TORONTO (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians entered Tuesday’s game at the Rogers Centre with their ace on the mound and a potential trip to the World Series on the line.
But sometimes, as Cleveland fans have witnessed on countless occasions this year, things don’t go as they’re drawn up. And now they’ll have to hope a sleeping giant hasn’t finally risen from a three-game slumber.
Just one win from reaching the World Series, Corey Kluber lasted five innings and gave up a pair pitching on short rest for the first time in his career, but the Blue Jays pitchers shut down Cleveland’s offense in Game 4, getting on the board for the first time in the ALCS, 5-1.
The loss, the Indians’ first in the 2016 MLB postseason, cut the Indians’ lead in the best-of-seven series to 3-1, and will force Cleveland to play a third game in Toronto in the American League Championship Series.
Kluber, pitching on three days rest, tossed 89 pitches over his five innings of work, but exited with his club trailing by a run. Cleveland’s no. 1 starter was bumped up to pitch Game 4 after the Indians’ bullpen logged 8 1/3 innings of solid work after Trevor Bauer’s lacerated pinkie burst open at the seams in Monday’s Game 3 victory.
The 30-year-old starter allowed a solo home run to Josh Donaldson in the bottom of the second and a soft RBI single to center field by Ezequiel Carrera in the fourth.
“I felt fine,” Kluber said. “I didn’t really feel like [pitching on short rest] physically affected me at all. I made a mistake to Donaldson, but other than that I felt fine.”
Kluber, who yielded four hits, two walks and struck out seven, remains lined up to pitch a potential Game 7 for Cleveland on short rest. But the Indians certainly hope they don’t have to cross that bridge.
“I actually thought Kluber pitched really well,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.
The dam restraining Toronto’s talented bats finally broke after the Indians’ ace left the game. Bryan Shaw allowed a pair in the bottom of the seventh, opening up the Jays’ lead to three runs. Shaw contributed to the chaos by committing a throwing error, allowing the first two runners to reach in the bottom half of the frame.
After issuing an intentional walk to Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion broke the game open with a two-run single to center field. The Blue Jays’ first baseman appeared to yell at the Indians’ dugout and pounded his chest as he pulled into second base on the throw to the cutoff man.
Mike Clevinger entered and retired the final two batters in the inning to keep Toronto’s lead at 4-1, but the damage was done and the building was alive and roaring.
Clevinger gave up a run in the bottom of the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Kevin Pillar, closing out Tuesday’s scoring.
Situation At Hand
Despite the Game 4 loss, the Indians are still in the enviable position of holding a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Jays. And there’s not a team on the planet who wouldn’t wish to be in a similar situation.
But with rookie lefty Ryan Merritt slated to start Game 5 at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday afternoon, perhaps the matchup doesn’t look quite as favorable as it did following Monday’s Game 3 win by Cleveland.
The Indians have attempted to protect themselves in that regard, with Josh Tomlin set to pitch Game 6 and Kluber likely to pitch Game 7 in Cleveland if necessary.
The only offense Cleveland could manage in Tuesday’s Game 4 came courtesy of Roberto Perez, who drove an RBI double to the left-center field gap in the top of the fifth.
Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez tossed six quality innings, allowing just two hits and one run. The right-handed hurler walked a pair and struck out five before turning things over to the Toronto bullpen.
“Right from the very first inning he commanded his breaking ball,” Francona said. “Because we actually had a decent amount of hitters counts. But he has breaking ball going, like I said, right from the beginning, and that made it really, really tough on us.”
Brett Cecil, Jason Grilli and Roberto Osuna combined to silence the Indians’ bats over the final three innings.
Despite holding a 3-1 series lead, Cleveland’s offense has managed to score just nine runs over the first four games of the ALCS, a slightly concerning trend moving forward.
One of the few positives worth taking out of Tuesday’s Game 4 was Cleveland’s ability to stay away from Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in the loss. Conceivably, both should be fresh and ready if and when called upon in Game 5.
“Certainly when you’re down one trying to keep it at one, so we have a chance, but also recognizing that if Miller and Cody pitch, that would have been four out of five pretty high-stress, high-leverage innings,” Francona said. “We decided to try to go a different route.
“Didn’t work out as well as we wanted, but, we do have those guys available with a day off behind it.”
The Indians, holding a 3-1 series lead, will now turn to rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt in Game 5 at the Rogers Centre. Merritt has just 11 innings in the Majors under his belt. Toronto will counter with righty Marco Estrada. Wednesday’s first pitch in Toronto is set for 4:08 p.m. ET.