TORONTO (92.3 The Fan) – Indians outfielder Rajai Davis is no stranger to the environment that awaits Cleveland at the Rogers Centre in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
Davis played three years in Toronto from 2011-2013, so no one knows how rowdy Blue Jays fans can get more than the 35-year-old veteran.
“I definitely expect it to be loud,” he said. “I definitely expect it with the dome closed. I expect it to be a little warm with all the people there.”
The question is: Will the Indians be able to stand the heat?
Thus far, the Tribe has had no issue handling the pressure of the MLB postseason, sweeping the Boston Red Sox in the Division Series and now holding a 2-0 advantage on Toronto in the best-of-seven ALCS.
To take down the Sox in Game 3, Cleveland was forced to travel into another tough environment, Fenway Park, to emerge with the series victory in Boston.
That scenario included late-game dramatics, ironic chants of Josh Tomlin’s name, and David Ortiz’s final game of an iconic career.
But the Rogers Centre presents its own challenges, unique to anything the Indians have faced before. And when sluggers like Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista get the crowd going with their long ball tactics, it almost becomes a semi rolling downhill without brakes.
Anything standing in their way is prone to get steamrolled.
“Toronto is one of those places where, when they close that dome, it gets especially loud there,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis. “And it’s hockey fans.”
Of course, Kipnis means that in the most complimentary way possible.
“That’s exactly what you want out of a fan,” he said. “You want the rowdiness. You want that little feeling, that one percent feeling, where you’re like, ‘I’m not sure I’m safe right here on the field.’ That’s what makes Toronto great and those fans amazing, how loud they get.”
The players, however, haven’t always been safe on the field in Toronto during this postseason. During the seventh inning of the AL Wild Card Game between the Blue Jays and Orioles, a fan threw a beer can in the direction of Baltimore outfielder Hyun Soo Kim in the process of attempting to make a catch in left field.
But one fan should never be capable of giving the rest a bad reputation. And Kipnis appreciates the wild and crazy atmosphere in Toronto, even if it might get a little too nuts at times.
“They stand up for most of the entire game,” he said. “They’re always into it. For opposing players, it makes it just as much fun.”
That is where Davis’ experience at the dome — the place Cleveland will play their next three ALCS games, if necessary — can be really valuable. And he believes communication may be the biggest key to surviving a rambunctious crowd in Toronto over the next three days.
“As far as outfielders, knowing where guys are going to be beforehand [is important],” Davis said. “It’s going to be tough to hear each other. We’re probably going to have to use hand signals. We’re going to have to remind guys, ‘Hey, look at me.’ Those kinds of things.”
Controlling the crowd from Cleveland’s perspective, at least on a large level, will start and end with the Indians’ starting pitching.
In Game 3, that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Trevor Bauer, who was pushed back in the series due to the drone-related mishap he suffered prior to Game 1.
The righty suffered a lacerated right pinkie, which led to the Indians’ decision to flip-flop Bauer and Josh Tomlin in the series. Tomlin won Game 2 at Progressive Field, and Bauer discussed his health prior to Sunday’s team workout at the Rogers Centre.
“I’ve thrown with it a couple different days,” Bauer said. “It doesn’t affect anything as far as my grips. I don’t even use my pinkie on any of the pitches I throw, it just kind of hangs out over there.
“I don’t anticipate it being an issue at all.”
The Indians’ first postseason glimpse at how crazy the Toronto crowds can be will come on Monday night at 8:08 p.m. ET.
After spending portions of approximately the past two weeks at the Indians’ complex in Goodyear, Arizona, right-handed hurler Danny Salazar traveled with his team to Toronto to join Cleveland prior to Game 3.
The hard-throwing righty, who suffered a mild forearm strain in September, costing him a shot at pitching in the first two rounds of the playoffs for the Indians, threw a two-inning simulated game to live batters on Sunday night from the Rogers Centre mound.
Catcher Chris Gimenez and outfielders Tyler Naquin and Rajai Davis took turns in the batter’s box against Salazar, who even took a break just over halfway through the session, simulating the down time between innings he would face in a regular game.
The 26-year-old starter was left off the 25-man roster by Cleveland in the first two series of the postseason, considering the righty’s long-term health and preparation before forcing a return to the Major League club.
Up to this point, Salazar has only focused on throwing fastballs and changeups throughout his rehab, meaning an eventual return in the postseason, if possible, would likely come out of the bullpen for the 2016 All-Star pitcher.
Mike Napoli’s recent struggles at the dish have gone mostly unnoticed due to the Indians’ success in the postseason, but the right-handed hitter’s struggles since the start of September are getting hard to ignore.
After slashing .303/.393/.495 with five homers over a 28-game stretch in August, Napoli finished the 2016 campaign with a .140/.289/.323 slash line in September and October, collecting just 13 hits in 93 at-bats.
Napoli still managed to finish with an impressive 34 home runs and 101 RBI during the regular season, but thus far, the 2016 playoffs haven’t been kind to the 34-year-old first baseman.
Since the postseason began, Napoli’s cold spell has continued, going just 2-for-18 with a double over Cleveland’s first five games of the MLB playoffs and is currently hitless in the ALCS.
His manager, however, believes Napoli is capable of handling and overcoming a poor stretch like this.
“I think with Nap, the really good thing is, and he’s well aware of this, is he always has that three-run home run sitting there,” Francona said. “And he’s dangerous, always. That has to be respected. And he doesn’t let it wear on him. You can see his face after a win. You could never tell if he’s got three hits or no hits after a win. That’s all he cares about.”
Of course, Napoli’s impact with Cleveland has gone far beyond just his contributions on the field. Many of his teammates have spoken about the type of effect he’s had on his club in 2016.
Francona believes the rest of Napoli’s value to the Indians — the ability to hit the ball out of the park — will return at some point this October.
“He’s got that one swing that can change a game or a series,” Francona said. “And he knows that.”