Unheralded rookie Ryan Merritt, in only his second major league start, gave Cleveland the early pitching it needed and the Indians bullpen did the rest Wednesday, bundling the Toronto Blue Jays out of the playoffs with a 3-0 victory in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.
Carlos Santana and Coco Crisp homered for Cleveland, which won the series 4-1.
Cleveland heads to the World Series, looking to erase memories of losses in 1954, 1995 and 1997. They won in 1920 and 1948.
Only the Cubs (1908) have gone longer without winning the championship.
Cleveland’s injury-ravaged starting rotation meant that manager Terry Francona had to hand the ball to Merritt, whose major league career consisted of one start, four appearances and 11 innings.
You wouldn’t have known it. The 24-year-old left-hander retired the first 10 Jays he faced before leaving with one out in the fifth after giving up just his second hit.
With Merritt looking cool on the mound in the 4 1/3 innings needed to get to Cleveland’s excellent bullpen, the Indians picked up solo runs in the first, third and fourth to pull ahead before a sellout crowd of 48,800 under the Rogers Centre roof.
Each team managed six hits.
The Blue Jays made it to the ALCS for a second straight season following a 22-year playoff drought, but missed the chance to make their first World Series appearance since 1993.
“I’m sure there will be some disappointment and some grumbling and complaining about how you fell short again, but that’s not coming from me,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “I know what these guys did and I think it’s a pretty good accomplishment. But the key is we want to take that next step.”
Toronto, which hit 10 homers in the wild-card game and ALDS, managed just two against Cleveland although it came close to adding to that total several times Wednesday.
“I know that I’m capable of doing a lot more,” said Jays slugger Jose Bautista. “They pitched great. It was tough. They seemed to make the right pitches at the right time and got us out and they never let us string base hits together and when we had men in scoring position they seemed to turn it up a notch and go to another level of execution. My hat’s off to them.”
Cleveland rushed out of the dugout to celebrate in a moving ball of humanity by second base.
The Rogers Centre crowd responded with chants of “Let’s Go Blue Jays.”
Toronto starter Marco Estrada pitched well but Cleveland took advantage of his mistakes.
He retired 10 of 11 before exiting, with the Crisp home run the only blot on his copy book during that stretch.
Estrada (0-2) gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in six innings.
Merritt, a 16th-round pick taken 488th overall in the 2011 draft, becomes only the second player in MLB history to make his post-season debut with only one regular season start, according to Elias Sports. Matt Moore did it for Tampa in the 2011 ALDS.
He gave up two singles with two strikeouts and no walks in a 49-pitch performance that featured 33 strikes.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press