TORONTO — A pitcher Jose Bautista predicted would be “shaking in his boots” had the Blue Jays swinging out of theirs, and he helped put the surprising Indians in the World Series.
Rookie lefthander Ryan Merritt far exceeded even the most optimistic expectations set for him, pitching 4 1⁄3 innings as the Indians beat the Blue Jays, 3-0, Wednesday in front of 48,804 loud but ultimately disappointed fans at Rogers Centre.
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“That’s why you don’t say dumb (stuff),” second baseman Jason Kipnis said of Bautista’s remarks in a champagne- and beer-soaked clubhouse.
The Indians, who defeated Toronto in five games, won their first American League pennant since 1997. They will play the Cubs or Dodgers in the World Series, which starts Tuesday in Cleveland, trying for their first title since 1948 and looking to give a formerly woebegone sports city its second crown of 2016.
The 24-year-old Merritt, who brought a career resume of four big-league appearances, including one other start, into the game, allowed two hits before Terry Francona called on a bullpen that has been lights-out all postseason.
“What he did,” Francona said, “was above and beyond his years.”
Merritt, who last pitched Sept. 30, could not stop smiling, and the easygoing Texan had nothing negative to say about Bautista. “It’s almost like a fairy tale,” he said of the game. “It’s slowly hitting me.”
Bryan Shaw pitched an inning after Merritt and gave way to incomparable lefty Andrew Miller, who pitched an efficient 2 2⁄3 innings. The former Yankee was named the series MVP after striking out 14 and walking none in 7 2⁄3 innings in four appearances. Cody Allen earned his third save of the series after allowing a leadoff double to Bautista in the ninth.
Merritt carved up the slugging Blue Jays, setting down the first 10 hitters he faced. He said it was a “confidence booster” that helped him “get those first-inning jitters out of the way.” His fastball sat in the range of 86 mph, complemented by a looping, low to mid-70s curveball.
“It was the key to the game simply because I’m sure they didn’t know what kind of outing he was going to give them,” said manager John Gibbons, whose club lost to the Royals in six games in last year’s ALCS. “It wasn’t an easy assignment for anybody, let alone a guy trying to make it in the game.”
The Indians had six hits, including solo homers by Carlos Santana and Coco Crisp.
Toronto’s Marco Estrada, the loser in Game 1, allowed three runs and five hits in six innings. Mike Napoli’s double in the first made it 1-0, Santana’s third-inning blast made it 2-0 and Crisp’s shot in the fourth made it 3-0. Cleveland’s offense never really erupted in the pitching-dominated series, but it didn’t matter because its staff posted a 1.43 ERA.
Now it’s an opportunity for a second championship in 2016, unthinkable for a city that went 52 years without a major sports title before the Cavaliers brought down the Warriors in June.
“They broke the curse for Cleveland,” Kipnis said. “That did a lot for the city, that did a lot for us. It lifted the gray cloud over us that Cleveland can’t win. And if we’re on the verge of winning two titles in the same year, you can’t ask for much more than that.”