MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Blue Jays go powerless against Tribe's ace

Potent lineup missed on chances early in ALCS opener

Blue Jays go powerless against Tribe's ace

CLEVELAND -- When the baseball stays in the park, the Blue Jays are a different kind of team.

"That's just who we are," Toronto manager John Gibbons said.

The Blue Jays hit 221 home runs during the regular season, the fourth most in the Majors. When hitting at least one home run in a game, they were 80-39. When the Jays didn't, they were 9-34.

Game Date Matchup TV/Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 14 CLE 2, TOR 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 15 CLE 2, TOR 1 video
Gm 3 Oct. 17 CLE 4, TOR 2 video
Gm 4 Oct. 18 TOR 5, CLE 1 video
Gm 5 Oct. 19 CLE 3, TOR 0 video

Toronto rolled into this American League Championship Series -- which continues Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on TBS, as well as Sportsnet and RDS in Canada -- having hit 10 home runs in four straight postseason victories.

Say hello to Indians ace Corey Kluber.

"Sometimes you've got to give credit to the other guy," Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said.

That's the simplest explanation for what happened to Toronto in losing Game 1 of the ALCS to Cleveland, 2-0, on Friday night. Kluber scattered six hits over 6 1/3 innings, and relievers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen finished up.

"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. Gotta tip your cap to that guy."

This game started just the way the Blue Jays hoped it would. They got men on base and ran up Kluber's pitch count. But the Jays didn't get the hit that might have turned the game in a different direction.

"I think we got a little antsy when those guys were in scoring position and started swinging at some pitches," Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista said. "He was able to take advantage of that."

Gibbons on Kluber's outing

The Blue Jays had runners on second and third base with one out in the first inning when they got Kluber at his best.

Bautista swung and missed at a pair of breaking balls before Kluber gave him a 94-mph heater for a called strike three.

"It wasn't like we faced an average Joe out there," Gibbons said.

No kidding.

Kluber finished the first inning by setting up Martin with a sinker-slider combination before getting him to ground out on an unhittable curveball.

That was the pattern for the entire night. Think fastball, get breaking ball. Think breaking ball, get an extraordinary one.

"He earned that win," Martin said. "We kind of had him on the ropes early. It would have been nice to sneak a run here or there, especially early in the ballgame, but he pitched tough and didn't cave in. He really didn't make many mistakes at all."

The Blue Jays had another chance in the second inning with two runners on base and one out. That's when Kluber got Devon Travis to pound a slider to Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, who started an inning-ending double play.

"We always feel we can hit anyone's best," Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar said. "We're going to try and wear guys down. When we had runners in scoring position, he turned it up a little bit and made some good pitches."

Morris on Blue Jays' struggles

And it was more of the same in the third when Kluber struck out Martin on a curve-slider-curve combination to strand two more runners.

This is also the thing that should encourage the Blue Jays. They had pressure on Kluber those first three innings, which is their usual game. All the Jays didn't do was get a pitch they could hit over the fence.

Toronto starter Marco Estrada was also excellent, making just one mistake that cost him -- Lindor's two-run home run in the sixth inning.

"One swing is the difference in the game," Miller said. "You see how quickly it can change."

Lindor added: "Kluber was unreal. The team that we have today is unreal."

But what Game 1 showed is that these are two evenly matched teams that are likely to an entertaining and potentially lengthy ALCS.

Cleveland Game 2 starter Josh Tomlin allowed three home runs to Toronto on Aug. 20, the last time he faced them. So the Blue Jays will enter Game 2 with that somewhere in their memory.

Martin, Melvin Upton Jr. and Edwin Encarnacion all took Tomlin deep in that game. Tomlin is a gritty bend-but-not-break competitor who has been important for a rotation decimated by injuries. But he did allow 36 home runs, the third most in the Majors.

This series opened with the Indians getting the hit they needed to get.

"That's what playoff baseball comes down to," Pillar said. "Who is going to get the big hit? We just weren't able to do it tonight."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.