TORONTO — Go finger.
The Indians have faced a season’s worth of adversity with their rotation in the last month and somehow have continued to prosper.
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After Monday night’s 4-2 victory over the Blue Jays in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, they find themselves one victory from reaching the World Series.
The latest potential calamity to face the group arrived in the form of Trevor Bauer’s right pinkie, sliced open Friday morning in an accident with his drone. It prevented him from starting Game 2 and bumped him to Game 3. The finger — which before the game looked as if Hannibal Lecter had taken a bite out of it — erupted blood early on and forced the righthander from the game after two-thirds of an inning.
Given that scenario before the game — two on, two outs, a sold-out Rogers Centre rocking with 49,507 strong and the Blue Jays desperately needing a win — reliever Andrew Miller said afterward: “I don’t think that we would have liked our chances.”
But Cleveland manager Terry Francona — who lost rotation standouts Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco in September — deployed a phalanx of six relievers who limited the Blue Jays to two runs and seven hits the rest of the way. The relievers totaled 125 pitches and struck out eight in 8 1⁄3 innings.
“About our bullpen,” Francona said, “that’s one of the most amazing jobs I’ve ever seen.”
Miller recorded the save, striking out three in the final 1 1⁄3 innings. That gave him 13 strikeouts in five innings in the series and 20 strikeouts in nine scoreless innings this postseason.
Toronto did get the tying run up in the ninth after Dioner Navarro led off with a single, but Miller struck out Kevin Pillar and Melvin Upton Jr. and got Darwin Barney to bounce to second to end it.
“They’re due,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, whose high-powered club has been outscored 8-3 in the first three games of the series. “We’ll see. We’ll see if it’s tomorrow.”
The Indians, who last won a title in 1948, can clinch their first World Series berth since 1997 with a victory in Tuesday afternoon’s Game 4.
Corey Kluber, who has not allowed a run in two postseason starts — including Game 1 of this series, when he threw 6 1⁄3 innings — will start on three days’ rest for the first time in his career. He will be opposed by righthander Aaron Sanchez.
“It’s definitely a daunting task,” Gibbons said of the 0-3 hole. “But it’s been done before.”
Only by the 2004 Red Sox, managed by Francona. They lost the first three ALCS games to the Yankees and wound up sweeping the Cardinals in the World Series for their first championship since 1918.
Former Patchogue-Medford High School star Marcus Stroman was the latest Blue Jays pitcher to receive little run support. The righthander allowed four runs, three hits and three walks in 5 1⁄3 innings.
The big blows were a solo homer in the fourth by Mike Napoli that gave the Indians a 2-1 lead and a solo homer in the sixth by Jason Kipnis that put Cleveland ahead 3-2. Joe Biagini allowed an inherited runner to score later in the sixth on Jose Ramirez’s single.
By that point, the Cleveland bullpen was mostly churning through a Blue Jays lineup that totaled 27 runs through its first four postseason games leading up to the ALCS.
Dan Otero (1 1⁄3 innings), Jeff Manship (1 1⁄3 ), Zack McAllister (one inning), Bryan Shaw (1 2⁄3) and Cody Allen (1 2⁄3) got the ball to Miller, who finished off the bizarre evening.
“That wasn’t the way we drew it up,” Francona said of going to his bullpen two-thirds of an inning into the game. “If anybody has a hiccup, we probably lose. They all made pitches, and against some really good hitters.”