By HAL McCOY
If there is a Merit Badge for chutzpah, Cleveland Indians pitcher Ryan Merritt won his Wednesday afternoon, a gold-plated one.
Chutzpah is defined as audacity, guts, cheeky, nerve, boldness, temerity.
Those all could be Merritt’s middle name after the 24-year-old left hander, helped pitch the Cleveland Indians into the 2016 World Series.
Merritt pitched 4 1/3 innings and gave up noe runs, two hits, no walks and struck out three. Then the practically peerless Indians bullpen got out their mops and swept away the Toronto Blue Jays, 3-0, to win the American League Championship Series and advance to the World Series.
Before walking to the mound in Toronto’s Rogers Centre, in front of 50,000 hostiles, Merritt had pitched only 11 major league innings and was making his second major league start.
He was a pitcher of necessity because the Tribe is missing two starters, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. And pitcher Trevor Bauer sliced open the pinkie on his ring finger tinkering with a drone.
JUST IN CASE, BEFORE the postseason Merritt was working out in Arizona when the call came, telling him he was being added to the ALCS roster, “Every year we need somebody. Something usually comes up, so be ready in case the opportunity presents itself.”
And did it ever present itself. With Cleveland leading in the series three games to one, Merritt pitched like a 10-year veteran in pitching the Tribe to the 3-0 series-clinching victory. It sent the Indians to their first World Series appearance since 1997.
Merritt, a soft-tosser whose fastball doesn’t touch 90, retired the first 10 Blue Jays in order and faced the minimum 12 batters in four innings. He gave up a fourth-inning one out-single, but the Tribe turned a double play.
WHEN RUSSELL MARTIN blooped a one-out single to center in the fifth inning, Francona thought Merritt had enough.
Francona and his bullpen began their magic. Francona replaced Merritt with Bryan Shaw. Shaw gave up a single to pinch-hitter Michael Saunders, putting runners on second and first with out out. Shaw, though, bowed his back, hunched his shoulders and struck out both Ezequiel Carrera and Kevin Pillar to preserve the 3-0 lead.
When Jose Bautista singled with one out in the sixth, it was Miller Time. Francona brought in his not-so-secret weapon, Andrew Miller, and it took him one pitch to get two outs and end the inning. Josh Donaldson grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.
MILLER PITCHED A perfect seventh and went back out for the eighth. Pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro singled to open the inning, but Miller struck out Ezekiel Carrera on three pitches, coaxed a fielder’s choice out of Kevin Pillar and a pop fly to left by Darwin Barney. And with another impeccable performance, Miller won the ALCS Most Valuable Player trophy.
Closer Cody Allen gave up a leadoff double to Jose Bautistain the ninth, then struck out Josh Donaldson, struck out Edwin Encarnacion and ended it by getting Troy Tulowitzki on a foul pop.
Making it easier on Merritt, his teammates steadily constructed an early lead for him. Mike Napoli doubled home a run in the first, Carlos Santana hit a solo home run in the third and Coco Crisp ripped a two-out home run in the fourth, all off Toronto starter Marco Estrada.
The Tribe would score no more, but didn’t need it thanks to Merritt, Shaw Miller and Allen.
THE LAST TIME THE Indians were in the World Series, 1997, they were three outs away from winning it against the Florida Marlins, the first wild card team to make the World Series.
The Tribe led, 2-1, going into the bottom of the ninth, but relief pitcher Jose Mesa (Joe Table) gave up a run to tie it.
The game went to the 11th and with one out and one on, a ground ball was hit to sure-handed second baseman Tony Fernandez. But his legs weren’t so sure — the ball went through his legs for an error.
Instead of an inning-ending double play the Marlins had runners on first and third and Edgar Renteria ripped a walk-off Series-ending single.
The Tribe also was in the World Series in 1997 and 1954 and lost those, too. They last won a World Series in 1948 when my dad drove a powder blue Studebaker Commander, I could buy a 12-ounce glass bottle of Royal Crown Cola for a nickel at Helsel’s Square Deal grocery and Harry S. Truman won the presidential vote, despite a headline in the Chicago Tribune that read, “Dewey Wins.”