Corey Kluber and two other Indians pitchers combined on a shutout and Francisco Lindor’s two-run homer lifted Cleveland to a 2-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Jumping on an 0-2 delivery from Marco Estrada, Lindor broke the pitching deadlock in the bottom of the sixth with a shot 412 feet to right-centre field after Jason Kipnis walked before a sellout crowd of 37,727 at Progressive Field.
It was the Jays’ first loss in five games this post-season. Cleveland extended its playoff win streak to four.
Estrada (1-1) had cruised through the early innings, facing minimal resistance, and recovered after the home run in a 101-pitch, six-hit outing. He deserved better in posting the first complete game of his career and the first by a Jay this season.
Cleveland ace Corey Kluber (2-0), meanwhile, had to dig himself out of one early one hole after another before finding his groove. Andrew Miller came in with one out in the seventh and struck out five of the six hitters he faced.
Closer Cody Allen pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, earning his third save.
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.
Toronto, which outhit Cleveland 7-6, lost second baseman Devon Travis in the fifth. The second baseman, who had been nursing a sore knee, limped off after a play in which he covered first and was replaced by Ryan Goins.
The Jays put men on base early but failed to cash them in, leaving eight men on base.
And 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.
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.
The Jays squandered chances early, putting two men on in each of the first three innings and one in the fourth but failing to convert. Kluber bent but didn’t break.
In contrast, the Indians didn’t manage to get a man past first through four innings.
Kluber struck out Ezequiel Carrera on three pitches to open the game but then gave up a single to Josh Donaldson and a double to Encarnacion. The Jays could not get them home as Kluber pitched his way out of the early jam.
With men on first and second, Travis hit into an inning-ending double play in the second. Then, after Toronto put two on with two outs in the third, Russell Martin struck out.
The Jays stranded a man on second in the fourth inning with a fine defensive play by Kipnis helping Kluber.
Kluber finally got a 1-2-3 inning in the fifth. And the Indians came close to breaking the deadlock in their half of the inning as Lonnie Chisenhall made it to third on a bloop single, sacrifice bunt and groundout. But Estrada ended the threat by striking out Roberto Perez.
Kluber retired nine of the last 10 batters he faced before exiting after 6 1/3 innings in a 100-pitch outing that featured 71 hits. All six of the hits he gave up came with two strikes. He walked two and struck out six in extending his scoreless run to 13 1/3 innings in the post-season.
The six-foot-seven Miller then took over, looming large on the mound.
The Jays started the game a man down, unable to use pitcher Francisco Liriano until Saturday under Major League Baseball’s concussion protocol.
The Indians had to deal with their own somewhat bizarre, injury situation. Pitcher Trevor 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 while working on a drone.
“I think we’ve all, probably everybody in here at some point or another has had a drone-related problem,” Indians manager Terry Francona deadpanned before the game.
Josh Tomlin, who was down to start Game 3 Monday in Toronto, will go Saturday with Tomlin pitching Monday for the Indians, who lost starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar to injuries late in the regular season.
Cleveland, which has reached the World Series five times and won twice (1920 and 1948), came into the game looking to tie a 1920 franchise record of four straight playoff victories.
Toronto won back-to-back World Series in 1992-93.