When the ball disappeared over the outfield wall, Francisco Lindor raised his right fist and took off.
Smiling with every stride, Cleveland’s superstar-in-the-making shortstop sprinted around the bases like he was being chased.
He and the Indians aren’t slowing down for anything this October.
Lindor hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning and Corey Kluber silenced Toronto’s booming bats, giving the Indians a 2-0 win over the Blue Jays in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night.
Lindor connected on a 0-2 changeup from Marco Estrada and tore around the basepaths as the bend-but-don’t-break Indians won their fourth straight playoff game in this most unexpected season.
“I believe in my team. I believe in what we have,” said Lindor, the talented 22-year-old who plays as if he’s been part of postseason games for a decade. “We’re just trying to do our thing.”
Kluber, Cleveland’s solid and stoic ace, pitched 6 1/3 spotless innings before Manager Terry Francona turned things over to the Indians’ best weapon — their bullpen. Andrew Miller made the Blue Jays look silly, striking out five of the six batters he faced, and closer Cody Allen got the save with a perfect ninth as the Indians extended their longest postseason winning streak since 1920.
The Blue Jays wasted some early scoring chances — they had six runners in the first three innings — against Kluber and their frustration only grew as the night went on. Toronto slugger Jose Bautista struck out three times and Edwin Encarnacion lost his cool when he was fanned in the eighth, jawing at plate umpire Laz Diaz.
“It wasn’t like we faced the average Joe out there,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Kluber. “He’s one of the elite pitchers in the game, as is Miller, as is Allen. We got some guys on base early. We couldn’t get that big hit.”
After getting their first ALCS win since 2007, the Indians will try to take a 2-0 lead Saturday with Josh Tomlin facing Toronto’s 20-game winner, J.A. Happ. Tomlin was originally scheduled to start Game 3 but was moved up when Trevor Bauer sustained an odd injury as he sliced open his right pinkie while repairing a drone.
Kluber kept flying in the postseason.
The right-hander has not allowed a run in 13 1/3 innings this October and he kept the Blue Jays inside Progressive Field after they teed off against the Texas Rangers in the division series.
Estrada carried a four-hit shutout into the sixth before walking Jason Kipnis with one out. Lindor was in an 0-2 hole before the shortstop, who could become a household name before this series ends, drove his homer over the wall in right-center and ran like Usain Bolt wearing a Chief Wahoo cap.
“I thought (Kevin) Pillar was going to catch it,” Lindor said. “As soon as it went out, I put my hands out. I looked at the dugout and everybody was going insane.”
Estrada allowed six hits in Toronto’s first complete game all year, but made one costly mistake.
“I was trying to bounce it, to be honest with you,” Estrada said. “Good hitters are going to hit it out and he’s a good hitter.”
Kluber dodged some early trouble and held the Blue Jays, who hit eight home runs and scored 22 times in their ALDS sweep of Texas, to six hits in the first six innings. The Indians needed every out they could get from Kluber, who shut out Boston for seven innings in his postseason debut 10 days after he injured a quadriceps in a start against Detroit.
The 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, who will certainly get votes this season after winning 18 games, has been the only dependable starter all season for Cleveland, which lost Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar to injuries in September and is now dealing with Bauer’s mishap.