3 key moves that propelled Tribe to ALCS

Naquin winning job, trade for Miller, addition of Crisp proving crucial

October 11th, 2016

CLEVELAND -- With Fenway Park's century-old bricks shaking from the crowd noise and the Red Sox threatening to put Cleveland's champagne back into storage, it was easy for Chris Antonetti to let his mind wander to what could go wrong for his team on Monday night.

As the Indians' president of baseball operations watched the final moments of his team's 4-3 win over Boston in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, his nerves were calmed by an unexpected source. Antonetti's 10-year-old daughter, Mya, served as the voice of reason within Boston's famously intimidating atmosphere.

:: ALCS: Blue Jays vs. Indians coverage ::

"[She] is the most positive person in the world," Antonetti said. "She's like, 'Hey, we're only one strike away.' Or, 'Hey, we'll get the next guy out.' Or, 'He's going to get this one.' She's always a good counterbalance to those negative thoughts that can creep into my head."

Mya's optimism won out, as Cleveland survived the Red Sox's attempts at a comeback in drama-packed eighth and ninth innings on Monday. Closer flirted with disaster and a handful of deep counts, but in the end, he induced a flyout to right field. The baseball that flew off 's bat found its way into the glove of right fielder , who held his hands in the air with a sense of relief washed across his face. The Indians will face the Blue Jays in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series on Friday night (8:08 p.m. ET, TBS)

Throughout the three-game brooming of Boston, the decision-making of both Antonetti and Indians manager Terry Francona were on full display. In Game 3, specifically, a series of moves found the spotlight. The fact that rookie , veteran and relief ace helped power the victory provided the latest look into how the Tribe's orchestrators have assembled this upstart club.

Naquin seizes a job in spring

Naquin walked into the manager's office at the Indians' spring complex in Arizona in February and was greeted by both Antonetti and Francona. There were no promises given, but they explained to the rookie outfielder that he had a unique opportunity in front of him.

Naquin, Cleveland's top pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, had no big league experience, but he had a shot at cracking the Opening Day roster. Star left fielder was sidelined, and there was little clarity beyond the infield grass. Naquin grabbed his bat, turned in a scorching spring and won a job. He then turned in a campaign worthy of AL Rookie of the Year consideration.

"Nake doesn't back down from anybody or anything," Francona said.

That included on Monday, when the kid stepped to the plate with one out, two runners on and 39,000 fans screaming. Naquin ripped a curveball from Red Sox righty down the right-field line, scoring two runs and putting the Tribe on the path to victory.

"The energy that you feel in the stadium, it's unbelievable," Naquin said. "After that first inning gets through, you start kind of getting settled in."

Naquin hardly looked like a rook in that moment.

"He showed that he belongs right where we are," Francona said.

Crisp fills October hole

Cleveland's outfield was going to have a troubling vacancy when the team reached the postseason. , who did his part in the second half to help the Tribe punch its ticket to October, was ineligible for the playoffs as part of his prior suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff went to work on finding a replacement that would fit Francona's lineup and defensive alignment. They found one in Crisp, pulling off an Aug. 31 trade with the A's to bring the veteran outfielder back to Cleveland, where he began his career 14 years earlier.

"I don't know if Chris and Cherney and the guys get enough credit for the things we do," Francona said. "When we didn't have Abe, that was a big hole. And Coco has the experience, and he showed it."


That veteran poise paid off in the sixth inning, when Crisp's two-run home run to the top of Fenway's Green Monster gave the Indians a 4-1 lead. That cushion prove paramount, as Boston chipped away and scored two runs, falling just short of a comeback.

"It was easy to come in here because it was familiar," Crisp said. "I had been here before and I played for Tito and played with some of these guys. Storybook? I would say, so far, it is."

Miller changes Cleveland's game

The Indians' biggest addition during the season, and arguably the most important component to date for the club in October, was Miller. Cleveland paid a hefty price in terms of prospects, and it assumed the lefty's signficant salary, knowing the kind of difference he could make on this stage.

"I'm ready for anything," said Miller, who was acquired from the Yankees the day before the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline. "We all are out there. It's just kind of all hands on deck. And, whenever I get the phone call, I try to get ready as quick as I can."

The bullpen phone rang in the fifth inning in Game 1 of the ALDS, and Miller answered with two shutout innings that set up a pressure-packed 5-4 victory in Cleveland. On Monday night, it rang in the sixth, and Miller once again gave Francona two high-leverage innings to bridge the gap to setup man and closer Allen.

With seven strikeouts in four scoreless innings, Miller may have been the MVP of the series.

Francona's managing of Miller and the bullpen played a critical role, too.

"Masterful," Antonetti said. "I'm incredibly grateful to be working alongside him."

Antonetti was also happy to have his young daughter, Mya, at his side on Monday night.