CLEVELAND -- The first opportunity passed when Josh Donaldson was held at third base three batters into Friday's American League Championship Series opener. It was an indication of what was to come for the Blue Jays, who needed to get to Indians starter Corey Kluber early if they planned on
CLEVELAND -- The first opportunity passed when Josh Donaldson was held at third base three batters into Friday's American League Championship Series opener. It was an indication of what was to come for the Blue Jays, who needed to get to Indians starter Corey Kluber early if they planned on doing it at all.
But Toronto's big hits never materialized, as Kluber forced the Blue Jays to tip their collective caps after Cleveland's 2-0 Game 1 victory.
:: ALCS: Blue Jays vs. Indians coverage ::
After Kluber danced out of early trouble to complete 6 1/3 scoreless innings before handing the ball off to an elite bullpen, the Blue Jays wondered what they could have done differently to flip the script.
"He earned that win. We kind of had him on the ropes early," catcher Russell Martin said. "It would have been nice to sneak a run here or there, especially early in the ballgame, but he pitched tough and didn't cave in. He really didn't make many mistakes at all."
With Cleveland hosting its first ALCS contest since 2007, Toronto appeared poised to silence a red-towel-waving crowd of 37,727 early when Donaldson smashed a one-out single to center field and Edwin Encarnacion followed with a liner that carried to deep right field.
Encarnacion's drive was measured at 110.7 mph by Statcast™ before it dented the base of the wall, but Blue Jays third-base coach Luis Rivera emphatically halted Donaldson at third base.
Toronto manager John Gibbons had no issue with the hold.
"I think what happened on that ball Eddie hit, it was kind of a low liner, it didn't have a whole lot of air underneath it," Gibbons said. "So he's got to read it, make sure he doesn't flag it down. If it's higher in the air, he's got a better judgment on it, but no. Kluber is pretty good, that's all I know."
With the Tribe's infield playing back and conceding the run, Kluber fired a 93-mph two-seamer past José Bautista for a called strike, then got the slugger to wave at a pair of 83-mph cutters for a three-pitch strikeout.
"The first pitch was a tough one; it went his way," Bautista said. "And with a man on third and less than two outs, for me in that position, after having the first call, you have to expand your zone a little bit and put it in play. I just wasn't able to do it."
Martin followed with a five-pitch at-bat that resulted in a harmless ground ball to first base, stranding the first two of eight men the Blue Jays would leave on as they went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.
"This game is not easy," Encarnacion said. "We try to do the best we can do, especially when you've got runners in scoring position. You want to bring them in, but sometimes it doesn't happen."
Kluber appeared human again in the second inning, when Michael Saunders stroked a one-out single and Kevin Pillar walked bedore Devon Travis weakly chopped an 84-mph cutter to start an inning-ending double play.
Toronto got another crack with two men on in the third, but Kluber dispatched Martin with a four-pitch strikeout, as the slumping backstop managed only to make contact for a two-strike foul ball.
"I feel like in my career, I hadn't faced that guy yet," Martin said. "That was the Kluber that everybody raves about. Just really tight, [with a] sharp break on the offspeed pitches. Good movement on the fastball, and good locations as well. I feel like maybe I got one pitch that I should have hit, and that's it."
The Blue Jays saw their final runner in scoring position in the fourth inning, when a sparkling defensive play by Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis robbed Pillar of a hit. Kipnis whirled on the outfield grass and threw to first base in time to nail Pillar, who felt that Toronto certainly had its chances to break through.
"The strength of their team is the bullpen, and we just weren't able to get any runs across early," Pillar said. "I think we had good at-bats. That's what makes him a Cy Young-type pitcher. When we had runners in scoring position, he turned it up a little bit and made some good pitches."
Bryan Hoch has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.