Indians lead ALCS 1-0
If you covered up the runs portion of the box score, you would think that Marco Estrada was just a bit better than Corey Kluber tonight. Estrada pitched eight innings for the Toronto Blue Jays, keeping the Tribe batters off balance all night. He threw basically two pitches, and the Indians were rarely able to sit on either the fastball or the turbo change. He struck out six batters, only walking one and allowing just one extra-base hit. Meanwhile, Corey Kluber struggled through a large portion of his outing, not retiring the side until the fifth inning. He left in the seventh inning, having given up six hits and walk in his 6.1 innings pitched.
But as you undoubtedly know already, the Indians scored the only two runs of the game because that one walk and one extra-base hit happened back-to-back in the sixth inning. Jason Kipnis walked with one out in the inning, and Francisco Lindor got a changeup in his happy zone. The baseballs weren't carrying as well tonight as they were last weekend, but the cool October air couldn't keep Lindor's blast in the yard.
The Indians were in a position to win this game because Corey Kluber wriggled out of many earlier rallies. Kluber got ahead of Blue Jay hitters all night long, but had difficulty putting them away, giving up a large portion of his hits on 0-2, 1-2, or 2-2 counts. The first inning was the toughest jam, with the Jays getting runners on second and third with one out. Kluber would get out of that difficulty by striking out Jose Bautista, then inducing a weak grounder to first off the bat of Russell Martin. He would scatter runners in scoring position in the first, second, third, and fourth innings. And what didn't knock Kluber out made him stronger, for after Michael Saunders' single in the fourth, he would retire nine out of the last ten batters he faced. And by the time he left the mound (to a standing ovation), the Indians led 2-0.
The Lindor homer couldn't have come at a better time for Terry Francona, for he was able to pull Kluber after one more out and utilize his bullpen horses to finish the game off. Andrew Miller entered the game in the seventh inning, striking out two pinch-hitters (including Melvin Upton on a very generous strike call by Laz Diaz), then set down Encarnacion, Bautista, and Martin after giving up a single to Josh Donaldson. That allowed Cody Allen to have a little margin for error when he entered the game in the ninth inning, a margin he wouldn't need.
This was a rather simple game, a game that you could recap in the span of a text message if need be. But the subtleties still were there if you care to look a bit closer. Jason Kipnis made an outstanding play to take a hit away from Kevin Pillar in the fourth; had that ball brushed past Kipnis' glove, the Jays may have had runners at the corners with only one out, and the game may not have ended up such a simple affair.
The Indians laid down three bunts, two of them sacrifices by Coco Crisp, and one was a surprise bunt by Carlos Santana to open the bottom of the first. None of the three would lead to a run; Santana's bunt was negated when Jason Kipnis grounded into a double play, and following both Crisp bunts the next two batters (Tyler Naquin and Roberto Perez) would make outs to end the inning. Sometimes the humble bunt may lead to a win, but most of the time it's the flashy homer that wins the day. That was the case tonight.