The Cleveland Indians defeated the Toronto Blue Jays by a 3-0 score in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday afternoon, thus clinching the pennant and a trip to the World Series. The Indians' win came behind a strong performance by unknown starter Ryan Merritt and timely home runs by Coco Crisp and Carlos Santana.
Now for some things to know about Game 5 in Toronto ...
1. Ryan Merritt did what he needed to do.
The rookie Merritt had 127 career pitches and one major-league start to his name when he made the start in Game 5. He didn't pitch deep into the game -- why would he, given the way Terry Francona's been running his bullpen -- but he kept runs off the board for 4 ⅓ innings while striking out three, walking none, and giving up just two hits.
Merritt's a deep-repertoire command hurler, which, in keeping with the prototype, means he doesn't throw hard. Regarding that ...
Merritt on Wednesday didn't throw a single pitch faster than 87.2 mph. It worked.
2. The Indians continue to make the most of early leads.
In Game 5, the Indians, for the second time in this series, took a 1-0 lead in the first. On that point ...
The #Indians are 31-6 (.838) this season (including the postseason) when leading after the first inning.— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) October 19, 2016
Make that 32-6. That's a winning percentage of .842. By comparison, all other MLB teams this season are a combined 786-354, which comes to a winning percentage of .689. Impressive numbers by Cleveland on that front.
3. The Indians continue to make the most of 3-0 leads.
On Thursday, Coco Crisp's fourth-inning blast staked the Tribe to a 3-0 lead. As it turns out, a three-run lead is even more ominous for the opposition than a first-inning lead. Specifically, the Indians in 2016 -- counting the playoffs -- are 68-1 when leading by three runs or more. Actually, make that 69-1 after Game 5 in Toronto. Nice.
4. Andrew Miller was utterly dominant.
The Tribe's relief ace played a huge role in this series, as he worked 7 ⅔ innings in this series, allowed no runs on three hits, and struck 14 batters against no walks. Terry Francona's knack for getting Miller into high-leverage spots regardless of the inning and Miller's willingness to work outside of a set role contributed heavily to his value during the ALCS. To be sure, this wasn't the first time we saw "relief ace" usage of a closer, but this may be the run dominance that ushers back in such an era of bullpen deployment. For baseball as a whole, Miller's performance this postseason has implications beyond the "mere" winning of a pennant. He was a deserving ALCS MVP.
5. Josh Donaldson did his part.
Not much went right for the Jays in this series, particularly on the offensive end. However, the reigning AL MVP certainly carries his share of the load. Coming into Game 5, Donaldson had a 2016 ALCS line of .357/.438/.643 with a homer, a double, and two walks in 16 plate appearances. On Wednesday, he notched the first hit of the game off Ryan Merritt -- a fourth-inning single to center.
6. Jose Bautista did not.
You'll recall that Joey Bats attempted to get into the head of Merritt in advance of Game 5. Well, Merritt, as noted above, wound up doing just fine. Bautista, though, entered Game 5 batting .071/.235/.071 for the ALCS. Yes, he went 2-for-4 with a double on Thursday, but that lifted his OPS for the series to just .508. In Bautista's defense, Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki put up worse numbers against the Indians.
7. This was probably the last ride for the this Jays team.
This coming offseason, Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are eligible for free agency, and it's highly unlikely that they'll return to Toronto. Bautista came to the Jays in 2008, and Encarnacion joined him the following season. Needless to say, they've been franchise fixtures for a long time. Joining them on the market will be, among others, R.A. Dickey and Michael Saunders. Josh Donaldson returns, of course, as does the rotation core, but the Toronto lineup will likely have a very different feel in 2017.
8. The Indians will get some rest before the World Series.
Game 1 of the 2016 World Series is scheduled for Tuesday in Cleveland. By wrapping up the pennant on Wednesday, the Indians ensured themselves five full days of rest. For a roster that includes a heavily used bullpen and Trevor Bauer's mangled finger, that time off will be of great benefit. After a six-month regular season and two rounds of playoffs, there's no such thing as too much rest.
9. The Indians' have a "curse" of their own to break.
The Cubs are getting all the curse bandwidth these days, what with their having not won a World Series since 1908. The Indians, though, have the second longest dry spell, as they haven't hoisted the trophy since 1948. They made it back to the World Series in 1995 and 1997, but they weren't able to win it. Maybe this time around things will be different.