Jason Kipnis and Mike Napoli homered, and Cleveland’s bullpen pulled off its most impressive feat yet in these American League playoffs, taking over after Trevor Bauer’s first-inning exit and holding off the Toronto Blue Jays in a 4-2 victory Monday night that moved the Indians within one win of their first pennant since 1997.
Six relievers combined for 25 outs and 128 pitches, limiting Toronto to two runs and seven hits as the Indians took a 3-0 lead in the AL Championship Series. Unbeaten in six playoff games this year, Cleveland can complete its second consecutive sweep on Tuesday.
Indians ace Corey Kluber is expected to start Game 4 on short rest after Bauer’s drone-related finger injury created more upheaval in a rotation that’s been short-handed all postseason. Bauer faced only four batters before being pulled after his right pinkie began dripping blood.
Enter the Cleveland relievers, who helped the Indians to a Division Series sweep over Boston and have them on the verge of another one against Toronto.
After Bauer left with two down in the first, the final 25 Toronto outs were distributed as follows: four each for Dan Otero and Jeff Manship, three for Zach McAllister, five each for Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen, and four for Andrew Miller.
The Blue Jays scored twice but could never take the lead, and when Kipnis led off the sixth with a home run to right-center field, Cleveland went up 3-2 and was suddenly just a few outs from being able to turn the game over to Allen and Miller.
They appeared in that order, yet another instance in which manager Terry Francona has maneuvered his bullpen unencumbered by the idea of rigid roles. Allen, who usually closes for the Indians, came on in the seventh with a runner on and nobody out. A two-out walk to Jose Bautista put the potential tying run on, but Josh Donaldson’s liner to left field stayed up long enough for Coco Crisp to make a sliding catch.
Miller, who struck out 10 in 3 2/3 innings through the first two games of the series, fanned three this time and earned the save.
Cleveland has won nine straight games dating to the regular season.
Napoli entered 2 for 18 this postseason and in an 0-for-25 slump against right-handers dating to the regular season. He opened the scoring with an RBI double off righty Marcus Stroman in the first — Napoli’s long fly popped out of Bautista’s glove before both the ball and Bautista bounced off the wall in right field.
Bauer made it through only 21 pitches in the bottom of the inning. He’d been pushed back two days to Game 3 after cutting his finger last week repairing one of the drones he enjoys flying as a hobby. He received stitches and tried to pitch, but couldn’t make it through the first inning without blood dripping from his hand.
It’s yet another injury problem for a Cleveland team that couldn’t include starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar on its ALCS roster. Even with the Indians up 3-0, their rotation for the rest of this series isn’t a sure thing for the Indians, with Kluber coming back for Game 4 (and presumably any Game 7) on short rest and lightly used rookie Ryan Merritt lined up for Game 5.
Michael Saunders tied it for Toronto with a solo homer in the second, matching the scoring total by the Blue Jays over the first two games in Cleveland. Napoli’s solo homer in the fourth put the Indians up 2-1, but Ezequiel Carrera led off the Blue Jays fifth with a triple and scored to tie it on a grounder by Ryan Goins.
Kipnis answered with his first hit of the series, a home run that put Cleveland back ahead. And after Napoli drew a walk from Stroman and advanced to second on a wild pitch, Jose Ramirez added an RBI single off reliever Joe Biagini.
Bauer’s problems were the big story Monday, but Francona did say Salazar (forearm) was progressing well after throwing to hitters Sunday night.
Kluber has never started on three days’ rest in his major league career, but Francona said before Monday’s game that was the plan for Game 4 if Bauer had problems with his finger. Toronto will start right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who allowed six runs in 5 2/3 innings against Texas in Game 3 of the ALDS.