TORONTO -- Breaking down Game 4 of the American League Championship Series between the Indians and Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
Blue Jays 5, Indians 1, Indians lead series, 3-1.
The final: Josh Donaldson gave the Blue Jays their first lead of the series with a solo home run in the third inning, and Aaron Sanchez combined with three relievers to make the lead stand up as Toronto avoided elimination in the ALCS.
The Jays touched Cleveland starter Corey Kluber for his first runs in three postseason starts on Donaldson’s blast and Ezquiel Carrera’s RBI single in the fourth.
Edwin Encarnacion put the game out of reach with a two-run single in the bottom of the seventh to plate the third and fourth Toronto runs.
Sanchez was strong through the first six frames, and the Toronto bullpen turned the tables on the Indians by shutting the door for the final three.
Man of the moment: The 24-year-old Sanchez was the Blue Jays’ best pitcher during the regular season, leading the American League with a 3.00 ERA and posting a record of 15-2.
With the season on the line, Sanchez was the ace Toronto needed to stay alive. He kept the Indians off balance with a sharp-breaking curveball and a 93-94 mph fastball, limiting them to a run and two hits in six innings of work.
Taking a page out of Josh Tomlin’s book from Game 2, Sanchez was able to keep the Indians from getting the ball in the air. The only fly balls he allowed were doubles by Tyler Naquin and Roberto Perez (which plated the Indians’ first run) and a pair of routine fly outs.
Sanchez threw 95 pitches, striking out five and walking two.
Game 4 pivot point: Donaldson made the defensive play of the game after the Indians had cut Toronto’s lead to 2-1 in the top of the fifth inning. With Roberto Perez on second after an RBI double off the top of the wall, Carlos Santana hit a sharp ground ball to Donaldson’s left that, according to Statcast, came off his bat at 102 mph.
With a dive, Donaldson snagged the ball and jumped to his feet in time to throw out Santana by a step, end the inning and protect the lead Toronto would never relinquish
Record-breaker: Pitching on three days’ rest for the first time in his career, Kluber didn’t seem to be affected by the quick turnaround from Game 1. He entered the game with a 0.00 career ERA in the playoffs, tossing 13 1/3 scoreless frames in his previous two starts.
He extended the shutout streak to 16 innings before Josh Donaldson’s home run in the third. The streak is the longest in Indians postseason history, surpassing the 15 2/3 scoreless by the legendary Duster Mails in 1920.
Manager's special: Francona had said he didn’t want to go too long with Kluber, especially if the Indians were behind, because they didn’t have anyone else to start a potential Game 7.
He went to the bullpen after getting five innings and 89 pitches from his ace, calling on Dan Otero to start the sixth inning. With another game to play tomorrow, Francona also had to think carefully about how he used his bullpen, which had to get 25 of the 27 outs in Game 4.
Dan Otero and Bryan Shaw were the only two Cleveland relievers to pitch in Games 3 and 4, so the bullpen should be relatively fresh for Wednesday’s Game 5.
Needing a mulligan: It most likely didn’t affect the outcome, but Shaw made a wild throw on Jose Bautista’s little dribbler to the right of the mound in the Toronto half of the seventh.
Shaw’s off-balance toss sailed over the head of first baseman Mike Napoli and into foul ground in right field, allowing baserunner Ryan Goins to advance to third. The next batter, Josh Donaldson, was walked intentionally – setting the stage for Encarnacion’s two-run single.
State of the Series: The Indians remain one win away from advancing to their first World Series since 1997, but at least the Blue Jays have some momentum on their side for the first time in the ALCS.
Toronto will hand the ball to Game 1 starter, Marco Estrada, on Wednesday afternoon.
Estrada matched Kluber pitch for pitch in the series opener, with the exception of a changeup he hung to Francisco Lindor – one that resulted in a two-run homer for the game’s only scoring.
Estrada went the distance in that game and has a 2.25 ERA in two postseason starts.
The Indians will start rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt.
The 24-year-old Merritt posted an 11-8 record and 3.70 ERA at Class AAA this season before joining the big club for one start and 11 innings in September. Merritt pitched well enough over those 11 innings (1-0, 1.64 ERA, 0.55 WHIP) that manager Terry Francona felt comfortable giving him a starting assignment in the postseason.
Merritt will be just the second pitcher to start playoff game with one career start. The Tampa Bay Rays’ Matt Moore was the first when he started the AL division series opener in 2011.