TORONTO -- In some alternate universe, the American League Championship Series might have turned when Blue Jays manager John Gibbons made that slow amble out of the dugout in Game 3, alerting home-plate umpire Brian Gorman to the blood that was rapidly staining Trevor Bauer's right pants leg.
It did not, as the Indians' very capable bullpen soaked up 25 outs and pushed the Blue Jays to the brink of elimination, then sent them home two days later with a 3-0 victory in Wednesday's Game 5. No matter what happens in the World Series, the Indians' bullpen use this October will be talked about for years to come.
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"That bullpen game after Bauer couldn't go, that was the key to the series," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "It put us up 3-0 and then we could just relax and play baseball from then on."
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ALCS MVP Andrew Miller has proved to be every bit the valuable weapon that the Indians thought he would be, as manager Terry Francona's favorite names in this ALCS were the ones repeatedly crossed off of his lineup card. His relievers soaked up 22 of 44 innings, permitting four earned runs and compiling a 1.63 ERA.
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"Our bullpen did some phenomenal things," Francona said. "They answered the bell time after time after time, and they're going to have to continue to do that. But everybody chips in wherever they're asked and they do the best they can. And to this point it's been good enough."
Over eight postseason games, Cleveland relievers have limited opponents to six earned runs in 32 1/3 innings (1.67 ERA), with a .212 opponent batting average and a 0.99 WHIP. The bulk of the work has been done by Miller (11 2/3 innings), Cody Allen (7 2/3 innings) and Bryan Shaw (5 2/3 innings).
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"Just top to bottom, we love our guys," Miller said. "We had guys out there who were getting their first playoff experience. Nobody was scared. Everybody went out there and attacked. They had every excuse to be rusty or not throw the ball well, and they didn't. What an awesome group."
It was telling how short Francona's leash was on starter Ryan Merritt in Game 5. Even though the rookie faced the minimum through the first four innings, Russell Martin's one-out single was enough to trigger the reliever sequence of Shaw, Miller and Allen. All pitched scorelessly.
"The way Francona used their bullpen is not something you see very often," Toronto's Kevin Pillar said. "You give him a lot of credit for taking guys out of their comfort zone from what they were doing all year. Shaw is one of the best setup guys in the game, and here we're seeing him in the fifth and sixth inning."
Allen said that he believes Indians catcher Roberto Pérez's effect has been overlooked in guiding the hurlers past the Blue Jays' potent offense, which scored the second-most runs in the Majors this season.
"We need everybody here," Perez said. "I think it's a collective thing. As a team we did a pretty good job. I think the main thing was, everybody was ready to pitch. It doesn't matter, any situation. Oh man, they were awesome.
"I think our starters gave us good innings and then our bullpen was fantastic. If we get to them early, we were going to have success. Tito loves this bullpen, I love our bullpen. It was a big team win."
Though there were some loud Toronto outs, navigating Game 5 seemed like a breeze compared to what Cleveland had to deal with in Game 3.
With Bauer unable to continue, "Disco" Dan Otero, Jeff Manship and Zach McAllister weaved through the next 3 2/3 innings before Shaw and Allen each recorded five outs before handing off to Miller.
"I don't think there's enough credit, first of all for guys that had long layoffs and came in to pitch well," Miller said. "Otero coming in because of Trevor's finger bleeding issue, and warming up in front of this crowd -- doing that whole routine in front of this crowd. For whatever reason, it's a lot more difficult than I think people give credit for."
That night, more than any other, reinforced the Indians' belief in relief.
"When we won that game, it was one of those things like, 'If we can win that game, we can win any game,'" Allen said.