Five Performances that Propelled the Cleveland Indians to the World Series

Oct 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Ryan Merritt (54) pitches during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in game five of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians are going to the World Series, but their run wouldn’t have been possible without a few spectacular performances.

Major League Baseball uses an iconic slogan every year when the postseason rolls around: Heroes are made in October. The history of the game is filled with indelible playoff performances, and no team fulfills its ultimate goal of a world championship without having its share of memorable plays. The Cleveland Indians are no different.

The Tribe in 2016 has been an exercise in unlikely heroes, larger than life performances, and moments that will be etched in the team’s annals for years to come. During the regular season, the club won 94 games despite enduring a plethora of injuries, earned 11 walk-off victories, and set a franchise record with a 14-game winning streak.

So it’s no wonder that Cleveland would continue to produce more of the same in the postseason. In winning seven of their eight playoff games to clinch a berth in the World Series, the Indians have gotten contributions up and down the roster, set highlight reels on fire, and come up clutch on the largest stages.

The Tribe still has work to do, and hopefully for the team’s fans there are plenty of heart-stopping plays still to come. This is baseball in October, and the Indians are writing quite the exciting story.

Here are the the plays and players that have been playing the role of hero so far for the Tribe.

The Backstop and the Bullpen

Oct 15, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Andrew Miller (24) high fives catcher Roberto Perez (55) after the 8th inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during game two of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It may be hard to remember, but Cleveland’s playoff run began with a deficit. The Boston Red Sox began Game One of the ALDS with a double from Dustin Pedroia and a single by Brock Holt off starter Trevor Bauer to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Hanley Ramirez then delivered doubled to score Pedroia, but what happened next set the tone for the rest of the game.

Tyler Naquin fielded the ball, hit Francisco Lindor at the cutoff, and the throw came home as Holt raced around third. It was slightly off line, but Roberto Perez gave an incredible effort to come up the line and swipe the tag. After a review, Holt was out and the Boston threat was over.

Perez would factor into the outcome of the game twice more, on his way to becoming the unlikely hero. On the first pitch he saw from Red Sox starter Rick Porcello, he smacked an opposite field home run to tie the game. That shot ignited the offense, as Jason Kipnis and Lindor would follow with longballs of their own in the inning.

The Indians’ backstop also made a play with his feet, tagging up from first and chugging into second on a Carlos Santana flyball to left field, and then scoring on a Kipnis single.

Perez had a front row seat to the night’s other unforgettable performance as well, as manager Terry Francona orchestrated his bullpen to perfection and the pair of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen turned in gritty performances to secure the win.

The 6-foot-7 frame of Miller has loomed over the entire postseason like a mythic beast of destruction, so much so that he was named MVP of the ALCS. But his two innings in this one set the tone for what was to come, as he entered in the fifth inning, threw 40 pitches, and dominated Boston’s hitters.

Allen followed with 40 pitches and two innings of his own for the save, as the Indians held on for the 5-4 victory. It was not the last tight spot that the two back-end relief aces would be thrown into, nor the last in which they would answer the call.

The Ace

Oct 18, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in game four of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the postseason, Corey Kluber was a big question. The Tribe’s ace had suffered a right quadriceps strain in late-September, and had to miss his final start of the regular season. Starting Game Two against the Red Sox, no one knew for sure how healthy or how effective Kluber could be.

The 31-year old right-hander answered those questions with authority, shutting out Boston over seven innings, while yielding just three hits and striking out seven. Cleveland won the game 6-0 and pushed the Red Sox to the brink of elimination, and Josh Tomlin finished the job in Game Three at Fenway Park to send the team to the ALCS.

Kluber wasn’t done, though, taking the ball in Game One of the league championship series against the Toronto Blue Jays and once again throwing a gem. He once again did not allow a run, giving up six hits in 6.1 innings and fanning six as the Indians grabbed a 1-0 series lead.

And he would take the mound once more against the Jays, this time in Game Four, pitching on short rest for the first time in his career. While the Tribe suffered its only loss of the postseason thus far at the Rogers Centre that night, Kluber did his job, allowing a mere two runs on four hits in five innings, and adding another seven strikeouts.

Kluber is the no-brainer choice to start Game One of the World Series, and with the Cleveland pitching staff still thin due to injuries, may be required to shoulder a big load one more time. The Indians and their fans can feel good about that, because the Klubot has been set to destroy in October.

