Gibbons: 'Cleveland will be a great representative' for American League
By Alykhan Ravjiani
TORONTO -- Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro stood in front of reporters on Wednesday evening and smiled as he looked upon the group, wanting to make one thing clear.
"I'm going to give it a little time, and then go over and congratulate the Indians' organization," Shapiro said after Cleveland's 3-0 series-clinching victory in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. "Tell them I'm happy for them, and tell them to go out and win the World Series."
A trip to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1993 would have been special for the Blue Jays, who struggled in September before emerging with six consecutive victories -- including four straight in the postseason -- to make their second straight ALCS appearance. For Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins, that path was directed through Cleveland, where both executives had spent their entire professional careers before coming to Toronto prior to this season.
Instead, the Indians punched their first ticket to the World Series since 1997, with a chance to win for the first time since '48. Despite sustaining multiple injuries to its rotation, Cleveland's mix of strong pitching and timely hitting held Toronto to just eight runs in the series.
"We just got beat in this series," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Plain and simple. Cleveland will be a great representative of the American League."
Throughout the ALCS, there was a level of mutual respect on display between the two clubs.
"We grinded, we battled, they just did more than us," Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said. "They pitched extremely well the entire series, whether it was the starters, the bullpen, everybody. They played great defense throughout the entire series. They didn't make many mistakes. I think they made one mistake and that's the ballgame. They gave us a bit of life there. But overall, they deserved it. They played really well."
While Toronto extended the series with a 5-1 victory in Game 4 after opening with three consecutive losses, the Indians' winning formula of generating an early lead before turning it over to the bullpen once again played a critical role in their Game 5 victory.
Still, lefty reliever Brett Cecil said Toronto has plenty to be proud of, as does Cleveland after five tight games.
"They're a good team," Cecil said. "They've got great pitching and now they get a shot at the World Series. We didn't get blown out, and our group of starters did outstanding to keep us in every game. In the postseason, you face guys at the top of their game and you hope you come out on top. Cleveland deserves what they accomplished."
While the Blue Jays ultimately fell short of their goal, 39-year-old reliever Jason Grilli said the experience of postseason baseball should be cherished by every team, and something that will help Toronto improve for 2017.
"You try to savor what winning is, and you tip your cap to a team that played better than us," said Grilli, who made the World Series as a member of the Tigers in 2006. "You try to understand that there is only one team at the end that's really going to be happy, but it's hard not to appreciate the season. We haven't had time to do that yet, but we will. We've had one [heck] of a run."
Alykhan Ravjiani is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.