BOSTON -- The Indians entered this American League Division Series as underdogs, and they do not expect anything to change after they dispatched the Red Sox. Cleveland is used to being counted out, but it also enjoys the challenge of proving people wrong.
Following a 4-3 win in Game 3 on Monday night, a victory that completed a sweep of the favored Red Sox, the Tribe's players partied inside the cramped confines of Fenway Park's visitors' clubhouse. Boston was denied the kind of October comeback it has pulled off in the past, and the only solace for the Fenway faithful was that they were able to send off retiring icon David Ortiz in grand fashion.
"We might not be the most talented team in this league," said Indians manager Terry Francona, champagne dripped from the brim of his hat. "But, that doesn't mean we can't win. And I think everybody in here believes that. We get to keep playing. That's the best thing I can say. We get to keep playing. Hopefully, when it's time to go home, it can be on our terms."
The Indians dictated the tone of this ALDS series and are now bound for their first AL Championship Series since 2007. Right-hander Josh Tomlin ignored the taunts of a Fenway crowd that mockingly chanted his name and gave a gritty, five-inning effort. Coco Crisp delivered a critical home run, and Francona leaned heavily again on his bullpen to seal the win.
Fittingly, Cleveland will now take on the Blue Jays in the ALCS, starting on Friday (8 p.m. ET on TBS) at Progressive Field. Toronto is led by team president Mark Shapiro, who spent the previous 24 years in the Tribe's front office.
During a break in the celebration, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said he was looking forward to the challenge ahead against a familiar face.
"I wouldn't be standing here today and having this opportunity, if it wasn't for Mark," Antonetti said as the players partied behind him. "For both of us to advance to the ALCS is really a dream come true. At a minimum, we know one of the two of us is going to end up in the World Series. Obviously, right now, I've got a strong preference on which one."
Once again, it was the bullpen that pulled Cleveland home in the ALDS. Francona -- in possession of a 4-1 lead -- went to Andrew Miller with none out in the sixth. The lanky lefty got six big outs and exited with a two-run lead. Bryan Shaw recorded the first two outs in the eighth and closer Cody Allen recorded the last four outs of the game.
"It's impressive because we got it done," Miller said. "This offense that we faced, this team is so great, but particularly from the perspective of a relief pitcher, this offense is just unbelievable. To find a way, it doesn't have to be pretty, and it wasn't tonight.
"I think certainly, Bryan and Cody and I would like to be more efficient and effective and straightforward, but it's just these guys are so darn good. And just find a way to get it done is all that matters at the end of the day."
It was initially difficult for Allen in the eighth inning as Ortiz -- playing in the final game of his career -- walked. Hanley Ramirez stung a single to make it a one-run game. But Xander Bogaerts lined one right to second, and the Indians had escaped another threat. Allen again escaped trouble in the ninth, working out of a two-on, two-out jam and clinching the series by inducing Travis Shaw's flyout to right.
"Our guys battled through it," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "There was a lot on the line there, but we always knew that the pressure was on [the Red Sox]. And that helped us relax a little bit and make pitch after pitch and put the pressure on them, and get a popup in the end."
Just like that, the end of the season for the Red Sox meant the end of the line for the beloved Ortiz, who announced 11 months ago that this would be his final season.
"Given how we performed as an offensive team throughout the year, and it's not to take anything away from their pitching, but I think there was no more than one run we were able to score in any one inning," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "The inability to string some hits together, generate the bigger inning, that wasn't there.
For the city of Cleveland, this was a series win to savor. Back in 1999, the Red Sox trailed 2-0 in the ALDS and turned the tables by beating the Indians in five games. In 2007, the Red Sox came back from a 3-1 ALCS deficit against the Tribe en route to the World Series. Back then, Crisp was playing for the Red Sox, and Francona was Boston's manager.
"It's a little storybook," Crisp said. "I started my career off with the Cleveland Indians in the big leagues. ... I had been here before and I played for Tito, and played with some of these guys. Storybook? I would say, so far, it is."
This time, Crisp haunted his former team with a two-run shot against Drew Pomeranz (a former Indian) to give Cleveland a three-run lead in the sixth.
It was a series that had crossovers galore. Miller came of age as a reliever for Boston. Now with the Indians, he was one of the key performers in this series.
The Indians broke out first in the fourth. After a leadoff single by Jose Ramirez and a walk to Lonnie Chisenhall, Francona went small ball and Crisp bunted the runners to second and third. That paid off when Tyler Naquin stung a two-run single to break the scoreless tie.
Tomlin did enough to get the win, holding Boston to four hits and two runs over five innings. Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz took the loss, giving up six hits and two runs while walking one and striking out four.
"I don't really know how to describe it right now," Tomlin said. "This is a whirlwind of emotions. In a place like this, in an atmosphere like this, it's tough. We knew it was going to be tough. We knew what we were getting ourselves into coming in. But, we put ourselves in a good position going forward.
"We put good at-bats together. We made pitches when we had to. And we get to celebrate right now, so it's a great feeling. It's an unbelievable feeling."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED No trouble with the curve: Naquin led the Major Leagues (minimum 50 at-bats) this season with a .366 average and a .715 slugging percentage on offspeed pitches (curveballs, sliders and changeups). With runners on second and third in the fourth inning, Buchholz threw two curves to the rookie. Naquin pulled the second one -- a 77-mph inside breaking ball -- down the right-field line for a two-run single that opened the scoring.
