TORONTO — Maybe there is something to this Believeland stuff after all.
In the past, the Cleveland Indians missing a chance to close out an American League Championship Series and earn a berth in the World Series would have been cause for consternation. The Indians, of course, have ‘t won a World Series since 1948.
Yet it seems the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA title in June has changed things.
After providing the city’s first major sports championship since 1964 — and rallying from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors in The Finals — it seems the Cavs have indeed allowed the city of Cleveland to breathe easier.
There was the least bit of concern in the Indians’ clubhouse early Tuesday evening after they failed to complete a sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series, losing 5-1 in Game 4 at the Rogers Centre.
The Indians will again try to clinch their first World Series berth since 1997 on Wednesday in Game 5 of the best-of-seven series after suffering their first loss since Sept. 28. They won their final three regular-season games then went 6-0 to start the postseason.
“Every team is going to lose a game sometime,” Indians reliever Bryan Shaw said. “It’s baseball. Nobody wins every day.”
Pitching on short rest for the first time in his six-year career, Corey Kluber took the loss after throwing a combined 13.1 scoreless innings while winning his first two career postseason starts.
The Blue Jays didn’t exactly hit Kluber around as he allowed just two runs and four hits in five innings while striking out seven and walking two.
However, the 2-0 lead that the Blue Jays built against Kluber on Josh Donaldson’s solo home run in the third inning and Ezequiel Carrera’s RBI single in the fourth was enough.
Aaron Sanchez held the Indians to only one run and two hits in six innings for the win, then Brett Cecil, Jason Grilli and Roberto Osuna finished with one hitless inning each.
“They outhit us, they outpitched us and they played better defense than us today,” Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “Some days, the other team is just better. We knew this wasn’t going to be an easy series. We just need to come back tomorrow and play better baseball, play like the Tribe. That’s all.”
The Indians are still clearly in control of the series and have three more shots to win it. However, their mounting starting pitching injuries have at least cracked the door open for the Blue Jays.
Right-handers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were both hurt in September. Fellow righty Trevor Bauer pitched just two-thirds of an inning in Game 3 before the infamous drone-related cut on his pinkie finger reopened.
Thus, the Indians are in a situation where they will pitch rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt in Game 5, even though he has started just one major league game in his career.
Right-hander Josh Tomlin, who has won both of his postseason starts, is lined to pitch a potential Game 6 if the series shifts back to Cleveland on Friday.
However, if a Game 7 is necessary Saturday, Kluber would again be asked to pitch on three days’ rest.
Kluber said he “felt no different than any other start” Tuesday. Nevertheless, manager Terry Francona pulled him after five innings to keep him sharp for a potential Game 7.
“We talked to Kluber after every inning,” Francona said. “I thought he held his stuff really good. I thought his legs started to get a little tired, though.”
Despite his lack of experience, Merritt expressed his excitement following the loss about being put in position to pitch a pennant-clinching game. Francona has faith the stage won’t be too big for the 24-year-old.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Francona said.
Both of the Indians’ relief aces will also be rested and ready to pitch multiple innings if Merritt can get a lead to them. Neither left-hander Andrew Miller nor right-hander Cody Allen pitched Tuesday.
The Indians were within a run by the time Kluber was pulled as Roberto Perez hit an RBI double in the fifth inning to make it 2-1. Francona did consider going to a Miller/Allen combination in an effort to keep the game close but decided against it.
The Blue Jays then put the game away by scoring two runs off Shaw in the seventh inning and one off Mike Clevinger in the eighth.
“That would have been four out of five pretty high-stress, high-leverage innings, so we decided to try to go a different route,” Francona said. “Didn’t work out as well as we wanted.”