Cleveland Indians, With a Surprise Starter, Silence the Toronto Blue Jays Again


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Indians designated hitter Carlos Santana after hitting a home run off Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ in Game 2 of the A.L.C.S.

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Matt Slocum/Associated Press

CLEVELAND — For the first two games in the American League Championship Series, a clear pattern has been established: The Cleveland Indians pitch well, take a slim lead and then hand the ball to their impenetrable bullpen to secure the win.

That formula has proved extremely potent, and it has the Indians closing in on their first A.L. pennant in 19 years.

For the slumping Toronto Blue Jays, perhaps their only route to victory would be to somehow seize the lead before the Cleveland relief corps of Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen could be unleashed upon them.

“I’ll be able to let you know if we get into that situation,” Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said with a self-deprecating smile. “Hopefully, we do. Hopefully, we can talk about that.”

Thus far, the Blue Jays have been left largely speechless and nearly scoreless. They were shut out in Game 1 on Friday and held to just three hits in Game 2 on Saturday, losing, 2-1.

Toronto’s anemic offensive output was a result of another terrific performance by the Indians’ pitchers, beginning with the starter, Josh Tomlin, who outdueled the 20-game winner J. A. Happ.

The Indians scored 777 runs in the regular season, and the Blue Jays scored 759. But this is October baseball, when hurlers dictate to hitters.

“The pitching has been great on both sides,” Toronto Manager John Gibbons said. “That’s all there is to it.”

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Toronto’s Jose Bautista striking out in the ninth inning.

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Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

This is the first time in five trips to the A.L.C.S. that the Indians have won the first two games, and that bodes well for their future: Only three of the last 27 teams that went ahead by 2-0 in a league championship series failed to advance to the World Series.

The Indians were not highly regarded after spring training, and they have not won a World Series in 68 years. But they are only two wins away from reaching the Series again, and their success has drawn the attention of the city’s other sporting success story, the Cavaliers. LeBron James, Kevin Love and some of their teammates attended the game on Saturday.

“When they show the Cavaliers on TV because there are two strikes on the batter or there are two men on base and they get loud, it’s a blast to be a part of,” Miller said.

But Game 3 will be Monday in Toronto, where the Jays hope that the ear-splitting support in Rogers Centre will enliven their suddenly moribund bats.

“We play good at home,” Gibbons said. “Get in front of our crowd — maybe that will energize us and maybe get some things going. But our back is against the wall. That’s pretty obvious.”

Everything the Indians could have asked for was at their disposal Saturday, except their intended starting pitcher, Trevor Bauer.

Progressive Field was sold out on a warm, sunny autumn afternoon. The 37,870 announced fans included James, Love and the Cavs as well as the former Indian Kenny Lofton. Cleveland’s elite bullpen was ready to pitch, and Francisco Lindor, the Indians’ 22-year-old spark-plug shortstop, was batting third.

Lindor’s two-run homer in Game 1 provided all the scoring in that game, and his two-out single in the third on Saturday — after Carlos Santana’s second-inning home run — gave the Indians the winning run in Game 2.

Lindor now has three straight multiple-hit postseason games, along with two home runs and four runs batted in. He also made a terrific jump throw from the hole at shortstop, reminiscent of the plays that Derek Jeter made so often for the Yankees.

But it has been Cleveland’s pitching that has made even the slimmest of margins hold up. Tomlin, the Indians’ third starter, was asked to pitch Game 2 because Bauer injured his right pinkie while working on a drone. Tomlin allowed one run and three hits in five and two-thirds innings, and Shaw finished the sixth.

Then the drama rose. Miller arrived in the seventh inning and, with his dominating combination of fastball and slider, struck out the side; Martin, Melvin Upton Jr. and Kevin Pillar all went down swinging.

Miller returned in the eighth and struck out Darwin Barney. Ezequiel Carrera finally put a ball in play, but grounded out. Miller then struck out Josh Donaldson to finish with two perfect innings and five strikeouts.

Then it was Allen’s turn, and he would have to face the meat of the Toronto order: Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki. He struck out Encarnacion, then faced Bautista, a man famed for hitting thrilling postseason home runs.

When Bautista went down swinging, the crowd roared as loudly as some had heard it at the stadium all year. Allen certainly felt it.

“You try not to get caught up in it, because it was only the second out,” he said. “I didn’t want to lose my focus, but you could feel the energy in the stadium. You definitely could.”

Finally, just 2 hours and 44 minutes after the first pitch, Tulowitzki flied out to center for the final out. Donaldson, with a run-scoring double in the third inning, had the only hit among the top five batters in the Toronto lineup. Barney, the No. 9 batter, had a single, and so did Martin.

Perhaps it will go better in Canada, where the Blue Jays love to hit.

“History,” Martin said, “shows that we can hit the baseball.”

But history also shows how hard it is overcome the deficit Toronto faces.

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