Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
TORONTO — For all the passion that Clevelanders pour into their sports teams, they have suffered a disproportionate amount of bitter misfortune. For decades, the city’s premier stadium was known as the Mistake by the Lake, and teams like the Browns, the Cavaliers and the Indians endured agonizing defeats — or were simply abject failures for generations at a time.
But in June, the Cavaliers shattered that aura of defeat, winning their first N.B.A. championship, and a new feeling of possibility and success enveloped the city like a mood-altering fog, even drifting across the street in Cleveland to Progressive Field, where the Indians play.
Suddenly, anything seemed possible in the city, and now the Indians, who have not won a World Series since 1948, are only four wins from claiming their own title.
On Wednesday, in front of a loud and hostile crowd at Rogers Centre, the Indians took another step on the road to erasing almost seven decades of pitiless failure. They defeated the Toronto Blue Jays, 3-0, in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series to clinch the series, 4-1, and win their first A.L. pennant in 19 years.
If the Cavaliers could win a championship this year, perhaps destiny dictates that the Indians will, too.
“I hope so,” second baseman Jason Kipnis said amid a Champagne-and-beer celebration. “They broke the curse for Cleveland. That did a lot for the city, and it lifted the gray cloud over us that Cleveland can’t win. If we are on the verge of winning two titles in the same year, you can’t ask for much more than that.”
First, the Indians defied the experts by winning the A.L. Central. Few people picked them to beat the Boston Red Sox in their division series, and not many more picked them to overcome the Blue Jays.
“I got news for you,” Kipnis said. “No one is picking us next series. And we don’t care. If it means we’re going to win again, none of us care.”
The final stretch of Cleveland’s route to the World Series was negotiated in part by the rookie Ryan Merritt, who pitched brilliantly in only his second major league start and fifth game.
He tossed four and a third shutout innings, allowing only two hits by the Blue Jays’ dangerous and playoff-tested lineup. Carlos Santana and Coco Crisp hit home runs for the Indians, and Cleveland’s marquee bullpen — including Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen — took care of the rest. Miller was named the most valuable player of the series.
“They answered the bell time after time after time,” Indians Manager Terry Francona said. “And they’re going to have to continue to do that.”
Merritt, a 24-year-old from Celina, Tex., was the unlikeliest of stars, considering his inexperience. After Game 4, which the Blue Jays won by 5-1, the Toronto slugger Jose Bautista said Merritt would be “shaking in his boots more than we are.”
Bautista went 0 for 2 against Merritt, who set down the first 10 batters he faced, until Josh Donaldson singled in the fourth. The only other hit against him was a bloop single by Russell Martin in the fifth. In front of a thunderous crowd, Merritt did not walk anyone.
“He was the best pitcher today,” Miller said. “What a special experience for him. We’re going to the World Series because he pitched well.”
Merritt was drafted by the Indians in 2011 when Mark Shapiro was in charge of baseball operations for Cleveland. Shapiro, who spent 24 years with the Indians, left the team last year and took a similar position with the Blue Jays, leaving him a disappointed onlooker Wednesday as many of the players and coaches that he assembled won the pennant.
“Right now, the primary feeling is bitterness,” he said before going into the Indians’ clubhouse to offer congratulations. “Every single team feels that way but one at the very end. As things settle, I will certainly be happy for them and pulling for them.”
The last time Cleveland played in the World Series was 1997, when they took a lead into the ninth inning of Game 7 against the Marlins. But Jose Mesa, the Indians’ closer at the time, blew the save, and the Marlins won the game in the 11th. The catcher in that game was Sandy Alomar Jr., now Cleveland’s first-base coach.
“The city is starving for this,” Alomar said. “The baseball team, we’ve been so close, and we haven’t gotten the trophy. We’ll keep pushing hard to do it.”
In a year when much of the focus has been on the Chicago Cubs’ quest to break their 108-year championship drought, the Indians have made it back to the World Series with a chance to break a long titleless streak of their own — perhaps even at the expense of the Cubs.
Game 1 of the World Series will be in Cleveland on Tuesday, the same night the Cavaliers will raise their championship banner, before a game against the Knicks at Quicken Loans Arena.
“I can’t wait to see what it’s like in Cleveland, honestly,” Miller said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Obviously, they got a taste of the basketball championship. I’m looking forward to seeing how they react. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”