Wait until next year, Canada.
The Toronto Blue Jays couldn’t force the ALCS back to Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon, falling meekly to Ryan Merritt and Tito Francona’s invincible bullpen.
It wasn’t a surprise that the Blue Jays couldn’t hit Cody Allen and Andrew Miller; they haven’t been productive in the series, and those two have been outstanding for the entire month of October.
What did Toronto in was their inability to hit a starter with almost no experience. Francona had to go with Merritt, who had 11 career innings and one major-league start. The 24-year-old hadn’t pitched since Sept. 30, so he was going to be battling rust on top of everything else.
That’s why Jose Bautista thought he would be “shaking in his boots,” but the Blue Jays didn’t do anything to make him nervous.
Mike Napoli’s RBI double gave Merritt a 1-0 lead before he took the mound in the bottom of the first, and he quickly showed Toronto that it wasn’t going to easy to regain the advantage.
John Gibbons had thrown normal lineup logic out the window, deciding to put his best hitters at the top of the order without paying attention to speed. That meant Merritt would have to face Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion to begin the biggest game of his life.
It took him 12 pitches to get through the inning. Bautista and Donaldson grounded out before he struck out Encarnacion. It wasn’t a fluke, either. He struck out two more batters in a perfect second, then coasted through a 1-2-3 third.
He got Bautista again to start the fourth, meaning he had retired the first 10 batters of the game. Donaldson singled to end any dreams of a no-hitter, but Merritt didn’t flinch. He fooled Encarnacion with a 3-2 changeup, and got an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Troy Tulowitzki flew out to start the fifth, and Russell Martin popped up a cutter. The ball dropped between Jason Kipnis and Tyler Naquin for a base hit, and although it was hardly a bad pitch by the rookie, Francona wasn’t taking any chances.
He looked apologetic as he took Merritt out of the game, but he felt that he could count on his three top relievers to get the last 14 outs. Michael Saunders greeted Bryan Shaw with a single, putting two runners on with one out.
Down 3-0, the Blue Jays desperately needed a big hit, but Shaw struck out Ezequiel Carrera and Kevin Pillar to end the inning. Darwin Barney grounded out to start the sixth, but Bautista got a single.
Could this be Toronto’s moment? With Donaldson, Encarnacion and Tulowitzki coming up, was there one more Rogers Centre memory to be made in October?
Francona made sure the answer was “no.” He brought in his ultimate weapon, Andrew Miller, and the season ended on the next pitch. Miller jammed Donaldson with an inside fastball and the Indians turned a 6-4-3 double play that silenced the Toronto crowd.
There were still three innings to play, but the Blue Jays were finished. Miller cruised through the seventh and eighth, allowing one single, and Cody Allen put the Indians into the World Series with a scoreless ninth.
Facing elimination at home, the Blue Jays had been shut out by an unknown rookie and an overworked set of relief pitchers. Marco Estrada had done his job, allowing three runs — two earned — in six innings, and the Toronto bullpen held Cleveland scoreless in the last three frames.
That might have mattered if the Blue Jays offense had shown up, but it was just another wasted performance by Toronto’s pitching staff.
Maybe next year.