The Prodigal Son

Oct 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Cleveland Indians left fielder Coco Crisp (4) hits a home run during the fourth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in game five of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The big splash made by the Tribe midseason was of course the acquisition of Miller at the July 31st trade deadline, but a much less heralded move has also had a monumental impact in the playoffs. That was the waiver deal that brought Coco Crisp back to Cleveland, the place where his career started in 2002.

Crisp is no longer the everyday, all-star caliber, impact player that he once was, but his fingerprints have been all over the Indians’ current run.

The moment that will be replayed for quite some time came in the ALDS-clinching win in Boston, when in the sixth inning of a 2-1 ballgame, Crisp belted a hanging breaking ball from Drew Pomeranz over the Green Monster in left field for a two-run home run that ended up being the deciding factor in the game.

The 36-year old was also key to the Tribe’s ALCS victory, first robbing Toronto’s Josh Donaldson of a hit and certain RBIs in the seventh inning of Game Three. With Cleveland leading 4-2, last year’s AL MVP sent a sinking liner into left with two outs and two on, and Crisp, not exactly known for his glove these days, made a diving catch to end the threat.

He also homered off Jays’ starter Marco Estrada in the clinching win in Game Five, extending the Indians’ lead to 3-0 and giving the pitching staff a more comfortable cushion to work with.

It seemed insignificant at the time, merely a move for outfield depth with the looming postseason ineligibility of Abraham Almonte, but the acquisition of Crisp has been yet another master stroke by the Cleveland front office. Without the guy named Covelli, the Indians might not be knocking on the door of a title.

The Budding Superstar

Oct 14, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor reacts after hitting a two-run home run against the Toronto Blue Jays in the 6th inning in game one of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Lindor has had quite the year in his first full season in the big leagues. He avoided the dreaded sophomore slump, slashing .301/.358/.435 in 158 games, with 30 doubles, 15 home runs, 78 RBIs, 19 stolen bases, and a 5.7 bWAR that was tops on the team among position players.

The 22-year old also made his first all-star team and is among the frontrunners at shortstop to take home the American Gold Glove award, but he’s had a coming out party in the playoffs.

There was the home run in the first game of the division series against Boston, of course, but the full weight of Lindor’s talents was brought to bear on the ALCS as he introduced himself to the national television audience at the plate and in the field.

His two-run homer in Game One against Toronto broke a scoreless a tie in the sixth inning and proved to be the only runs in the game. A day later, his third inning RBI single was also the game-winner in a tight 2-1 victory.

Lindor has also flashed his glove for so many unbelievable defensive plays, they can’t all be listed. There’s a reason he led all AL shortstops in Baseball-Reference’s total zone runs.

But perhaps most importantly has been the unbridled joy and enthusiasm he brings to the game. His 1,000-watt smile doesn’t just play well to fans watching the games, but helps to infuse positive energy into his teammates and the crowd at the stadium. During hard-fought postseason games, that may mean more than any homer or double play turned.

The Secret Weapon

Oct 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona (17) relieves Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Ryan Merritt (54) during the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in game five of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Remember that line about heroes being made in October? Ryan Merritt’s performance in the clinching victory of the ALCS is exactly what it’s talking about.

A 24-year old, soft-tossing rookie with just 11 big league innings under his belt taking the ball against a prolific lineup with a trip to the World Series on the line? Being called out by one of baseball’s biggest sluggers before the game? Then calmly and cooly silencing those bats and everyone who said it was impossible? That’s the stuff of legends.

In MLB history, only one pitcher had started a postseason game with less experience, yet Merritt looked like a 10-year veteran as he allowed just two soft hits in 4.1 innings of work, striking out three and not issuing a walk. Without that kind of moment, the series may have been headed back to Cleveland.

It’s not written in stone, but one would imagine that, given the still-thin starting rotation for Cleveland, Merritt’s playoff experience in 2016 is not over. There’s an excellent chance that he starts a game in the World Series and adds to his improbable story.

No team reaches the World Series without making big plays and getting big performances, and the Indians are no different. On the doorstep of baseball immortality, the Tribe has to hope there are plenty more of those moments coming and new heroes to announce themselves. If there are, Cleveland could be celebrating the improbable once again.

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