After scoring 22 and 15 runs, respectively, in their three-game Division Series sweeps, the Indians and Blue Jays plated only two runs in the opening game of their Championship Series, both by Cleveland. The first ALCS game in Cleveland since 2007 was the shortest postseason game in the American League so far this year, lasting just 2:44, which means that the entire game could’ve fit comfortably within any six innings of Thursday night’s Dodgers-Nationals 4:32 slog.
Toronto was unable to take advantage of Cleveland starter Corey Kluber’s shaky early work. After striking out Ezquiel Carrera on three pitches to start the game, Kluber allowed two baserunners in each of the first three innings and would’ve in the fourth as well were it not for a fantastic play by second baseman Jason Kipnis on a Kevin Pillar grounder. Following Kipnis’ play, Kluber settled down, retiring eight of the remaining nine batters he faced on a total of 34 pitches after throwing 66 to get through the first 3 2/3 innings.
His counterpart, Toronto’s Marco Estrada, was sharper and more efficient, averaging 3.4 pitches per plate appearance compared to Kluber’s 3.8. After allowing a bunt-against-the-shift single to leadoff hitter Carlos Santana, which led to several unfortunate riffs on Smooth on Twitter, Estrada allowed only four more hits while logging a complete game on 101 pitches. Three of those hits were harmless singles to right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall. The other, though, was a 407-foot homer to right-center on an 0-2 count to Francisco Lindor following a walk to Kipnis with one out in the sixth.
After that, a lone Chisenall single would be the only other baserunner allowed by Estrada, who was victimized by a lack of run support from his teammates’ 0-for-5 batting with runners in scoring position. Estrada finished with 101 pitches, one more than Kluber’s total before being lifted with one out in the seventh.
Kluber was replaced by the Official Postseason Scary Monster to date, uber-reliever Andrew Miller. The good news for the Jays is that they forced Miller to throw 31 pitches over his inning and two-thirds, with Josh Donaldson getting on base via a single up the middle. The bad news is that Miller recorded all five of his outs via strikeouts, three swinging. Cody Allen retired the side in the ninth for the save. The trio of Kluber, Miller, and Allen has combined for 23 postseason innings, allowing 16 hits and no runs while striking out 32.
The story of the game was clearly the two starters. They had identical Game Scores of 68, and each allowed six hits with six strikeouts. The difference was the long ball Estrada gave up to Lindor and the Blue Jays’ return–after scoring five runs or more in each of their four postseason wins–to the weak offensive performance (22nd in TAv this season, .236/.334/.358 after August 31) that Matthew Trueblood outlined in his ALCS preview.
Among the quiet bats: Jose Bautista was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, one in Toronto’s best scoring opportunity, with one out and runners on second and third in the first; Russell Martin, 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and three runners in scoring position left stranded; and Carrera, who led off the first, third, and fifth innings with a strikeout and two ground outs.
Toronto must also contend with second baseman Devon Travis’ knee injury, as he left the game in the fifth inning after appearing to aggravate the injury while covering a bunt. On the other hand, the Blue Jays are now past Kluber, easily Cleveland’s best starter, and will face Josh Tomlin (4.40 ERA, 4.17 DRA) in Game 2 after scheduled starter Trevor Bauer was moved to Game 3 due to—no lie—cutting the pinky on his throwing hand while repairing his drone.
Toronto will start left-hander J.A. Happ, in the don’t-you-dare-get-in-the-way-of-Cubs-Dodgers 4:00 PM ET timeslot. Meanwhile, the Toronto batters, who managed only two balls out of the infield over the last four innings, will try to act more like they did during Happ’s starts (6.3 runs per game, second-highest run support in the majors among ERA qualifiers), generating more batted balls that could take down Bauer’s drone for good.
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