BOSTON -- Josh Tomlin could not believe what he was hearing. The famous fans who pack Fenway Park, the ones who have taunted and tormented so many opponents in Octobers past, were on their feet and mockingly chanting the name of the Indians pitcher on Monday night.
Standing in the back of the Fenway Park visitors' clubhouse, a smile on his face, Tomlin was able to joke about the moment after the Indians' 4-3 win over the Red Sox. That was because the victory in Game 3 of the American League Division Series finished off a series sweep of Boston, set off a rowdy party and punched the Tribe's ticket to the AL Championship Series against the Blue Jays.
Tomlin played a key role in the win, turning in five strong innings to put manager Terry Francona in position to leverage his bullpen in the same way he did in Game 1. The outing by the right-hander also fueled optimism that maybe -- just maybe -- Cleveland's rotation can withstand the losses of Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco and actually win this thing.
Thanks in part to Tomlin's effort, Cleveland can now set up its rotation how it sees fit for the ALCS, which begins Friday at Progressive Field (8 p.m. ET, TBS, SNET, RSD). The Indians did not announce anything after Monday's win, but ace Corey Kluber would presumably be the Game 1 starter against Toronto.
"Tito will do what he wants," Kluber said. "But, I think we showed this series, no matter what people think, we have all the confidence in each other to go out there and do the job. I think that's only going to continue going forward."
What the Indians will need to work through in the upcoming days is how the rotation will look after Kluber. Trevor Bauer would be the likely starter for Game 2 on Saturday, and Tomlin would probably fall in line as the Game 3 starter for Oct. 17 in Toronto. Right now, though, Cleveland lacks a fourth starter. Rookie righty Mike Clevinger filled that role in the season's final month, but he is currently in the bullpen.
If the Indians went with three starters again, the team would be asking each of them to work on short rest, if the best-of-seven series went the distance.
"We haven't even talked about it," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "That's the good part, is those two guys [Kluber and Bauer] didn't have to pitch again, so we can line it up however we want."
The trio of Kluber, Bauer and Tomlin combined for a 2.70 ERA in the three-game sweep of Boston. Over 16 2/3 combined innings, they struck out 17, walked four and allowed five earned runs. In Games 1 and 3, Cleveland leaned on relievers Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen after a short, effective outing from its starter.
"That's what we wanted to do," Callaway said. "Going in, we had those guys all fresh and available, and that was the game plan in Game 1 and in this game. We were excited it worked out that way. Josh Tomlin was unbelievable. He made pitch after pitch to the corners and did what he had to do and got ahead."
And Tomlin did not get intimidated.
In the fifth inning, following an RBI double by Andrew Benintendi, Cleveland was clinging to a 2-1 lead. As Tomlin prepared to face Boston catcher Sandy Leon with one out and a runner on second, the Fenway Park crowd let the pitcher have it. It began softly within the stadium's usual buzzing, but quickly developed into a raucous chant.
Allen, the Indians' closer, was reminded of the 2013 National League Wild Card Game, when Johnny Cueto received the same treatment from Pirates fans.
"I remember watching the game on TV when they were in Pittsburgh," Allen said. "They were chanting, 'Cueto.' Josh did an unreal job, man, and made some big pitches in some big spots against an extremely talented lineup."
Tomlin took a moment to gather himself behind the mound.
"It was hard for me to hear anything for the first couple innings," Tomlin said. "Once they started chanting my name, it kind of became real. I knew where I was at. After that, it was kind of settle in, try to check your emotions a little bit and understand what's at stake."
Tomlin struck out Leon and induced an inning-ending groundout to Jackie Bradley Jr., turning the chants into a collective groan.
When Tomlin left the game in the sixth, Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, ran into the pitcher in the clubhouse.
"What was that like?" Antonetti asked.
"That was the coolest moment of my life," Tomlin said.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.