There wasn’t a bench-clearing brawl. That is about the only thing that didn’t happen during seven tense, theatric and highly entertaining regular-season games between the Toronto Blue Jays and Indians, who will renew acquaintances when the American League Championship Series opens on Thursday night at Progressive Field.
If October’s drama is anything close to what it was like between the clubs in July and August, buckle up.
Their previous matchups included a 19-inning marathon on July 1 in Toronto and a walk-off Indians win on Aug. 19 on back-to-back homers in the ninth inning, the second an inside-the-park shot that turned rookie Tyler Naquin into a local legend.
The Indians, who swept Boston in the AL division series after a season filled with injuries, start Corey Kluber in Game 1 against Toronto’s Marco Estrada.
Kluber was magnificent in his postseason debut, holding the Red Sox to three hits in seven shutout innings in Game 2 of the ALDS. The right-hander, who injured a quadriceps late in the season, will have to be on his game against the Blue Jays, who hit eight home runs in their sweep of Texas and feature a lineup with danger from top to bottom.
“They’re a solid lineup, one through nine,” said Kluber, tagged for five runs and seven hits in 3 1/3 innings against Toronto on July 3. “It’s not just two, three, four guys that can hurt you. Everybody in that lineup can hurt you. They have a lot of power, but they’re also patient. You have to go out there and execute pitches.
“There’s not really a magic formula. Just like what we asked about with Boston, it’s not a magic formula, they’re just a really good offense. We all have our work cut out for us.”
That was the case on Canada Day, when the Indians and Blue Jays slugged it out in Rogers Centre for more than six hours before Cleveland escaped with a 2-1 win.
Indians Manager Terry Francona, whose bullpen touch was on display against the Red Sox, brought in starter Trevor Bauer, who was scheduled to pitch the following day, and the rubber-armed right-hander responded with five shutout innings.
“Anytime you’re in a game like that, you always want to win a game from the first inning,” said closer Cody Allen. “But when you’re playing extra ball, you’re like, `Let’s figure out a way to win.’ And when we did it was like, `Man, if we can figure out a way to win that game, we can win any game.”
Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki said the game was a test of endurance.
“I felt like I was out there at shortstop forever,” he said. “We were using position players to pitch. That game stands out because it shows how evenly matched we are. Every game was close. They walked us off and you remember that because you’re walking into the dugout saying, `Man, we had that one.’ And you hear the Indians people saying they’ve been doing that all year, so there’s a lot of story lines for this series. It’s the two best teams to me.”
The Blue Jays have been in playoff mode for weeks. They battled their way to a wild-card berth and beat Baltimore in the one-game playoff, riding a sonic wave from their rambunctious home crowd and three-run homer from Edwin Encarnacion into a matchup with the Rangers, the team they traded punches with earlier in the season and knocked out with a flurry of long balls to advance to the ALCS.
Now, they’ll square off with the Indians, a team that may lack marquee names but not confidence.
“They have their strengths and weaknesses,” Jose Bautista said. “And so do we. As long as everybody executes and excels at what they’re good at, it’s going to be a tough series for either opponent to come out on top. We’ll see what happens. They’re a speed-and-base-hit club and we’re a walk-and-home-run club. It’s going to be a pretty good series, I believe.”