loss in the ALCS. The Jays did not offer him a single run of support against Cleveland.

Toronto’s relievers gave up one hit over the final three innings in another solid effort. Lindor, who went 3-for-4, was the only Cleveland player with more than one hit.

Bryan Shaw, who earned the win; Andrew Miller; and Cody Allen closed the game for the Indians. Miller, the best setup man in baseball, again went multiple innings. He allowed one hit over 2.2 innings of work.

Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball was fawning over Miller, who has not allowed a run over 11.2 postseason innings:

The reliever, who came to Cleveland in a midseason trade with the New York Yankees, was named the ALCS MVP for his four games of flawless work.

Cleveland will now be tasked with bringing home its first World Series championship since 1948 and the city’s second major championship in four months. The Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers await—each boasting a higher payroll, a larger talent pool and extreme pressure from management to get the job done.

No matter who it is, the Indians will likely be underdogsunderdogs with a whole lot of fight left.

Postgame Reaction

Francona spoke about his pride in his team, per Mike Axisa of CBS Sports: “I’m honored that we’re going to the World Series because to do it with—we always said if we could do it with this group, it would be so special because this is as close to a family feel as you can get in a postseason setting. So for that part of it, it is beyond feeling good.”

Pitching coach Mickey Callaway thinks the Indians have a complete team: “We’ve got a total team. You don’t come across teams like this often. Everybody chips in, everybody does their part. We’re a balanced lineup. We steal bases—guys got to worry about that. Our pitching is terrific. But these guys work so hard, whether it’s on the mental side of the game, the way they eat, the way they prepare, it’s unbelievable.”

Miller was in an understandably giddy mood: “It’s been special. It’s been a lot of fun. And it’s just—I feel like I’ve said the word ‘special’ a million times in the last 20-30 minutes, but it’s the truth—it’s a blast to be a part of. We have one more big step, but we’re going to the World Series, and that’s what you dream of.”

Merritt said he was a little nervous, per John Telich of Fox 8: “Going into today, I told myself to have fun, enjoy the moment, don’t try to do too much, be yourself, trust in your team, trust in yourself and just go out there and compete. There was a lot of emotion, lot of nerves. Tough to sleep at night.”


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