During the regular season, the Indians tied the Rangers for the AL’s best record at home, 53–28. So far in the postseason, they’re 4–0 at Progressive Field. On Saturday, in front of a boisterous crowd of 37,870, Josh Tomlin and a dominant bullpen held the powerful Blue Jays to just one run on three hits en route to a 2–1 win and a two-games-to-none series lead. The series shifts to the Rogers Centre in Toronto starting on Monday night.
The big blow
In the home half of Game 1, Carlos Santana led things off with a bunt single to beat the shift. Dropped to fifth in the order on Saturday, he came up even bigger in his first plate appearance: a home run.
Santana set a career high with 34 homers this year, but just four of those came against lefties; the 30-year-old switch-hitter hit just .267/.347/.395 from the right side of the plate. Nonetheless, facing lefty J.A. Happ, he connected with an 89 mph fastball on the low inside corner of the strike zone, and turned it into a souvenir:
Via Statcast, the ball left the bat with an exit velocity of 110 mph, a launch angle of 30 degrees and an estimated distance of 388 feet. The home run was the first Happ allowed in 24 ⅔ innings, dating back to Sept. 15.
After the Blue Jays scored in the top of the third via a Darwin Barney single and a Josh Donaldson double—his 12th hit and sixth double of the postseason, both MLB highs—the Indians retook the lead in the third. Roberto Perez led off with an eight-pitch walk, and was replaced by Rajai Davis via a forceout. Davis, who led the AL with 49 steals, swiped second base, took third on a wild pitch, and scored on a single up the middle by Game 1 hero Francisco Lindor, whose two-run homer accounted for all of the scoring.
The well-grounded Tomlin
During the regular season, Tomlin posted a 4.40 ERA and allowed 1.87 homers per nine, a higher rate than all but two qualified starters. Even so, he’s allowed just three runs and has yet to surrender a homer in the postseason. In 5 ⅔ innings on Saturday, he only allowed the Blue Jays to hit two balls in the air, one of them Donaldson’s double, the other a sixth-inning flyout by Edwin Encarnacion, Tomlin’s last out of the day.
Meanwhile, Tomlin got 10 groundball outs while allowing just three hits. He struck out six, more than in any other start since July 30, and walked two.
Tomlin’s October success has been aided by increased use of his curveball. During the regular season, he threw it 15% of the time according to Brooks Baseball, but in his start against the Red Sox, he used it 34% of the time, and on Saturday, he relied upon it 42% of the time. Six of his nine swings and misses came via the curve, while just one was put into play: Donaldson’s sixth-inning groundout, a huge moment in the game given that he was facing Tomlin for the third time.
On the other side, Happ didn’t pitch badly, allowing just four hits, one walk and two runs in five innings while striking out four. Relievers Joe Biagini and Roberto Osuna held Cleveland hitless and scoreless over the final three frames while walking just one.
The Pen, Again
Though Andrew Miller was first sighted stretching in the fourth inning, manager Terry Francona went to righty Bryan Shaw after Tomlin walked Jose Bautista with two outs in the sixth. He induced a comebacker from Troy Tulowitzki, the only batter he faced, and then yielded to Miller, who’s become one of this postseason’s most electrifying performers.
Despite throwing 31 pitches in a scoreless 1⅔ innings in Game 1—with all five outs via strikeouts—Miller came in and threw two shutout innings on Saturday. Again, he struck out five, this time while throwing just 24 pitches. In this series, he’s whiffed 10 of 12 batters faced while allowing just one hit and a groundout. Including the Division Series, he’s thrown 7⅔ scoreless postseason innings, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out 17. His two innings were followed by a 1-2-3 inning from Cody Allen, who whiffed Encarnacion and Bautista before getting Tulowitzki to fly to centerfield.
Including the Division Series, Cleveland’s bullpen has now thrown 16 ⅓ innings while allowing two runs, for a 1.10 ERA. They’ve yielded just nine hits and four walks while striking out 27.
Meanwhile, after scoring 22 runs in the Division Series—more than all but one of the other seven teams, regardless of series length—the Blue Jays have managed just one run and two measly doubles in two games thus far while striking out 26 times. They’ll have to do better than that in Toronto to keep this a competitive series.