CLEVELAND – The guest list for Ryan Merritt’s upcoming wedding could be growing.
Cleveland’s rookie pitcher has made a lot of new friends.
A most improbable October hero for the Cleveland Indians, Merritt has been overwhelmed by the generous outpouring from some fans for sending wedding gifts to him and his fiancée, Sarah Brushaber, after the 24-year-old pitched so well in the American League pennant-clinching victory at Toronto on Wednesday.
Not long after Merritt worked 4⅓ scoreless innings and the Indians earned their first World Series trip since 1997, fans found the couple’s wedding registry online and flooded them with gifts. The wedding is set for Jan. 27 in Rochester. Brushaber is a 2011 Rochester Century graduate, and the couple met through Merritt’s minor league teammate Mitch Brown, a former standout pitcher at Century.
“Minnesota. So we’re going to have a cold wedding,” Merritt, a native Texan, said with a shiver.
Now Merritt and Brushaber are up to their necks in blenders, wine glasses, oven mitts and muffin tins.
“It’s just cool that they care about Ryan’s personal life besides his career,” Brushaber told WEWS-TV.
Said Merritt: “At first I thought it was all a joke. It’s the last thing I thought was going to come out of all of this. It’s pretty emotional. Awesome.”
The soft-spoken Merritt spoke Friday as the Indians prepared for Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night, which will be at Cleveland’s Progressive Field. As he met with reporters, Merritt — an unknown to most Cleveland fans days ago — nervously struggled to express his gratitude toward the strangers, who have made him feel so welcomed even though he just joined the team.
Merritt was a late addition to the American League Championship Series roster following a series of setbacks to Cleveland’s starting rotation. But handed the ball to start Game 5 in Toronto, Merritt, who pitched only 11 innings for the Indians during the regular season, shook off stomach butterflies and shut down the Blue Jays on two hits before manager Terry Francona turned things over to Andrew Miller and the rest of his devastating bullpen.
Merritt gave all he had, and fans repaid him with dozens of gifts. He has been humbled by their expression of thanks.
“Sarah checked our registry this morning and I think we only have three gifts left to go,” he said shyly with a smile. “I hope there’s some things left for my friends to buy. I might have to register for some other stuff for them to buy something. It’s great. You just get the support that I’m getting from the Cleveland fans, and that they not only care about my career but they care about my personal life, too.”
There will certainly be some nerves for him on his wedding day, but the lefthander has already shown that he can handle big moments.
Francona said the team had no hesitation in using Merritt in Game 5. The 16th-round pick in the 2011 draft went 11-8 with a 3.70 ERA at Class AAA Columbus this year and made his big-league debut May 30.
“That was a lot to ask of that kid,” Francona said. “We all thought he could handle it or we wouldn’t have done it. But for him to kind of come through the way he did. I remember before the game, I told the guys that were up there, he’s going to grow from this game, whether he does well or not. The experience he got in 4⅓ innings is going to help him down the road for sure.”
Merritt’s performance might have earned a larger role in the World Series, but he hasn’t been told what the team has in mind. “I’m just here if they need me,” he said.
And if he comes through again, Merritt and Brushaber might have to consider sending out more wedding invitations.
That’s fine with him.
“If more people want to come, I guess they can come,” he said. “I don’t care who shows up, I guess.”