CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor could not contain his excitement. The Indians' young spark plug of a shortstop never can. He flexed his arms on a dead sprint and let out a series of shouts. As he rounded third base, Lindor looked to his teammates and saluted hard in the direction of Cleveland's dugout.
The crowd at Progressive Field responded raucously as Lindor raced around the basepaths, celebrating a two-run home run that felt like more than enough for Cleveland's stout pitching staff. Indeed, the Tribe's October formula -- solid starting pitching and shutdown relief -- worked again on Friday night in a 2-0 victory over the Blue Jays in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Game 2 of the ALCS, featuring Cleveland righty Josh Tomlin and Toronto lefty J.A. Happ, is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (on TBS, and Sportsnet and RDS in Canada).
Indians ace Corey Kluber matched wits with Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada, with the lone breakthrough coming via Lindor's shot to the seats in front of the bullpens in right-center field. Both starters were brilliant in the early going, though Kluber was asked to sidestep potential harm more often. Toronto repeatedly threatened with two strikes or two outs, and Kluber pushed back, denying the Blue Jays at every turn.
Then, Lindor gave his team a lead.
"If we can get deep in a ballgame and get a lead to our bullpen," Kluber said, "I feel like we have a really good shot. Those guys have all been doing an unbelievable job down there [in the bullpen]. That's our game plan -- to try to get them a lead and let them go out and do their thing."
Throughout the AL Division Series, Francona showed that given an advantage, no matter how slight, he would indeed lean heavily on his relief corps. The leader of the leverage army has been lefty Andrew Miller, and the southpaw took over for Kluber with one out in the seventh inning. As Kluber walked off the mound, he was treated to an appreciative cry: "Kluuuuube!"
Kluber gave the Indians 6 1/3 shutout innings, scattering six hits -- each coming in a two-strike count -- and striking out six. The AL Cy Young Award contender has now spun 13 1/3 scoreless innings this October, which has been his first taste of the postseason. The Blue Jays put two runners aboard in each of the first three innings, but they could not end Kluber's streak.
"He's got arguably the best right-hand breaking ball in the game," Toronto manager John Gibbons said of Kluber. "And he kept us honest with enough fastballs. And he's got that razor-blade slider that's tough to do anything with. [It's] a big strikeout pitch for him. He gets a lot of weak contact on them, really.
"So really, that's what it came down to. I don't think it was a lack of something we did; I just thought they pitched that well, as did we."
Estrada certainly did his part, logging eight impressive innings for his first career complete game in a hard-luck loss. The Blue Jays, who are in the ALCS for the second straight postseason, now face an 0-1 hole against the AL Central champions. Since the ALCS went to a seven-game format in 1985, the team that won Game 1 advanced to the World Series 17 of 30 times (57 percent). This is the first time Cleveland has won Game 1 of an ALCS in five tries.
Miller, who spun four overpowering scoreless innings in Cleveland's ALDS sweep of Boston, worked 1 2/3 innings behind Kluber on Friday. All five of the relief ace's outs came via strikeout, including three following a leadoff single by Josh Donaldson in the eighth inning. That set up Indians closer Cody Allen to once again slam the door, which he did effectively, putting Cleveland three wins shy of its first World Series berth since 1997.
"For him to go through the middle of the order like that, that's why we got him," Francona said of using Miller to set up Allen. "But like we said before the game, you can't use him then if you don't have somebody behind him. And that needs to be one of our strengths if we get where we want to go."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Lindor launches one: The tug-of-war between Kluber and Estrada finally found a breaking point in the sixth, when Estrada walked Jason Kipnis to set up a battle with Lindor. The Indians' electric shortstop energized his audience with a rocket shot to right-center field. As the ball went over the fence, fireworks popped and the crowd roared. The two-run blast was Lindor's second homer of the postseason, but he sprinted around the bases like a kid who had never hit one before. The homer had an exit velocity of 103 mph and was projected to travel 407 feet, according to Statcast™.
"Oh, man, it was unreal," Lindor said. "First of all, I thought [center fielder Kevin Pillar] was going to catch it. As soon as it went out, I put my hands out and said, 'Thank God.' And I looked at the dugout and everybody was going insane. And the crowd today -- unreal. I just tried to go with the flow. I celebrated like it was a walk-off."
Kipnis saves Kluber: Kipnis used a spectacular diving play at second base to help Kluber sidestep trouble in the fourth inning. With one out and a runner on first, Kevin Pillar sent a sharp grounder to the right side of the infield for what easily could have gotten through for a single. Kipnis ranged to his left, made a diving grab and recovered swiftly to throw out Pillar at first by a step. Per Statcast™, Kipnis covered 34 feet, hit a top speed of 16 mph and had a route efficiency of 97 percent. The second baseman also had a first-step time of minus-0.37 seconds, meaning he was moving before the ball was put in play. Michael Saunders went from first to second on the play, but Kluber escaped any harm by retiring Devon Travis on an inning-ending flyout.
"I got a good jump on it," Kipnis said. "When you get to two strikes with certain pitches, we're looking in and seeing which pitch is coming. So I know if it's a fastball away, he's probably not going to hit it in the hole to shortstop, so I'm going to be ready to go where he is going to go. We have to anticipate something where the percentages say they go."
