CLEVELAND -- The road to October is rarely a smooth one. The Indians came into this season expecting to contend, but they could not have predicted the amount of obstacles that would come up on the way to the American League Central crown.
The Indians played most of the year without star outfielder Michael Brantley, and they dealt with injuries to core players Yan Gomes, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Still, Cleveland found ways to win, dominating its division rivals and capturing its first Central title since 2007. It has all added up to a date with the Red Sox in the American League Division Series, beginning at 8:08 p.m. on Thursday (TBS) at Progressive Field.
"We knew we would face adversity," Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said. "[Indians manager Terry Francona] told us from Day 1: Respect the clubhouse, respect each other, respect the people around you and play the game the way the Tribe plays the game, and we'll come out with good things at the end of the year."
Here are five days that changed the season for the Tribe:
It looked like a risky move, considering Napoli had dealt with a variety of health issues and worked as a platoon player at times in recent seasons, but the one-year deal to sign the first baseman paid enormous dividends. Napoli brought the kind of right-handed power that had been missing for years, becoming the first righty slugger to have 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs for Cleveland since 2001. Fans embraced the "Party at Napoli's" rallying cry, turning him into a cult hero in no time. Napoli and Carlos Santana became a powerful duo, belting 34 homers apiece and helping to make up for the loss of Brantley. Napoli has wowed Cleveland crowds with tape measure shots, including one on July 8 that nearly reached the scoreboard behind the bleachers at Progressive Field.
July 1: Tribe wins 19-inning marathon
In order to complete the longest winning streak in franchise history -- an incredible run of 14 straight victories -- Cleveland had to survive a grueling extra-inning affair in Toronto. Francona burned through his pitching staff and watched both teams trade zeros in this endurance test at Rogers Centre. Starter Trevor Bauer came out of the bullpen to log five shutout innings, while Santana belted a solo shot in the 19th that held up for a signature win. The game came with a cost, though. Cleveland's rotation needed to be realigned and the bullpen was drained, leading to some tough transactions over the ensuing weeks. It was another test of the Tribe's mettle, and the team passed it with flying colors.
Solidifying the bullpen was a goal for the Indians at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Chris Antonetti, the team's president of baseball operations, got his man in Miller. Cleveland shipped four prospects, including highly touted outfielder Clint Frazier, to the Yankees in order to reel in the big lefty, pulling off one of the most memorable blockbuster moves in years for the Tribe. Miller delivered, serving as a high-leverage arm for Francona, who was suddenly able to better line up his relievers for the most opportune situations. Over the final two months, Cleveland featured arguably the most dominant bullpen in the Majors. The Indians also swung a deal to acquire All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy, but he exercised his no-trade clause and eventually was dealt to Texas.
Aug. 19: Naquin's incredible walk-off
Home-field advantage in the ALDS could be exactly that -- an advantage -- for Cleveland. The Indians ended the regular season with the best home record (53-28) in the AL and the most walk-off wins (11) in the league. Nine players delivered the game-winning blows. The most memorable one arrived on Aug. 19 against the Blue Jays. After Jose Ramirez -- one of the Tribe's breakout stars this year -- knotted the game at 2 in the ninth, Naquin delivered a hit that will go down in Indians lore. The rookie outfielder pulled a pitch to deep right, where it caromed off the wall and landed in no-man's land. Naquin raced around the bases, with teammates sprinting alongside him, as he ran from third base to home. He slid across the plate for a walk-off, inside-the-park home run -- a first for Cleveland in 100 years.
Sept. 17: Carrasco lost for season
The Indians' ability to overcome adversity was put to an extreme test down the stretch. Not only was Salazar lost to an arm injury in early September, but Carrasco was also knocked out for the season on Sept. 17. Two pitches into an outing against Detroit, the pitcher was struck on the right hand by a line drive from Ian Kinsler. Francona went on to employ eight relievers in a game that dragged on for 10 frames. Three relievers logged mult-inning efforts, and Ramirez eventually delivered a walk-off single for a 1-0 win. Cleveland became the first team in MLB history to use nine pitchers in a shutout. It was yet another look at the resiliency that the Indians have shown all season.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.