Aaron Sanchez pitched six strong innings and the Toronto bats finally woke up as the Blue Jays staved off playoff elimination Tuesday with a 5-1 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
Four Toronto pitchers limited the Indians to two hits.
The Jays still face three more do-or-die games, two in Cleveland, if they are to survive the best-of-seven series, and history is against them. Since the introduction of the best-of-seven format in 1985, only one of 31 teams have rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win the ALCS (Boston, 2004).
On the plus side for Toronto, the injury-riddled Cleveland starting rotation is not deep. Game 5 goes Wednesday with Marco Estrada against Indians rookie Ryan Merritt.
After scoring just three runs in the first three games, the Toronto offence got out of first gear in a game that was a mirror image of the previous three. This time Toronto outpitched Cleveland and got the timely hits.
Josh Donaldson homered for Toronto and Edwin Encarnacion drove in a pair of runs before a sellout of 49,142 under the roof at the Rogers Centre that finally had something to cheer about.
Donaldson also delivered some stellar defence.
Toronto, which totalled 17 hits in the first three games, outhit Cleveland 9-2.
The loss snapped the Indians’ nine-game win streak dating back to the regular season and Cleveland’s franchise-record run of six straight post-season victories.
The Jays, leading for the first time in the series, picked up solo runs in the third and fourth, two more in the seventh and one in the eighth to keep the scoreboard ticking.
Sanchez (1-0), inducing a string of Cleveland groundouts, gave up just one hit in his first four innings before yielding a run in the fifth when he threw 25 pitches.
The 24-year-old right-hander, whose arm has been closely monitored in his first year as a starter after pitching in the bullpen, was well rested having last pitched Oct. 9 — his first career post-season start.
He gave up one run on two hits with two walks and five strikeouts in a 95-pitch performance that featured 54 strikes.
Brett Cecil, Jason Grilli and Roberto Osuna delivered equally solid work in relief. The loud crowd was on its feet as Osuna mowed the Indians down in order in the ninth with nine strikes in 10 pitches.
Kluber, the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, was pitching on three days rest for the first time in 135 career starts. He lasted five innings, giving up two runs on four hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in an 89-pitch outing that included 59 strikes.
Given he is down as the Indians Game 7 pitcher, if needed, manager Terry Francona was loath to work him longer than necessary.
It was tight opening with little conceded. Cleveland got a man on third with one out in the third but Sanchez escaped thanks to a pair of ground balls.
After two strikeouts by Kluber in bottom of the third, Donaldson hammered a 2-2 ball 402 feet to left-centre field. That ended Kluber’s franchise-record streak of 16 scoreless post-season innings. Encarnacion almost immediately added to the total with a 374-foot fly ball caught by a jumping Lonnie Chisenhall in right field.
Kluber (2-1) issued back-to-back walks to open the Jays’ half of the fourth. One strikeout later, Ezequiel Carrera’s bloop single to centre scored Troy Tulowitzki for a 2-0 lead. Kluber struck out two more to end the inning but the damage was done.
A one-out walk to Coco Crisp proved costly for the Jays in the fifth when, one out later, No. 9 hitter Roberto Perez doubled him home to cut the lead to 2-1. A glittering fielding play by Donaldson, snaring a rocket that left Carlos Santana’s bat at 102 m.p.h., snuffed out the threat and the third baseman left the field pumping his first.
Donaldson also made a nice catch in foul territory in the sixth, twisting his body to see the ball.
Tulowitzki greeted reliever Dan Otero in the Jays’ half of the inning with a 352-foot single off the right-field wall that just missed going over. A fielder’s choice and single had men on first and second with Carrera coming close to cashing them in with a 358-foot fly ball, but the Jays could not bring them home.
Toronto loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh on a Ryan Goins single, a Bryan Shaw throwing error that put Jose Bautista on and intentional walk to Donaldson. With the crowd chanting “Eddie, Eddie,” Encarnacion obliged with a two-run single to make it 4-1.
Carrera tripled and came home on Kevin Pillar’s sacrifice fly in the eighth, a play that featured a marvellous diving catch by Brandon Guyer.
Toronto came into the do-or-die game in desperate need of offence. In the first three games of the series, the Jays hit .177 and struck out 34 times. Toronto had left 19 men on base and was hitting 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
“They’ve been making some big pitches,” manager John Gibbons, speaking prior to the game, said of the Indians. “For the most part, we’ve been doing the same thing. They’re just capitalized more than we have. The home runs, beating us at our own game.”
“They’re rolling right now, that’s for sure,” he added.
Toronto finally managed to put up a roadblock Tuesday.
Cleveland’s pitching staff boasted a playoff-best 1.67 ERA going into the game. Toronto was No. 2 at 2.81.
The Jays’ power failure had been noticeable. Toronto came into the series leading all playoff teams with 10 home runs. But the Indians had four homers to the Jays’ one in the first three games.
Tuesday’s loss notwithstanding, the Indians remain a tough nut to crack.
How resilient are the Indians? Cleveland media reported that Francona lost the veneer off a tooth right before Game 3. He went to a dentist at 1 a.m. and had it restored to its rightful place.
Wednesday night road closures
Toronto police are closing, or partially closing, roads around the Rogers Centre for Wednesday’s game.
- Blue Jays Way will have a partial road closure, for southbound traffic, from Front Street West to Navy Wharf
- Bremner Boulevard will have a partial road closure, for eastbound traffic, from Spadina Avenue to Rees Street
- Bremner Boulevard will have a full road closure, for eastbound traffic, from Rees Street to Lower Simcoe Street
- Bremner Boulevard will have a full road closure, for westbound traffic, from Lower Simcoe Street to Navy Wharf
- Rees Street will have a full road closure, for northbound traffic, from Lakeshore Boulevard to Bremner Boulevard