"My job's to at least push one run across," Naquin said. "I just make sure I got a pitch I could do something with. I tried to lift a curveball up in the air for the first one, and then I got another one and was able to do something with it, and pushed two across. That was a big hit, a big feeling, a big moment. It was just unbelievable."
Papi walks off: With the Red Sox trying to rally back in the eighth, Ortiz -- in what wound up as the final plate appearance of his career -- drew a walk against Allen. After moving into scoring position on Hanley Ramirez's single to left, Ortiz came out for pinch-runner Marco Hernandez. As he came off the field, Ortiz got a loud ovation. From his perch in the dugout, he raised his hands over his head in an effort to keep the crowd-noise high. Roughly 10 minutes after the game, Ortiz thrilled the home fans by coming back out for a final curtain call. He stood on the mound and tearfully tipped his cap, staying on the field for about five minutes.
"I'm happy, not just for me, not just how my career went down, but for the organization, the step that we took, from going from last place [in the AL East] to winning the division this year," Ortiz said. "Even if things didn't end up the way we were looking for, but I believe that in baseball, especially in the baseball game that we play in today's day, it's a big step because it's like going from bad to good, from day to night. And I told my teammates about it, I want them to feel happy and proud about themselves. And do what I did back in the day. Reflect that in the following year and come back and fight.
"I told them, 'Listen, we only played three games this playoff, but you guys saw the intensity. You guys saw the emotions. You guys saw the best of the best playing. You guys take a little bit of that. Make sure that carries over for the following year.'"
Crisp's Monster shot: Cleveland acquired Crisp in an August trade to add a veteran bat to its outfield mix and to have a postseason replacement for the ineligible Abraham Almonte. The acquisition paid dividends in the sixth, when Crisp gave the Tribe's pitchers some breathing room with a two-run homer that landed atop the Green Monster. Crisp's shot off Pomeranz made it 4-1. Per Statcast™, the blast had an exit velocity of 103 mph and traveled a projected 394 feet.
"I don't know if [Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff] and the guys get enough credit for the things we do," Francona said. "When we didn't have Abe, that was a big hole. And Coco has the experience and he showed it tonight. He gets down in the count and gets a breaking ball he can handle and hits it out. At the time, those were huge runs, because we had to make them hold up."
Pedroia stab minimizes damage: The Indians had already scored two runs in the fourth and were threatening to lengthen the rally when Roberto Perez stung a grounder up the middle. But Dustin Pedroia made a brilliant stab, gathered himself and fired to first to get the out, the second of the inning. Buchholz struck out Carlos Santana to end the frame and kept the deficit to 2-0.
Miller Time: After Tomlin allowed a leadoff single to Pedroia in the sixth, Francona handed the ball to Miller. The big lefty opened with a strikeout against Aaron Hill, but Miller then ran into trouble when Mookie Betts pulled a pitch high off the left-field wall for a double. That set up a critical confrontation with Ortiz, who sent a low liner to center, where it was snared on the run by Rajai Davis. Pedroia tagged and scored on the play, cutting Cleveland's lead to 4-2. Miller ended the inning with a strikeout of Ramirez. Miller logged two innings, bridging the gap to Shaw and Allen.
"We're here to win games," Tomlin said. "We're not here to take pride and say, 'You know what? I'd like to go seven innings and get a win.' That's not what it's about. It's about trying to get a 'W' and, knowing what you have in that bullpen, whenever Tito comes out there, you know he's making a decision that best benefits the team, as opposed to one individual. This is not about individual accolades for anybody in here. Everyone's bought into that."
"We made a ton of steps. We're in good shape. I think, especially with what David did leadership-wise with a ton of guys, you know, he's leaving us in good shape. We'll be all right." -- Pedroia, on the Red Sox after Ortiz
"I was surprised there were that many people that knew my name, to be honest with you." -- Tomlin, on the crowd chanting his name in the fifth
"We were the underdogs coming out of this one. Nobody predicted we were coming out of this one. But we're focusing more on the people to prove right, the ones in here who are on our side and we're looking forward to the next stage." -- Jason Kipnis
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Crisp became the seventh player (age 36 or older) in Indians history to hit a home run in the postseason, joining Kenny Lofton (2007 ALCS), Ellis Burks (2001 ALDS), Harold Baines (1999 ALDS), Eddie Murray (three times, oldest in 1995 World Series), Tony Pena (1995 ALDS) and Hank Majeski (1954 World Series).
Naquin became only the second rookie in franchise history to drive in multiple runs in one postseason game. Asdrubal Cabrera also achieved the feat for the Indians with two RBIs in Game 1 of the '07 ALCS against the Red Sox.
This was the sixth time in Red Sox history they've been swept in a postseason series. The last four have been in the Division Series.
WHAT'S NEXT Indians: Due to the three-game sweep against the Red Sox, the Indians can align their rotation as they see fit. The Game 1 starter hasn't been announced, but ace Corey Kluber would be a safe bet to take the ball in the ALCS opener against the Blue Jays on Friday at 8 p.m. ET on TBS.