MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Indians grow into compelling postseason tale

Underrated offense, strong 'pen buoy club in sweep of Red Sox

Indians grow into compelling postseason tale

BOSTON -- He was shoeless, sockless, his naked feet soaked in champagne and bad beer. But they needed Chris Antonetti outside for a television interview, so a media relations guy offered the Indians president his slippery-but-still-functional sandals for the walk through the dank hallway that leads to Fenway Park's visiting dugout.

Yes, even after the Indians had toppled the Red Sox in a three-game American League Division Series sweep on Monday night, there were signals of how they got here in the first place -- excellent acquisitions, perseverance in the face of bad breaks ... or, in this case, bare feet.

"Instead of focusing on what we didn't have or which guys weren't healthy or what challenges we encountered," Antonetti said, "our guys just focused on trying to find a way to win that night's game."

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 6 CLE 5, BOS 4 video
Gm 2 Oct. 7 CLE 6, BOS 0 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 CLE 4, BOS 3 video

The Indians won 94 games to claim the AL's second seed, but to believe they'd win three more required either a die-hard disposition or, at the very least, an intimate understanding of October's nuances.

You'll remember, of course, the kerfuffle that arose when a local writer deemed the Tribe's hope of advancing out of the ALDS to be DBA (that's Dead Before Arrival) at the time No. 2 starter Carlos Carrasco broke a bone in his hand, and the sentiment was perhaps understandable. But focusing on what wasn't here distracted onlookers from what was.

"People can say whatever they think," Carrasco said on Monday. "The truth is here."

The truth lied in an underrated offense accustomed to platoon advantages, a deep bullpen anchored by Andrew Miller, an aggressive mentality on the basepaths, a dependable defense and, perhaps most importantly, a progressive and proactive manager in Terry Francona.

All of those attributes came in handy this past week. And when Sunday's rainout threatened to neutralize Francona's ability to be aggressive with his 'pen (read: Miller) because of the pertinent possibility of Games 3, 4 and 5 being played in successive days, the Indians got just what they needed to go for the throat.

Miller on his clutch outing

Josh Tomlin gave them five good innings in which the once-mighty Red Sox's offense continued to be mystified by these new creations known as breaking balls and changeups. Then it was Coco Crisp delivering the dagger in the form of a monster two-run shot over the Green Monster and Miller, though perhaps not in total command of his command, pushing it along to the eighth.

Crisp's two-run homer

Just look at those names.

Tomlin, the fifth starter who not long ago lost his spot in the starting five because of a high home run rate but was thrust into October action by the erosion of a once-elite rotation. Crisp, the prodigal son who was dealt to these same Sox way back in '06, only to return with the Indians after an August trade with the A's to fill in for October ineligible Abraham Almonte. And of course, Miller, the key non-waiver Trade Deadline pickup -- the guy this low-budget club raided its foundation on the farm to obtain.

There were other surprising standouts in this series.

Yogi Perez ... no, wait, I'm sorry, it appears his name is actually Roberto Perez ... left a lasting impression in Game 1, with his solo homer, his tag of Brock Holt at home plate on a close play and the way he willed his 220-pound frame to aggressively tag up from first to second and set up what turned out to be the winning run. Remember: Perez had played all of five games in the Minors while on rehab assignment after fracturing his thumb when duty called, in the form of Yan Gomes separating his shoulder in July. He's come a long way.

Naquin's two-run single

How about young Tyler Naquin? The rookie drove in an early pair to break the scoreless tie in the fourth on Monday night. And he was only rostered A. after Almonte was suspended for PEDs in Spring Training and again when B. Marlon Byrd received a PED suspension of his own.

Lonnie Chisenhall hit the huge homer in Game 2. And he did it off a lefty. And he did it off one of the best lefties in the game, David Price. It was the kind of unexpected mash that makes a manager look brilliant, but credit to Chisenhall for a very solid offensive season when he had become all-too-easy to write off and for coming through in the clutch in a handedness matchup that once was his enemy.

One of the great defensive plays of this series came in the fifth inning of Game 3, when Jose Ramirez made a spinning backhand grab of a hard Mookie Betts grounder to get a 5-4 fielder's choice in a huge spot. They showed the replay on the giant videoboard, and Ramirez watched it and nodded in approval.

Ramirez's great stop

People ask how the Indians survived this season without star outfielder Michael Brantley. The answer is Jose Ramirez.

In the last 12 months, other front offices might have fared as well as Antonetti, Mike Chernoff, Derek Falvey and Co. at rounding out their ballclubs, but none were better. The Indians signed Mike Napoli to a one-year deal, and he came through with a career year. They signed Rajai Davis to a one-year deal, and he proved he still has a lot of life in those 35-year-old legs. Anybody notice non-roster invitee Dan Otero threw up a 1.53 ERA? Anyone notice Brandon Guyer turned in a .907 OPS after coming aboard on Deadline day, and then had a three-hit day in Game 2?

Heck, even the light-hitting and ultimately DFA'd Juan Uribe was worth the $3 million just for that line about his cup size.

One last and very important point that must be made: Indians ownership gets crushed annually for the club's inability to play in free agency's deep waters. But even in a year in which this club ranked 28th in attendance, Paul Dolan ponied up to take on the Miller contract and the Crisp contract (roughly $5 million in all) at a time when budgets are less-than-fungible. The Indians didn't sweat the small stuff, either. Witness Napoli maxing out his bonuses with his final plate appearance of the regular season.

Lindor on win over Red Sox

"It's not a popularity contest," Dolan said. "We're doing what we can to win with the resources that we have. This is looking like the kind of year where it's happening."

What's happening next is an AL Championship Series date with Mark Shapiro's Blue Jays beginning on Friday at 8 p.m. ET on TBS. The Indians facing their former architect is a pretty good story. But merely getting to this point is a great story all its own.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.