Trouble with RISP: Toronto's lack of offense wasn't because it lacked opportunities. The Blue Jays put two runners on base during each of the first three innings but came away empty each time. Russell Martin was the biggest culprit, as he stepped to the plate with two men on in the first and third innings. In the first, he hit a weak grounder to first base for the third out of the inning, which stranded Donaldson at third and Edwin Encarnacion at second. In the third inning with two outs, he struck out with runners on first and second. Toronto went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and left five men on base through the first four innings.
"That was the Kluber that everybody raves about," Martin said. "Just really tight, sharp break on the offspeed pitches, good movement on the fastball and good locations as well. I feel like maybe I got one pitch that I should have hit, and that's it. Normally you get more than a few mistakes when you're hitting up there. Gotta tip your cap to that guy. He pitched well. Marco pitched well, too. It was a pitchers' duel today. They just did enough to win."
Going down swinging: The Blue Jays' lineup showed some signs of life in the eighth vs. Miller. Donaldson opened the inning with a single to center, and that brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Encarnacion. Entering this game, Encarnacion had four hits, including two homers, in his career vs. Miller, but he struck out looking on the fifth pitch of the at-bat. Jose Bautista and Martin followed with strikeouts on their own as Donaldson's leadoff single went to waste.
"He's tough," Bautista said of Miller. "He's a two-pitch guy that's dominant because they're both plus-pitches. He's deceptive, and he was getting ahead early and then working us around the edges and spinning off that slider. So hats off to him; he did a great job in some crucial innings for them, especially coming in with the heart of the order in his second inning. I thought he did a great job."
TRAVIS GOES DOWN
Blue Jays second baseman Travis was forced to leave Game 1 in the bottom of the fifth inning because of a right knee injury. Travis missed the final two games of the ALDS vs. Texas because of a bone bruise in his right knee, but Toronto was hopeful he would be good to go for the ALCS. The optimism didn't last long, as Travis had difficulty getting to a couple of ground balls earlier in the game, and the injury really flared up in the fifth.
Travis was running to cover first base on a sacrifice bunt by Coco Crisp when he pulled up lame. The Blue Jays' medical staff ran onto the field, and Travis was removed from the game shortly thereafter. Ryan Goins took over at second base and moved into Travis' No. 9 spot of the batting order.
"It hurts pretty bad," Travis said after the loss. "I felt good going into the game. I covered first on that, jarred my knee a little bit. Next play, I broke for the ball and I went to go run to first and felt a super sharp pain in my knee. It kind of felt like it was going to give out a little bit, and that was it."
"I made some mistakes early on, and they were able to take advantage of them for base hits. But it's really just trying to stick with that same approach: Get ahead of them and put them in defensive counts so they're not keyholing one pitch. There was some stressful innings early on, but it wasn't like the wheels were spinning."-- Kluber, on allowing six two-strike hits
"Who cares about that? We lost, that's all that matters. Unfortunately, it was a pitchers' duel, I guess. You tip your hat to the other guy; he pitched tremendous. I thought we had him early on, and he just got out of some jams. Obviously, they have their pretty good relievers over there, and they just shut it down. That's going to happen at times, but hopefully we start swinging it a little bit tomorrow." -- Estrada, on picking up the first complete game of his career
"They say 'Believe-land' on it, and it has the skyline of Cleveland. I believe in my team. I believe in my city. And it's cool. It's cool shoes, and I believe. I believe in my team. I believe in what we have" -- Lindor, on the custom-made spikes he wore on Friday night
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Kluber's run of 13 1/3 scoreless innings represents the sixth-longest scoreless streak in Indians postseason history. Duster Mails (15 2/3 in 1920), Orel Hershiser (15 in '97), Stan Coveleski (14 in '20), Bartolo Colon (14 in 2001) and Ken Hill (13 2/3 in '95) are above Kluber on that list.
Kluber is the fifth pitcher to have at least six scoreless innings in each of his first two career postseason starts, joining Steve Avery (1991 Braves), Dave Righetti ('81 Yankees), Joe Niekro ('80-81 Astros) and Christy Mathewson ('05 New York Giants). Mathewson did so in three consecutive games.
Estrada's complete game was the first one thrown by a Blue Jays starter this year, including the regular season. It also was only the second complete game in Toronto postseason history. Jack Morris also did it in a losing effort, against Oakland on Oct. 7, 1992, in Game 1 of the ALCS.
At 22 years old, Lindor is the youngest player in Indians history to have at least two home runs in one postseason.
WHAT'S NEXT Blue Jays: Happ (20-4, 3.18 ERA) will take the mound for Toronto in Game 2 on Saturday afternoon at Progressive Field. Happ started Game 2 of the ALDS and allowed one run on nine hits over five innings. That was his first outing in the postseason since 2009 with Philadelphia.
Indians: Tomlin was going to take the ball in Game 3, but due to a minor injury to Trevor Bauer, Tomlin will instead start for Cleveland in Game 2 on Saturday. Tomlin went 13-9 with a 4.40 ERA this season, and he beat Boston in Game 3 of the ALDS behind five strong innings.