TORONTO - Things looked bleak for the Cleveland Indians, their ailing pitching rotation already in intensive care, when a bloody Trevor Bauer walked off the mound after just two outs and 21 pitches Monday night.
Bauer's pinky finger on his pitching hand, repaired by 10 stitches after a bizarre drone accident last Thursday, was leaking crimson.
“When I went out there, I mean - first thing I saw was blood on the rubber,” said Indians manager Terry Francona. “I figured that wasn't a real good sign that things were going well. It was bleeding pretty good.”
“There was kind of a puddle forming below him on the mound,” added second baseman Jason Kipnis.
Francona dug into his bullpen and got good outings from one reliever after another as the Indians defeated Toronto 4-2 in a remarkable pitching-by-committee performance, burying the Blue Jays in an 0-3 hole in the American League Championship Series.
“That wasn't the way we drew it up,” Francona said. “But about our bullpen, that's one of the most amazing jobs I've ever seen. 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.”
It was more of the same for the Blue Jays, their bats rendered near useless by Cleveland's pitching. Toronto has scored just three runs and struck out 34 times in three games against the Indians, who have done just enough offensively to win. Toronto, which has yet to hold a lead in the series, is hitting .177 (17-for-96).
Mike Napoli, who came in the game mired in an 0-for-25 drought against right-handers, homered, doubled and drove in two runs for the Indians. Kipnis also had a solo homer in a two-run sixth that put Cleveland ahead 4-2.
Michael Saunders homered for Toronto, which is now in do-or-die mode for the rest of the best-of-seven series.
“Tito (Francona) did a masterful job running that bullpen today,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons. “They shut us down. I'm not going to get into who's 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.
Toronto has a mountain to climb. Teams up 3-0 in best-of-seven series are 34-1 all-time with the 2004 Yankees the only team to lose (to the Red Sox).
“It's either you win or you go home and I don't want to go home. And I don't think anybody in this clubhouse wants to go home yet,” said Toronto catcher Russell Martin.
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.
“If we don't bring (Kluber) back (Tuesday) and he pitches Game 5, we don't have a starter for Game 7,” Francona said.
The Cleveland starting rotation has already had to be revamped due to late-season injuries to Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.
By using six relievers, the Indians did not burn any out.
“We used a large number of them, but nobody - I think Shaw threw 27 (pitches), which was the most. I'm guessing everybody will be available (Tuesday),” Francona said.
Shaw (1-0) got the win as Toronto hitters were forced to adjust to a smorgasbord of pitching styles and speeds. The Indians became the first team in post-season history to win without any one pitcher recording more than five outs.
Cleveland is one win away from the World Series. The Indians won it all in 1920 and 1948, losing in 1954, 1995 and 1997.
Cleveland's 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.
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.
Blood was dripping from Bauer's 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.
“It was all scabbed up. It just started bleeding today,” he said. “Lot of bleeding throughout the (warmup). It hadn't been bleeding for two days, which was nice, but I guess the scab scratched or whatever.”
Bauer had a strikeout, walk, flyout and walk before making his bloody exit. He only managed nine strikes.
“After watching Trevor go through this week I was surprised that that happened. I think everybody was,” Francona said of the finger going south so quickly. “But it did. I mean, I don't think you can simulate trying to be at game speed and things like that. And unfortunately, it opened up.”
It brought back memories of the 2004 ALCS when Boston pitcher Curt Schilling won Game 6 despite leaking blood through his sock from an ankle injury.
Via Twitter, Schilling made it clear he did not appreciate the comparison.
“Please don't tweet at me about Bauer. He cost himself a start, likely more, AND his teammates, and fans, dicking around with a drone. #stupid.”
Francona, who was manager of the Red Sox back then, also downplayed it.
“That was 12 years ago. I can barely remember last week,” he said.
Toronto used four pitchers in relief of starter Marcus Stroman (0-1).
Stroman 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 the first multi-homer game allowed by the right-hander since July 15, a span of 14 starts.
“I had great stuff,” he said. “I just didn't locate on certain pitches and they capitalized on mistakes.”
The Indians made Stroman pay for walking Carlos Santana on five pitches to walk 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. Dan Otero's 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.
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 Carerra 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.
A sellout of 49,507 packed the Rogers Centre, with the first “Let's Go Blue Jays” chant coming before first pitch.
With files from Gregory Strong and Dhiren Mahiban