TORONTO — The blood quickly began to pool on the pitcher’s mound in the bottom of the first inning and the phone rang in the visitors’ bullpen at Rogers Centre.
For many teams, it would have been panic time. Yet, if we’ve learned one thing in this postseason, it is that the Cleveland Indians aren’t just any team.
In fact, every time there is bad news, the Indians seem to play better.
It happened again Monday night when starting pitcher Trevor Bauer was forced from the game four batters in when a 10-stitch cut on his right pinkie finger reopened. Six relievers picked up the slack and the Indians went on to a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
The Indians now hold a nearly insurmountable 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and can complete the sweep Tuesday afternoon in Game 4 as ace Corey Kluber will start against Aaron Sanchez.
“That wasn’t the way we drew it up,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But our bullpen, that’s one of the most amazing jobs I’ve ever seen. I mean, if anybody had a hiccup, we probably lose. They all made their pitches against some really good hitters.”
After Bauer issued his second walk with two outs, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons came out of the dugout to talk with home plate umpire Brian Gorman. In turn, Gorman walked to the pitcher’s mound and motioned for Francona to join him.
Bauer was removed from the game after a brief consultation with the Indians’ trainers.
Bauer cut his finger on a propeller while doing maintenance work on one of his drones last Thursday on the eve of the series opener. Major League Baseball told both Francona and Gibbons in a pre-series meeting the next day that Bauer would have to be removed from the game if he began bleeding.
It turned out that the cut reopening wound up gashing the Blue Jays as the Indians’ bullpen ran a relay race to the finish. Dan Otero replaced Bauer then the baton was passed to Jeff Manship to Zach McAllister to Bryan Shaw to Cody Allen to Andrew Miller.
“(Francona) did a masterful job running that bullpen,” Gibbons said. “They did a great job going through a number of guys and did a good job shutting us down.”
The six relievers combined to allow two runs in 8.1 innings.
“In a perfect world, Trevor would have gone out and pitched a great game like we all expected him to, but we also knew we had to be ready for a worst-case scenario,” Allen said. “When he had the leave the game, it was just business as usual for us down there. We’re always ready to pitch whenever we’re called upon.”
Shaw got credit for the win after pitching 1.2 scoreless innings after the Indians scored twice to break a fifth-inning tie, moving ahead 4-2 on Jason Kipnis’ leadoff home run and Jose Ramirez’s two-out RBI single.
Ceding the closer’s job for a night, Allen followed by blanking the Blue Jays for 1.2 innings.
Miller then continued his pristine postseason by working 1.1 shutout innings and striking out three for the save. He has yet to allow a run in nine innings during these playoffs and 17.1 career postseason innings.
Furthermore, the left-hander has struck out 13 of the 15 batters he has faced in the ALCS.
Game 3 was reminiscent of the Indians’ 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers in 10 innings on Sept. 17 at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco was forced from the game after just two pitches as he suffered a broken right hand when struck by a line drive off the bat of Ian Kinsler.
Eight relievers combined for 10 scoreless innings to beat Tigers ace Justin Verlander. That effectively ended the AL Central race as it gave the Indians an eight-game lead over the Tigers with 15 days remaining.
Yet that came in September with an expanded 40-man roster. This win came in the postseason.
“I admit that’s a little bit of a unique way to win a playoff game” Francona said. “The alternative is to lose. I don’t think anybody wants that.”
Losing doesn’t seem to be an alternative in this postseason for the Indians, though. They are now 6-0 after also sweeping the Boston Red Sox in three games in their American League Division Series.
“We believe in everybody here,” Indians first baseman Mike Napoli said. “All year we had guys stepping in, filling in spots that were tough spots to come in and try to fill big shoes, and they did that all year.
“We’ve come together as a group, as one, starting from spring training. It didn’t happen overnight but going through the year we found our identity. We know we need to do the little things to help us win and that everyone has to contribute.”