Pete Hodges presents our ALCS Game 1 recap in which Corey Kluber delivered the ace-like performance that the Cleveland Indians needed.
Because Cleveland and Toronto both swept their ALDS matchups, managers Terry Francona and John Gibbons were able to tap their respective aces for Game 1 of the ALCS – and both performed up to the monicker. Each club had to shuffle their rosters a bit as Cleveland’s scheduled Game 2 starter, Trevor Bauer, injured his pitching hand in a non-baseball incident involving a drone, and will start Game 3 instead. Josh Tomlin will take the ball in Game 2. Meanwhile, second baseman Devon Travis’s knee is healing slower than expected, so the Jays opted for Ryan Goins as an extra utility infielder rather than Justin Smoak as a backup first baseman.
Because of Travis’s knee ailment, Gibbons put Ezequiel Carrera in the leadoff spot – just in case Travis needed to be replaced later in the game. Indians starter Corey Kluber began the series by striking the left fielder out on three pitches. But nothing comes easy against this Toronto lineup, as the next batter Josh Donaldson singled. Kluber was in hot water after an Edwin Encarnacion double, but this swing-and-miss pitch to Jose Bautista on an 0-and-2 count was good for out number two:
Kluber then induced an inning-ending grounder from Russell Martin to escape trouble.
Indians designated hitter Carlos Santana surprised everyone with a bunt against the shift for a leadoff single, but was quickly erased when Jason Kipnis grounded a second-pitch changeup to second base for a double play. Shortstop Francisco Lindor then grounded out to end the inning.
Kluber faced more trouble in the second when DH Michael Saunders hit a one-out single to right field followed by a Kevin Pillar walk. But Travis killed the prospective rally with a grounder to his counterpart Kipnis for a 4-6-3 double play.
Cleveland’s ace again allowed two men on base in the third inning, though this time there were two outs when Encarnacion stung a single to left. Kluber then walked Bautista on four pitches, but struck out Martin to keep the game scoreless.
Kluber was able to hold the Jays to just one baserunner in the fourth, thanks in no small part to this diving stop by Kipnis:
Marco Estrada allowed a leadoff single by right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall in the bottom half of the fifth and he was moved over by a Coco Crisp sac bunt. Encarnacion was holding the runner on at first so he charged up the line to field the ball and second baseman Devon Travis covered first in his stead. While executing the play Travis appeared to be favoring his previously injured leg, but remained in the game. After center fielder Tyler Naquin ground back to the pitcher, the Blue Jays trainer came out onto the field, quickly followed by Gibbons. Travis was lifted from the game following a short conference in favor of Goins. After the delay, Roberto Perez watched three pitches go over the plate to end the inning.
Kluber quickly notched two outs in the top of the sixth bringing his streak to seven before a Troy Tulowitzki single disrupted the ace’s flow. The right-hander struck out Saunders to end the top half of the inning, again keeping the Blue Jays off the scoreboard.
Estrada allowed his only free pass of the evening to Kipnis with one out in the bottom half of the sixth inning – and he would regret it. On his third pitch to Lindor, this happened:
The two-run shot broke the stalemate and assured an appearance from Francona’s relief ace, Andrew Miller. Estrada would retire Napoli and Jose Ramirez to end the inning, but the score was 2-0. Toronto now faced an uphill climb against Cleveland’s bullpen.
Francona stuck with his starter for one more batter to open the seventh inning and Kluber retired Pillar on one pitch. Miller then entered the game and lived up to the hype on the big stage, striking out Darwin Barney and Melvin Upton Jr..
Estrada’s night was not over and he allowed a leadoff single to Chisenhall that was followed by another Crisp sacrifice bunt. However, the veteran righty buckled down and struck out Naquin before forcing Perez to fly out to center to end the seventh.
Donaldson greeted Miller in the eighth with a leadoff single – but that was all the bullpen ace would concede, as he struck out the next three batters in order to end his night. Miller faced six batters, striking out five of them and bridging the gap from starter Kluber to closer Cody Allen.
Estrada pitched a spotless eighth inning in what would be his last of the night. The righty allowed six hits, walked one batter, struck out six, and was responsible for both of Cleveland’s runs.
Allen faced Tulowitzki, Saunders, and Pillar in the ninth, striking out Saunders and inducing groundball outs from the other two.
Game 1 was all about the aces – both the starters, and Cleveland’s relief ace Miller – plus one long ball by Francisco Lindor. As expected, if the Indians get the lead then the opposition is in trouble. Game 2 should be a lot more interesting for fans who were looking for more scoring, since J.A. Happ’s BABIP could come back to bite him and Josh Tomlin is susceptible to the long ball.