CLEVELAND — Indians pitching carved up one AL East offensive powerhouse in the American League Division Series. Now, two games into the American League Championship Series, the group is doing the same to another hard-hitting AL East lineup.
Less than 24 hours after ace Corey Kluber and two relievers shut out the Blue Jays, Josh Tomlin and three relievers shut them down again in the Indians’ 2-1 victory Saturday in front of 37,870 at Progressive Field, a crowd that included LeBron James and most of his teammates from the NBA champion Cavaliers.
The Indians, who got a second-inning home run from Carlos Santana and a two-out RBI single from Francisco Lindor in the third inning that snapped a 1-1 tie, took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven ALCS, which shifts to Toronto for Monday night’s Game 3.
“The pitching has been great on both sides,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, whose team fell behind the Royals 0-2 in last year’s ALCS before falling in six games. “That’s all there is to it . . . We play well at home. Get in front of our crowd, maybe that will energize us and maybe get some things going. But our back’s against the wall, that’s pretty obvious.”
Toronto entered the series having hit 10 homers and outscored the opposition 27-12 in its first four games of the postseason, but the Blue Jays have been outscored 4-1 and have not homered in the first two games of this series. They had only three hits and struck out 13 times in Game 2 and are 10-for-63 (.159) with 25 strikeouts in the first two games.
A big part of that is increasingly untouchable and outright filthy reliever Andrew Miller. The lefthander, obtained from the Yankees for prospects before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline, recorded 10 of those strikeouts in 3 2⁄3 innings, fanning five in 1 2⁄3 innings Friday night and five in two innings Saturday. He has struck out 17 and walked two in 7 2⁄3 innings in four postseason outings.
“What he’s done in October so far,” said Cody Allen, who earned his second save of the series with a perfect ninth, “I don’t think any of us have ever seen it.”
Cleveland is 5-0 against Boston and Toronto during this postseason.
Tomlin, who originally was scheduled to start Game 3 before Trevor Bauer suffered a lacerated right pinkie while repairing a drone Friday morning and was pushed back to Monday, more than handled the flip-flop. The righthander, a fly-ball pitcher who allowed 36 homers in 29 starts this season, limited the Blue Jays to one run and three hits in 5 2⁄3 innings.
Toronto lefthander J.A. Happ, 20-4 with a 3.18 ERA this season, was on as well, allowing two runs and four hits in five innings.
Tomlin, who struck out six, retired nine straight before walking Jose Bautista with two outs in the sixth. Bryan Shaw replaced him and got Troy Tulowitzki to ground out. Miller struck out the side in the seventh and two of three in the eighth to set up Allen.
“Our job is to stand there until Tito [Terry Francona] walks out and takes the ball from us,” Tomlin said. “We have all the confidence in everyone in that bullpen to come in and shut the door.”
Santana, who tied Mike Napoli for the club high in homers (34) during the regular season, led off the second with a line-drive homer to left, improving the DH to 5-for-11 in his career against Happ.
Toronto, which went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight Friday, tied it in the third when Josh Donaldson improved to 12-for-24 in the series with an RBI double.
The Indians immediately regained the lead in the bottom half of the inning. Lindor, who hit a two-run homer in Game 1, contributed a two-out RBI single to break a 1-1 tie, making him 7-for-18 in the playoffs to that point.
“Toronto, they have a very good team,” Santana said. “We cannot take any chances. We have to keep playing.”