Blue Jays on the brink after Game 3 loss to Cleveland
Toronto bats continue to be frustrated by Cleveland's pitching
Mike Napoli homered and drove in two runs and Cleveland survived a bizarre, bloody pitching cameo by Indians starter Trevor Bauer to defeat Toronto 4-2 Monday night, burying the Blue Jays in an 0-3 hole in the American League Championship Series.
It was more of the same for the Jays, their bats rendered near useless by Cleveland pitching. Toronto has scored just three runs in three games against the Indians, who have done just enough offensively to win.
"Tito [Indians manager Terry Francona] did a masterful job running that bullpen today," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "They shut us down. I'm not going to get into who did what, this or that. But they did a great job going through a number of guys and did a good job shutting us down. I had a good feeling at the end, it didn't happen, but we'll show up [Tuesday]. It's definitely a daunting task, but it's been done before."
Star reliever Andrew Miller, who had struck out 10 of the 12 Jays he faced in the first two games, came on with four outs remaining. He got a strikeout to end the eighth but gave up a single to pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro to open the ninth.
Miller struck out Kevin Pillar and Melvin Upton Jr. and Darwin Barney grounded out to extinguish the rally.
Napoli, who came in the game mired in an 0-for-25 drought against right-handers, homered and doubled. Jason Kipnis also had a solo homer for the Indians.
Michael Saunders homered for Toronto, which is now in do-or-die mode for the rest of the best-of-seven series. Both teams had seven hits.
Cleveland pulled ahead 4-2 with two runs in the sixth. The Jays have yet to lead in the series.
Bauer, playing with 10 stitches in his right pitching pinky after a freak drone repair accident last Thursday, lasted just two outs and 21 pitches. Blood was dripping from his unbandaged finger like a faucet and his uniform was stained with crimson drops when umpire Brian Gorman walked out to the mound and summoned Francona for a pitcher who wasn't leaking red.
Even before the game, Bauer's finger looked like someone had taken a razor-sharp ice-cream scoop to it. But the 25-year-old seemed unfazed, using his right hand to flex a whippy exercise bar outside the Indians dugout.
Bauer had a strikeout, walk, flyout and walk before making his bloody exit. He only managed nine strikes.
Dan Otero came on in relief, the first of six Cleveland relievers. Bryan Shaw (1-0) got the win.
"But about our bullpen, that's one of the most amazing jobs I've ever seen," said Francona after the game. "I mean, starting with [Dan] Otero to [Jeff] Manship to [Zach] McAllister to [Bryan] Shaw, if anybody has a hiccup we probably lose. And they all made pitches, and against some really good hitters."
The Indians have won nine straight dating back to the end of the regular season while extending their franchise-record post-season streak to six victories.
Toronto used four pitchers in relief of starter Marcus Stroman (0-1). Closer Roberto Osuna had men on first and second with one out in the ninth but pitched out of it.
Stroman struggles early
Game 4 goes Tuesday with Toronto's Aaron Sanchez against Indians ace Corey Kluber, pitching on three days rest. Francona had planned to go with rookie Ryan Merritt if Bauer had managed to pitch deep into Tuesday's game.
The Cleveland starting rotation has already had to be revamped due to late-season injuries to Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Eight-plus innings of bullpen on the first of three straight days of play was not what the doctor ordered.
Still the Cleveland bullpen threw eight-plus innings four times during the regular season, winning three of them.
Stroman had no blood issues but struggled with his control early on, throwing 20 strikes and 18 balls in the first two innings. He settled down with a 1-2-3 11-pitch third inning, part of a stretch that saw him retire 11 of 13 with the Napoli and Kipnis homers the lone blemishes.
It was Stroman's first start since the Oct. 4 wild-card win over Baltimore and it was the first multi-homer game allowed by the right-hander since July 15, a span of 14 starts.
The Indians made Stroman pay for walking Carlos Santana on five pitches to open the game when, two outs later, Napoli doubled off the right-field wall to drive in a run. Jose Bautista had the ball in his glove as he was about to make contact with the wall but it slipped out.
Saunders tied it up with a leadoff homer in the second as an 83 m.p.h. Otero change-up left his bat at an even 100 m.p.h., travelling 378 feet into the Jays bullpen while a jubilant Jason Grilli watched. It was the first homer of the series for the Blue Jays, snapping an 28-inning long-ball drought.
Toronto had slugged 10 homers in the wild-card game and ALDS.
Saunders joins Russell Martin, who reached the fence in Texas, as Canadian-born Jays to homer in the post-season.
Napoli went deep again to open the fourth, hammering a Stroman fastball 411 feet into centre field for a 2-1 lead. The ball left his bat at 109.5 m.p.h., the third-hardest hit HR of the post-season, according to MLB.com.
Ezequiel Carrera tripled to open the fifth and came home on a Ryan Goins groundout to tie it 2-2. But Kipnis restored Cleveland's lead with a solo homer to open the sixth.
A strikeout and Napoli walk later, Stroman's night was over. He gave up four runs on three hits with five strikeouts and two walks in a 94-pitch outing that featured 59 strikes. Joe Biagini came on and gave up another run after a wild pitch and Jose Ramirez RBI single for a 4-2 Cleveland lead.
The Jays had men on first and second in the seventh but veteran left-fielder Coco Crisp made a sliding catch off Josh Donaldson to end the threat.
For the second straight game, Gibbons tweaked his battling lineup in a bid to find some offence. Before Game 2 in Cleveland, he moved Troy Tulowitzki to fifth, dropping Martin to No. 6. On Monday, he shifted Bautista to leadoff from cleanup, dropping Carrera to No. 8.
Bautista singled to open the third, snapping an 0-for-15 streak. The ball left the bat at 109.7 m.p.h. the hardest ball the Jays had hit in the playoffs, according to MLB.com. He also hit a deep flyball to left in the fifth.
"I think we've a good team. We play good at home here. I think that we're due to explode," Gibbons said prior to the game. "Whether that happens or not, we'll find out."
Running out of time
The experiment is running out of time.
Cleveland had become the 28th team in ALCS history to take a 2-0 lead since the introduction of the best-of-seven series in 1985. Of the previous 27, only three failed to advance to the World Series.
The Jays came into the game no strangers to being in a 0-2 hole, having lost the first two games to both the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals in last year's playoffs. They rallied to beat Texas 3-2 in the ALDS but lost 4-2 to the Royals in the ALCS after winning two of three games at home to send the series back to Kansas City.
A sellout of 49,507 packed the Rogers Centre, with the first "Let's Go Blue Jays" chant coming before first pitch.
Offence was also the problem in the first two games with the Jays hitting just .159 (10-for-63) with 25 strikeouts. Toronto hit .266 in the ALDS against Texas.
Bautista, Tulowitzki, Martin, Carrera and Pillar were a combined 2-for-34 in the first two games of the series.
Cleveland didn't do much better at the plate in Games 1 and 2, hitting .182 (10-for-55), but still managed to outscore the Jays by a combined 4-1.
But the Indians pitchers had an ERA of 1.60 through their first five games in the post-season. Toronto was next at 2.62.
Monday's game followed an Ontario judge's dismissal of a bid to ban the Indians from using their full team name and logo. Lawyers for an indigenous activist had argued unsuccessfully that they amounted to racial discrimination.
As they have done through the post-season, the Indians wore their Chief Wahoo logo caps. Choice of cap is made by the Cleveland starting pitcher on the day.