CLEVELAND — The Toronto Blue Jays return home in search of offence to help dig themselves out of an 0-2 hole in the American League Championship Series.
The Jays managed just three hits and struck out 13 times in a 2-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Saturday. Toronto, which averaged 4.7 runs a game during the regular season, has produced just one run in two games at Progressive Field.
Befuddled by Cleveland’s pitching, Toronto hitters have struck out 25 times in two games. The free-swinging Blue Jays may lead the post-season with 10 homers but the fences have seemed miles away in Cleveland.
Following Corey Kluber’s stellar outing in Game 1, Josh Tomlin outshone J.A. Happ as the Indians starters continued to steal the spotlight from their Toronto counterparts.
"I know one thing, they pitched great," Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I wouldn’t dare take anything from them, that’s for sure. Kluber (Friday) night, one of the top guys in the game. And Tomlin, he’s right up there at the top command guys in baseball.
"But you look at the two games, both sides, it’s been all about pitching," he added.
The Indians become the first AL team — and join the 1970 Cincinnati Reds as the second team in the majors — to allow a total of one run over its first two LCS games.
Toronto has been unable to convert what chances it has had, stranding 12 runners on base over the first two games.
Looking for a positive, Gibbons pointed to his team’s resilience in the 2015 playoffs.
"We play good at home. Get in front of our crowd, maybe that will energize us and maybe get some things going. But our back’s against the wall. That’s pretty obvious."
Marcus Stroman starts Game 3 Monday for Toronto back at the Rogers Centre against Trevor Bauer, whose assignment was pushed back a game after cutting his finger doing "routine maintenance" on a drone.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is optimistic the Jays can turn things around.
"There’s no quit in us. We’re going back home, that’s huge. We’ve got three games back home. We’ll definitely make it interesting, I’ll promise you that."
"Everybody in this room is confident and they believe that they can go out there and get the job done," added third baseman Josh Donaldson. "The case as of right now is we’re not and I still believe that we can."
The Jays will need to re-find their swing. The top five of the order went 1 for 18 Saturday. And other numbers are just as bleak.
The Indians are the 28th team in LCS history to take a 2-0 lead since the introduction of the best-of-seven series in 1985. All but three of the previous 27 advanced to the World Series.
Since 1985, the team that has won Games 2 of the ALCS had reached the World Series 24 times in 30 series (80 per cent) including 15 of the last 17.
Saturday’s victory was a franchise record fifth consecutive in the post-season for the Indians, surpassing the four straight to end the 1920 World Series. Including the regular season, they have now won eight in a row.
The Cleveland bullpen was on point again, with Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen combining for 3 1/3 shutout, hitless innings.
Miller, who struck out five in 1 2/3 innings Friday, added five more to become the first pitcher in post-season history to strike out at least five on consecutive days. He has struck out 10 of the 12 Jays he has faced in the series.
Allen pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his fourth save.
Carlos Santana hit a solo homer for Cleveland, which manufactured the go-ahead run in the third.
It was a sunny 24 degrees Celsius at first pitch for the sellout crowd of 37,870, who gave their Cavaliers a standing ovation in the sixth inning when the NBA champions were shown in attendance on the big screen.
Tomlin (1-0), using his curveball more than usual on the day, exited after yielding a two-out walk in the sixth. He had dispatched the nine previous Jays, striking out five in the process.
Only two pitchers in the majors gave up more homers than Tomlin’s 36 in the regular season. But the free-swinging Jays hit into one groundout after another, hitting just two balls in the air off Tomlin.
The right-hander gave up one run on three hits with six strikeouts and two walks in an impressive 85-pitch outing that featured 52 strikes.
"One, I thought he really pitched according to the game plan and stayed with it and he was very prepared," said Indians manager Terry Francona.
He also pointed to the shadows in the late-afternoon start, making it further difficult for hitters facing a pitcher like Tomlin who changes speeds.
"When you’re facing good pitching and it’s hard to see you’re going to have a lot of those games," Francona said.
Happ (0-1) yielded two runs in five innings on four hits with four strikeouts and one walk. He threw 94 pitches including 62 strikes.
Cleveland went ahead in the second on Santana’s leadoff homer, which left the bat at 110 m.p.h. and travelled 388 feet to left-centre. That snapped Happ’s streak of 24 2/3 innings without a homer.
A Darwin Barney single and Donaldson double tied it at 1-1 in the third. It was Donaldson’s ninth playoff double as a Jay, surpassing Devon White’s franchise record of eight. Toronto, which left eight men on base in the Game 1 loss, stranded men on first and second as Tomlin struck out Jose Bautista to end the threat.
The Indians manufactured a go-ahead run in their half of the third with former Jay Rajai Davis reaching first on a fielder’s choice, stealing second, advancing to third on a wild pitch and scoring on Francisco Lindor‘s single. Happ had walked catcher Roberto Perez, the No. 9 hitter, to open the inning.
Lindor, whose home run provided all the Cleveland offence needed in Game 1, went 2 for 4 to record his third straight multi-hit game — the first Indians player to do so in the post-season since Omar Vizquel in 1998.
Happ (20-4 with a 3.18 ERA) has been a difference-maker for Toronto this season. The Jays went 24-8 in his starts and 65-65 in all other regular-season games.
But as they did against Marco Estrada, the Indians cracked open the door for enough offence to carry them through with their pitchers doing the rest.
Toronto got three shutout innings in relief from Joe Biagini and Roberto Osuna.
Barney started at second base for the ailing Devon Travis (knee), who was replaced on the roster by Justin Smoak after the Jays got the roster move approved by Major League Baseball.
Toronto did get pitcher Francisco Liriano back in the lineup after clearing MLB concussion protocol.