Indians clinch first World Series birth since 1997

Photo+courtesy+of+Phil+Masturzo+for+Tribune+News+Service+Cleveland+Indians+reliever+Andrew+Miller+delivers+a+pitch+in+the+seventh+inning+against+the+Toronto+Blue+Jays+during+Game+2+of+the+American+League+Championship+Series+on+Saturday+Oct.+15%2C+2016%2C+at+Progressive+Field+in+Cleveland.+The+Indians+won%2C+2-1%2C+for+a+2-0+series+lead.

Photo courtesy of Phil Masturzo for Tribune News Service Cleveland Indians reliever Andrew Miller delivers a pitch in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday Oct. 15, 2016, at Progressive Field in Cleveland. The Indians won, 2-1, for a 2-0 series lead.

Henry Palattella

When 2016 began, Cleveland had been without a championship for 52 straight years. Fast forward to October, and the Cleveland Indians are four wins away from giving the city a second championship in four months.

The Indians punched their ticket to the 112th Fall Classic Wednesday night, when Carlos Santana caught Troy Tulowitzki’s pop-fly to end the game, giving the Indians a 3-0 win and a 4-1 series victory. Santana fell to the ground with his arms above his head while a dogpile formed behind him on the mound, an image that will stick in every Cleveland fan’s mind for the rest of their life.

The win washed away 19 years of frustration for Indians fans. The team last played in the World Series in 1997 when they lost to the Florida Marlins in seven games. The Indians were last in the American League Championship Series in 2007, a series in which they Indians also lost in seven games.

The Indians almost beat the Red Sox in that ALCS, but then-third base coach Joel Skinner decided to hold Indians outfielder Kenny Lofton at third in the seventh inning. Lofton – who was the winning run – never scored, and the Boston Red Sox eventually came back to win.

All that is a distant memory now, replaced by happier images of Indians players dancing around in the Blue Jays clubhouse, clad in postseason shirts that are soaked with celebratory champagne.

The Indians relied on key hits and a strong bullpen to gather their postseason victories, a template that was made famous by the Kansas City Royals on their path to the World Series last season.

This template worked for the Tribe, as they swept the Red Sox in the American League Division Series, and needed only five games to take out the Blue Jays in the ALCS.

The Indians came into the postseason with a depleted pitching staff, as rotational mainstays Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar both suffered injuries in the regular season that have kept them out of the postseason thus far.

These injuries forced the Indians to use Ryan Merritt as their starter in game five against the Blue Jays. Merritt – who came into that matchup with 11 career innings under his belt – responded by throwing four 2/3 shutout innings.

These injuries could have spelled death for some teams, but they proved to be mere inconveniences for the Indians, as they used an unconventional three-man rotation for most of the postseason.

The Indians starting pitching threw 38 2/3 innings through those games, while the Indians bullpen almost equaled them, as they tallied 33 1/3 innings. 11 2/3 of those innings were thrown by Indians stud reliever Andrew Miller. Miller – who won the ALCS MVP – struck out 20 batters in those innings, while allowing only four hits.

The Indians will face the winner of NLCS featuring the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs in the world series and no matter who they face, they’ll be in for a challenge. The Dodgers currently hold a 2-1 series lead.

The Cubs compiled a 103-58 record, which was the best record in baseball. 

First pitch of the world series will be in Cleveland on Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.

Contact Henry Palattella at [email protected]