By winning the AL Championship Series in five games, the Cleveland Indians not only captured a spot in the World Series, they also earned a break this team could sorely use.
Injuries to starters Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer left Cleveland in a tough spot even as the Indians kept winning. They started Corey Kluber on short rest in Game 4 of the ALCS against Toronto, then sent a virtual unknown to the mound for Game 5 in Ryan Merritt. Cleveland won Game 5 and the series behind a solid effort from Merritt, but the Indians would love for Bauer and perhaps even Salazar to be able to contribute at some point soon.
If not, well, Cleveland can still rely on a bullpen that’s been up to the task so far. ALCS MVP Andrew Miller has received much of the attention, but the Indians go deeper than that. Their relievers have posted a 1.67 ERA in 32 1/3 innings this postseason, with Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw also making important contributions.
The World Series starts Tuesday, and Cleveland is four wins from its first title since 1948. If the Indians pull it off, they could join an impressive list of teams who have won championships thanks to terrific relief pitching.
Here are a few more examples:
OAKLAND ATHLETICS (1972)
Long before the concept of the one-inning closer took hold, bullpens were run much differently. Rollie Fingers was Oakland’s star reliever during this era. In 1972, he went 11-9 with 21 saves in 65 appearances, pitching 111 1/3 innings, and Joe Horlen, Bob Locker and Darold Knowles also contributed out of the bullpen. The A’s beat Cincinnati to win the World Series in seven games, with Fingers appearing in six of them and posting a 1.74 ERA.
OAKLAND ATHLETICS (1989)
Tony La Russa’s 1989 champions were led by Dennis Eckersley (33 saves, 1.56 ERA) and got solid work from Todd Burns, Rick Honeycutt and Gene Nelson. The A’s won it all in ’89, but Kirk Gibson’s homer off Eckersley cost them the previous year, and in 1990, Oakland was denied by another incredible bullpen…
CINCINNATI REDS (1990)
Randy Myers, Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble — dubbed the “Nasty Boys” — formed a dominant late-inning trio for Lou Piniella’s Reds. Dibble’s numbers were particularly outstanding: 136 strikeouts in 98 innings and a 1.74 ERA. Cincinnati swept the A’s in the World Series.
NEW YORK YANKEES (1996)
Before he became one of the game’s greatest closers, Mariano Rivera was a setup man in 1996, throwing 107 2/3 innings and finishing third in the Cy Young vote. Closer John Wetteland earned World Series MVP honors, and Jeff Nelson was also a factor in that six-game victory over Atlanta.
ANAHEIM ANGELS (2002)
Francisco Rodriguez’s debut year consisted of 5 2/3 innings in the regular season, then the Angels turned him loose in the postseason to devastating effect. He struck out 28 in 18 2/3 innings during Anaheim’s march to the title, teaming up with relievers Brendan Donnelly and Troy Percival to form a championship-level bullpen.
BOSTON RED SOX (2013)
Closer Koji Uehara capped an amazing season by allowing one run in 13 2/3 postseason innings. He was the ALCS MVP and had help all the way through from Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS (2015)
After reaching Game 7 of the World Series the previous year behind the relief trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera, the Royals won the title in 2015. Holland was unavailable for that postseason because of an injury, but Davis and Herrera were up to the challenge, combining to allow one earned run in 24 1/3 innings.