TORONTO -- When the Blue Jays eliminated the Rangers in the American League Division Series on Sunday night, Toronto president Mark Shapiro sent his Cleveland counterpart and former protégé Chris Antonetti a two-word text: "Your turn."Antonetti's Indians lived up to their end of the bargain by eliminating the Red Sox
TORONTO -- When the Blue Jays eliminated the Rangers in the American League Division Series on Sunday night, Toronto president Mark Shapiro sent his Cleveland counterpart and former protégé Chris Antonetti a two-word text: "Your turn."
Antonetti's Indians lived up to their end of the bargain by eliminating the Red Sox with a 4-3 victory in Game 3 on Monday night at Fenway Park. Now these two teams that are so familiar with each other will get a chance to do battle in the AL Championship Series, which starts Friday at Progressive Field (8 p.m. ET on TBS and, in Canada, Sportsnet and RDS).
:: ALCS: Blue Jays vs. Indians coverage ::
The Blue Jays were dubbed "Cleveland North" after Shapiro left the Indians to become Toronto's new team president last year. During the ensuing months, Shapiro brought on board Indians executives Ross Atkins and Andrew Miller to become his general manager and vice president of business operations, respectively.
"There are individuals there that I know very well and care about," Atkins said Monday night, "but there's only one organization that I work for, and it's the Toronto Blue Jays. Personally, I'm focused on us winning. But personally, there are individuals there that I would be happy for ... but that's not any different than the Texas Rangers or the Los Angeles Dodgers. I just happen to have a few more relationships in Cleveland."
There's an "All in the Family" kind of feel to this series, but the bonds and relationships will be put on hold for a short time.
"It's something I've tried not to think about," Shapiro said shortly after Toronto advanced to the ALCS. "But I texted Chris Antonetti a two-word text about 10 minutes ago. ... Up until the moment they play us, I pull for those guys."
"How could it be any other way than that?" Indians chief executive officer Paul Dolan said. "I'm actually thrilled about that. I'm happy for Mark. It'll be fun to battle with him and spend some time with him in the process, too."
This marks the first time these two teams have met during the postseason. Toronto is making its second consecutive appearance in the ALCS, but it hasn't made the World Series since winning back-to-back championships in 1992-93. Cleveland is appearing in its first ALCS since 2007, when it lost to Boston in seven games. The Indians haven't been to the World Series since 1997 and they haven't won it all since '48.
"I'm incredibly grateful," Antonetti said. "I wouldn't be standing here today and having this opportunity if it wasn't for Mark. For both of us to advance to the ALCS is really a dream come true. At a minimum, we know one of the two of us is going to end up in the World Series."
Cleveland enters this series with home-field advantage after a 94-67 record was enough to run away with the AL Central. The Blue Jays had a more difficult journey after not clinching a Wild Card spot until the final day of the regular season and then riding the momentum of eliminating Baltimore to a series sweep over Texas.
On paper, there are a lot of similarities between these two teams that go well beyond the front office. The Blue Jays are still mostly known for their star power on offense, but it was actually pitching and defense that helped the club get to this point, and the same thing could be said about the Indians.
Toronto and Cleveland ranked first and second in almost every major statistical pitching category. The Blue Jays were first in the AL with a 3.78 ERA, and the Indians were a close second at 3.84. Injuries to Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco likely means Toronto has an edge in the rotation, but the advantage in the bullpen goes to the Tribe, which has the two-headed monster of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.
"They're a tough task," Allen said of the Jays. "They're a tough assignment. And they're playing really good baseball right now, but so are we. We're excited for it. There's a lot of guys in this clubhouse that have never experienced this, so we're going to enjoy it tonight, probably tomorrow, and then we're going to focus on Friday."
On offense, Cleveland held the edge during the regular season with 777 runs scored compared to 759, but the Blue Jays have arguably swung the bats better over the past week than they have all season. With not a lot of separation, it's no surprise that the Indians won the season series, but it was only by a 4-3 margin.
"We really picked it up at the end just to get in," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Since the month has turned over to October, it kind of looks like the old team. But pitching has held up very good all year and we're leaning heavy on that bullpen."
The Blue Jays will have four days off and the Indians will have three days off as the teams prepare for Friday's Game 1. That could be beneficial for both sides, with a number of injuries taking a toll at this time of the year and a pair of bullpens that have been overworked in recent weeks.
"Hopefully the Indians ... have the same break, because I think that's one of the things that gave us a little bit of an edge over Texas," right fielder José Bautista said after his team swept Texas. "We played meaningful games down the stretch, and they were just kind of sitting back and enjoying the end of the season after clinching early."
Now that the ALCS is set, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis is looking forward to a challenging series.
"Every team's good right now," Kipnis said. "Everybody knows who the good teams were in a long season like 162 games, you know which teams are the tough teams. After Boston, Toronto is another. Just like here, great lineup, imposing lineup, a tough staff. But like I said, we ain't backing down from anybody and we're looking forward to the challenge."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.