October 14, 2016 - 9:23 PM
Cleveland's plan worked out to perfection in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. The Blue Jays only came close.
The Indians' best pitchers lived up to their billing and 22-year-old shortstop Francisco Lindor provided all the offence needed with one swing of the bat in the sixth inning to lift Cleveland to a 2-0 victory Friday night over Toronto.
Indians starter Corey Kluber (2-0) had to dig himself out of one early hole after another before finding his groove, often wielding his breaking ball like a scalpel. He dispatched nine of the last 10 hitters he faced while extending his scoreless run to 13 1/3 innings in his first post-season.
Toronto starter Marco Estrada had cruised through the early innings, facing minimal resistance, and recovered after the home run in a 101-pitch, six-hit outing.
"It was a heck of a game, it really was," said Toronto manager John Gibbons, failing to look like he had enjoyed it one bit. "Everybody went out there on the mound and pitched great. Estrada was really good. Lindor got the big blow. I think it was a change-up.
"But then Kluber is one of the elite pitchers in the game, as is (Andrew) Miller, as is Cody Allen. If you're a fan of pitching it was a dream game for you. And we got some guys on base early, a lot of the innings, we couldn't get that big hit. Lindor got the big hit."
Indians manager Terry Francona saw it the same way.
"Both pitchers I thought were terrific," he said. "Different styles, but man, both were so good. Fortunately for us Lindor got a change-up and that was the difference in the game."
Jumping on an 0-2 Estrada delivery, Lindor broke the pitching deadlock with a one-out shot 412 feet to right-centre field after Jason Kipnis walked before a sellout crowd of 37,727 at Progressive Field.
Estrada's change-up is normally a thing of beauty. But not this one.
"I yanked it and he hit it out," said Estrada. "It's a good hitter. That's what happens. You make mistakes, good hitters are going to hit it out."
The right-hander was in no mood to discuss his first career complete game — and the first by a Blue Jay this season.
"Who cares about that. We lost," he said.
The only other post-season complete game in Toronto franchise history came in 1992, a losing effort by Jack Morris.
There was more pain when Toronto second baseman Devon Travis, who has been nursing a sore knee, limped off in the fifth after a play in which he covered first. Ryan Goins, included on the Jays ALCS roster as insurance for Travis, replaced him.
Travis was downcast after the game, in pain and with another MRI pending.
Kluber exited after 6 1/3 innings in a 100-pitch outing that featured 71 strikes. All six of the hits he gave up came with two strikes. He walked two and struck out six.
"When a guy like that is on like he was tonight, it's hard to put up any runs," said Toronto right-fielder Jose Bautista, who struck out three times.
Miller and Allen took up where Kluber left off. Miller struck out five of the six hitters he faced, coming within one strikeout of the Indians' playoff record. Allen pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, earning his third save of the post-season.
The Jays put men on base early — two men on in each of the first three innings and one in the fourth — but failed to cash them in, leaving eight men on base in total and going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.
In contrast, the Indians didn't get a man past first base through four innings.
The Toronto frustration bubbled to the surface as an angry Edwin Encarnacion had words with umpire Laz Diaz after being punched out in the eighth when Miller struck out the side.
It was the Jays' first setback in five games this post-season. Cleveland extended its playoff win streak to four, trying a franchise record set in the 1920 World Series.
Since the advent of the seven-game series in 1985, 17 of 30 teams (57 per cent) winning Game 1 have gone on to take the series. But in eight of the last 16 ALCS, the Game 1 loser has gone on to win the series.
On the plus side for the Jays, the pitching edge on paper goes to Toronto for the next three starts with J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez on deck.
Josh Tomlin will face Happ on Saturday with Trevor Bauer pitching against Stroman on Monday before Mike Clevinger takes on Sanchez on Tuesday.
Bauer was pushed back from starting Game 2 after he needed stitches for a cut on the pinkie finger on his right pitching hand sustained Friday working on a drone.
"I think we've all, probably everybody in here at some point or another has had a drone-related problem," Francona deadpanned before the game.
The Indians have had to survive losing starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar to injuries late in the regular season.
Toronto will get pitcher Francisco Liriano back on Saturday under Major League Baseball's concussion protocol.
While the stands at Progressive Field were mainly a sea of red, a smattering of Blue Jays fans made their presence felt behind the visitors' dugout prior to the game. It was 14 degrees Celsius at first pitch.
With files from Gregory Strong
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News from © The Canadian Press, 2016