Loud atmosphere at Rogers Centre should boost Toronto's comeback hopes
By Richard Justice
CLEVELAND -- In a quiet clubhouse, the Blue Jays packed their bags and prepared to push a reset button. Discouraged? Sure, some.
This isn't how the Blue Jays had it mapped out. They rode booming home runs and a dash of swagger into this American League Championship Series. Now the Jays find themselves in an 0-2 hole after Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Indians.
"I don't think anybody's down on themselves," catcher Russell Martin said. "We got beat. We didn't get destroyed. We lost two tough ballgames. We have a tough team. We're going to play tough. But we have our work cut out. Definitely."
That's what the Blue Jays can fall back on. They've cleared hurdle after hurdle this season. Toronto had some other tough times. When a playoff berth seemed to be slipping away late in the season, the Jays resolutely took care of business.
"We feel like we can score against them," third baseman Josh Donaldson said of the Indians. "I know we haven't done much, but we feel like we can score against those guys. We've done it before in the past, and we feel like we can do it again."
Here's what the Blue Jays have going for them. They're headed home for Games 3-4-5. To Rogers Centre, one of the loudest ballparks in baseball. To a place that feeds their energy and confidence.
"We'll definitely make it interesting," shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said. "I promise you that."
Here's what else the Blue Jays have going for them. Over the past seven months, they've been one of the best offensive teams, and they rolled into the ALCS averaging 6.8 runs in four postseason games.
Slumps are slumps are slumps, but Cleveland has stopped Toronto cold with a string of pitchers who've smashed bats and buckled knees.
Indians starter Josh Tomlin allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings on Saturday, feeding the Blue Jays an assortment of sharp curves and cutters that dart out of the strike zone.
After that, Cleveland manager Terry Francona turned to an airtight bullpen, getting 10 straight outs -- seven by strikeouts -- from three relievers.
Toronto walked off the field believing it had only a few opportunities. Good pitching beats good hitting, etc.
"They pitched great," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I wouldn't dare take anything from them, that's for sure."
The Indians understand that this thing is just getting started, that the environment will change dramatically in Toronto.
"Continue to be ourselves," Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor said. "We got to continue to play the game the right way, respect our opponent. Just because we're up 2-0 doesn't mean nothing. We have to respect who's on the other side, because they can come back just like that."
After Francona got six outs from Andrew Miller to get through the eighth inning, he turned to his closer, Cody Allen, for the ninth. If one inning could summarize an entire series, this one might have.
The Blue Jays had 34 come-from-behind victories during the regular season and were a solid 43-38 on the road. They rallied to win six times when trailing after seven innings.
Allen was just about perfect. He threw Encarnacion four straight curveballs, then a couple of fastballs. Those fastballs showed Encarnacion that Allen had more than one weapon.
Perhaps thinking about those two fastballs, Encarnacion looked at a curveball for a called third strike.
Allen took the same approach with Bautista, opening with two curves. Then Bautista, perhaps thinking curve, took a fastball. Having shown him two quality pitches, Allen came back with a pair of 94-mph fastballs for the strikeout.
Tulowitzki then jumped on first-pitch fastball and flied out to center field to end the game.
"You stick with what got you here," Tulowitzki said. "It's been [them] making pitches and playing a little bit better than us. It is what it is. We're down two and going back home. We've just got to play better, bottom line."
In two ALCS games, the Blue Jays are hitting .159 with two doubles. On Saturday, they got only two runners into scoring position and scored their lone run in the third inning when a Donaldson double got Darwin Barney home.
After that, Toronto had just one baserunner, in the sixth, when Bautista walked. That's when Francona waved to his bullpen.
Afterward, the Blue Jays could not count the chances they had. Yes, maybe there had been a hittable pitch or two. Mostly, though, this was the Indians putting on a pitching clinic.
Toronto has now dug an 0-2 hole despite allowing just four runs. From that standpoint, the Blue Jays did just what they hoped to do.
So after being tested in all sorts of ways during a long season, the Jays have a day off on Sunday to gather themselves before trying again in Game 3 at Rogers Centre.
"I know this group, been with this whole group the last couple of years," Gibbons said. "We play good 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."
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.