CLEVELAND — Left fielder Michael Brantley was present for the Indians’ postseason run last year, but he wasn’t a participant.
After being limited to 11 games in 2016, Brantley, a veteran clubhouse leader stuck around for the playoffs, but only as a cheerleader, rooting on his team as it advanced all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
Even though injuries have sidetracked him again this year — limiting his role in the first round — Brantley is at least on the ALDS roster after contributing an All-Star first half for the American League’s top-seeded team.
“I’m so proud to be a part of it,” said Brantley, who batted .299 with nine home runs and 52 RBIs in 90 games, missing close to two months with a right ankle injury that put his postseason status in jeopardy. “When I first started here, we weren’t that good. It’s no secret. Now we’re World Series contenders, we’re playing great baseball, we won 100 games, we had one of the longest winning streaks (22 games) — all of these positive things we’re doing. It’s great. “We came so far with a lot of good people who are all pulling in the right direction, with a lot of great players who care about winning and care about each other. I think that’s very important.”
Lonnie Chisenhall started in place of Brantley in left field for Game 1. Chisenhall also battled a late-season injury with a right calf sprain.
After dealing with a knee injury in the second half, left-hander Andrew Miller might not be able to fill the workhorse role he did last postseason — 10 appearances, 19 1⁄3 innings — but it’s safe to say the Indians will employ last year’s ALCS MVP as often as possible.
“I think some of how he pitches will dictate (it),” manager Terry Francona said. “He’s in a pretty good place. He’s done everything coming back. He’s pitched
back-to-back (days). He’s gone multiple innings. Again, I don’t know if you’ll see a 50-pitch outing, but we plan to use him as a big weapon. But we also have guys in the bullpen, (Bryan) Shaw and Cody (Allen) and Joe Smith, that we think complement each other really well.”
Miller posted a 1.44 ERA over 57 appearances, striking out 95 batters over 622⁄3 innings. He didn’t allow a run over his last nine appearances of the regular season after being activated from the injured list, striking out 16 over eight innings.
After some early struggles, the Indians rotation shined, posting the AL’s lowest ERA (3.52) in front of the Yankees’ 3.98.
“I mean, I guess, to make it as simple as I can, it boiled down to us doing what we do best, not — I guess in a way more so going out there and executing our game plan as opposed to trying to adjust or pitch to the hitters,” ace Corey Kluber said. “I mean, obviously, you’re going to have a game plan for each hitter, but not worrying about them as much as going with our strengths and how our strengths can best get those guys out. I think, in a way, we were almost just doing it backwards at the beginning.”
King and his court
LeBron James and multiple Cavaliers teammates were in attendance for Game 1.
James and company were frequent visitors to Progressive Field during the Indians’ postseason run last year. He addressed the crowd during Game 2 of the Division Series against Boston, yelling, “Cleveland against the world,” and was shown flexing from a suite when Rajai Davis hit the game-tying homer in Game 7 of the World Series.
“I think it’s pretty cool that they want to show up and support the Indians,” Francona said. “Yeah, I think it’s neat. It’s not going to help us score any runs or get the Yankees out, but still, yeah, it’s pretty cool. I think everybody enjoys that.
“I know last year when LeBron kind of grabbed the microphone, I think everybody got a kick out of that. So, I think it’s good.”
James was a longtime Yankees fan before allegedly switching his allegiance to the Indians. He wore a Yankees hat to a Division Series game at Progressive Field in 2007.
“I had not remembered that, but I do now,” Francona joked. “I’m hopeful that he won’t be (rooting for the Yankees). I don’t think I need to be telling LeBron what to do, but I think he’ll be rooting for the Indians.”
New York’s Game 2 starter and former Indians ace CC Sabathia isn’t so sure.
“I know he’s a Yankee fan, but I think he has to put on a front for the city (of Cleveland),” said Sabathia.
We meet again
The Indians and Yankees are opponents for the fourth time in postseason history.
They met most recently in ’07, when Cleveland beat New York 3-1 in the Division Series. The Indians also beat the Yanks in five games in the 1997 ALDS, but lost 4-2 in the 1998 ALCS.
Cleveland holds an 8-7 advantage in postseason play.
- The Indians posted the AL’s lowest bullpen ERA at 2.89, while the Yankees ranked third at 3.34. Cleveland’s .263 team batting average was second to Houston’s .282, with the Yankees ranking third with a .262 average and leading the league with 241 homers.
- The Indians won five of seven games from the Yankees during the regular season.
- First base coach Sandy Alomar threw out the ceremonial first pitch, with former Indians third baseman Travis Fryman scheduled to do the same tonight.
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