CLEVELAND -- There was no more questioning why Trevor Bauer was on the mound Thursday night, not after the Indians pitcher flexed his arms and let out a primal shout in the sixth inning. In the batter's box stood Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, wearing an expression of befuddlement, after watching a curveball break over the inside corner for a called third strike.
Bauer was a force to be reckoned with in Game 1 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan, buckling knees with his breaking ball, firing high-velocity fastballs by New York's bats and carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning. The result was a 4-0 victory for Cleveland, which can now hand the ball to its ace, Corey Kluber, for Game 2.
Bauer quickly shoved all the second-guessing aside with one of the most dominant outings in Indians postseason history. The right-hander retired the first 17 batters he faced -- his lone blemish a second-inning walk to Greg Bird -- before finally flinching in the sixth. When Aaron Hicks doubled off the left-field wall, that ended the longest no-hit bid in playoff history for Cleveland.
Following that hit, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor jogged to the mound, where catcher Roberto Perez soon joined him and the pitcher for a brief conference. The groan that overtook Progressive Field crowd swiftly transitioned to cheers of approval for Bauer's nearly flawless effort, and then crescendoed to a roar in realization of the situation. The Tribe held a 4-0 lead, but the Yanks had a runner on and the top of the lineup coming.
Bauer kept his poise, which is increasingly becoming a specialty for the pitcher.
"We're one of the best teams in the league as far as not showing emotion," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said, "and not letting that emotion affect our next pitch. So he's done a great job of that."
Along those lines, Callaway noted that Bauer has practiced pitching through distraction.
During Bauer's offseason training, he and other pitchers he works with will come up with competitions during their workouts. One included being shot with a paintball for poor pitch execution. Callaway noted that Bauer will also pitch with music blasting, helping the righty hone his concentration. Before each of his starts in Cleveland, Bauer can be spotted warming up with earbuds in.
Callaway laughed when asked what type of music is playing.
"I have no idea," he said. "If it's anything like his warmup music, I don't know how he controls it. He can concentrate through anything if he's listening to that during his warmup."
That would be the song "Pursuit of Vikings" by Amon Amarth, which is described as a "Swedish melodic death metal band." In front of a packed ballpark, the heavy guitars and bruising vocals rocked the ballpark, while Bauer prepped for one of the biggest games of his career.
Bauer lasted 6 2/3 innings, delaying Francona's inevitable decision to hand the ball to relief ace Andrew Miller. The starter piled up eight strikeouts, allowed only two hits and kept the Yankees guessing all night long. He generated 19 called strikes, including eight with his curve.
In the sixth, Hicks moved to third on a groundout after his double, setting up a critical matchup between Bauer and Judge. The pitcher fell behind, 2-0, but then worked the count even and ended the frame with that inside curve that locked up New York's AL MVP Award candidate.
"I was sitting on a different pitch," Judge said. "He was mixing curveball, slider, fastball in there pretty well. I tried to pick a different pitch out there with a guy in scoring position. I just guessed the wrong one."
And in hindsight, maybe second-guessing Francona was wrong, too.
"Him having the confidence in me to start me is big," Bauer said. "But it's just baseball. Whenever I pitch, the process is the same. You come up with a game plan, you talk about it, you get on the same page with everybody, you go out there, you try to execute it. And then the results are going to be what they are. Tonight was a good night for us."
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 Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.