Cleveland's defense came up big in ALCS Game 1 shutout victory
Great baseball teams do the little things well. Lineups and starting pitching get all the glory, but in many cases, it's things like baserunning, bullpens and defense that elevate teams to the next level.
Cleveland's bullpen has (rightfully) garnered a lot of positive attention. In the ALDS against Boston, the big three in Cleveland's bullpen -- Andrew Miller, Cody Allen and Dan Otero -- pitched eight scoreless innings in just three games. But another "little thing" showed up in an exciting way during Game 1 of the ALCS against Toronto: defense.
According to FanGraphs' defensive metrics, Cleveland's defense was the best in the American League during the regular season. Friday night's game was scoreless until the bottom of the sixth, and two plays early in the game helped ensure that Toronto would not be the ones to break that scoreless tie.
In the top of third, Toronto left fielder Ezequiel Carrera tried to jump-start the offense and surprise Cleveland's defense with an attempt to bunt for a hit. With Cleveland ace Corey Kluber on the mound, it made sense to try to reach base any way possible. Unfortunately for Carrera, Kluber being on the mound also meant Kluber was available to do this:
Two Blue Jays would reach base later that inning, but none would score, thanks to Kluber's cat-like reflexes in successfully completing that barehanded play.
The following inning, Michael Saunders hit a one-out single to bring Kevin Pillar to the plate. Pillar lined a ball towards right field that should have given the Blue Jays first and second, at the very least, and possibly a first and third situation. Instead, Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis made a tremendous diving play:
Pillar almost beat it out and, if he had, perhaps Toronto would have finally pushed a run across. Instead, Kluber retired the next batter to end the inning and the Blue Jays' offensive threat.
In the bottom of the sixth, Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor hit the two-home run blast that decided the game. The aforementioned clutch Cleveland bullpen delivered 2 1/3 scoreless innings and they walked away with a 2-0 victory. Find out whether or not Toronto can pull even in Game 2 on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET on TBS and Sportsnet (in Canada).