Pete Hodges presents our ALCS Game 4 recap in which Josh Donaldson shows up to make a series out of it.
If Toronto had its back against the wall in Game 3, then it was backed into the corner in Game 4. Down 3-0 with their season on the line, they turned to their staff ace, Aaron Sanchez. Sanchez is well above his innings limit, and the Jays will likely have to use him one more time if they are so fortunate to escape the ALCS victorious. Rather than allowing Mike Clevinger to pitch Game 4, Terry Francona was going for the jugular by sending out former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber on three days’ rest. Cleveland’s bullpen needed a reprieve from their recent usage and Kluber was the closest thing to a guarantee on that front, while Clevinger was the farthest.
Sanchez, who hadn’t pitched since October 9 against the Rangers in the ALDS, started hot right out of the gate by striking out Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis. He then retired Francisco Lindor via a ground ball to end the first inning.
Sanchez and Kluber continued to trade zeroes through the bottom of the third, allowing one baserunner in each frame. In the bottom of the third, Kluber began the inning by by striking out the overmatched Ryan Goins and slugger Jose Bautista. Then Josh Donaldson, the Bringer of Rain came to the plate:
This gave the Blue Jays their first lead of the ALCS. Kluber then forced Edwin Encarnacion to fly out to left field to end the inning.
Toronto continued to press their attack in the fourth after Sanchez retired the Cleveland side on nine pitches. Back-to-back walks by Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin were followed by an Ezequiel Carrera RBI double two batters later, scoring Tulo and bringing the score to 2-0. Kluber then struck out Kevin Pillar and the still-overmatched Goins.
In the top of the fifth inning, Sanchez walked Coco Crisp on four pitches after retiring Lonnie Chisenhall via a grounder to third base. Following a strikeout of Tyler Naquin, Roberto Perez crushed a double to left field, scoring the speedy veteran and bringing Cleveland one step closer to the World Series. Carlos Santana ended the fifth with a groundout to Donaldson:
Francona turned to his trusty bullpen in the sixth inning, happy to receive a five-inning, two-run outing from a pitcher on three days’ rest. Dan Otero was the skipper’s first choice and Tulo greeted him with an opposite-field single. Russell Martin then ground into what looked like a tailor-made double play, but Martin runs well for a catcher and beat out the throw on the back-end. Following a Michael Saunders single, Carrera and Pillar were retired – Otero escaped the jam.
Sanchez was lifted for Brett Cecil to start the sixth inning, giving the Blue Jays exactly what they needed in a six-inning, one-run performance in which he allowed just two hits and two walks while striking out these five:
Cecil had a rocky start to the playoffs that included a four-pitch walk to the one batter he was brought in to face, Rougned Odor. Since then, however, he’s been effective, and Game 4 continued that trend. He began his outing by forcing Jose Ramirez to line out to center fielder Kevin Pillar before facing a pinch hitter in Rajai Davis whom he struck out. Crisp then strode to the plate, only to stride right back to the dugout to get his fielding equipment after swinging at strike three.
Francona called on everyman Bryan Shaw to kick off the seventh inning and face the unstoppable force that is Ryan Goins. The world was shocked when the career .595 OPSer struck a line-drive single into left field. Joey Bats then came to the plate sure to make Shaw pay for such a mistake. A weak grounder back to Shaw provided the pitcher with an opportunity for an easy out, but Shaw launched the ball well over Mike Napoli’s glove at first base, allowing Goins to advance to third. Cleveland chose wisely in placing Donaldson on first base intentionally lest the rain be brought, but they forgot to look at the rest of the lineup as Encarnacion laced a single up the middle. Goins scored, and Donaldson was thrown out, being a bit too aggressive, while Encarnacion advanced to second on the throw. Mike Clevinger replaced Shaw and was able to retire Tulo and Martin to end the seventh inning, but Cleveland was in unfamiliar territory – down 4-1 late in the game.
Setup man Jason Grilli sat Brandon Guyer, Roberto Perez, and Carlos Santana down in order in the eighth inning on 12 pitches. Which meant Cleveland would now have to hold the Jays and then outscore Toronto while facing Roberto Osuna, no problem.
After striking out Saunders, Clevinger surrendered a triple to Carrera – his second of the postseason after hitting only one during the regular season and two in his entire MLB career, spanning 377 MLB games. Pillar crushed a ball to the gap, but Brandon Guyer, who stayed in the game for Chisenhall in left, made this catch to save extra bases:
Carrera scored on the sacrifice, but Guyer’s amazing catch prevented further damage. Fearing the start of a hot streak, Clevinger wisely walked Ryan Goins after filling the count and forced Joey Bats to pop out to third base.
Osuna came on in a non-save situation, up four runs – 5-1, but we’re sure he didn’t mind. The righty struck Kipnis and Napoli on the same exact unhittable (literally) pitch even though Kipnis is a lefty and Napoli is a righty. The Blue Jays closer is truly impressive to watch when he is on:
Toronto showed signs of life in Game 4, but there’s a long way to go before they’re spraying champagne. The good news is that Encarnacion and Donaldson are starting to show signs of life. The bad news is that Bautista is not. Winning against Kluber is big, but as this Red Sox fan can attest, everything has to go perfectly from here and even then things will go wrong and a certain amount of luck is needed. The Game 5 matchup certainly favors Toronto with Marco Estrada facing lefty Ryan Merritt. If the Jays get out to a comfortable lead, and Estrada delivers another Herculean effort then I think it’s time we start believing.