TORONTO -- There was little solace to be had at the time. Indians manager Terry Francona, with no choice but to remove his starting pitcher from the mound in the first inning Monday, as Trevor Bauer's lacerated pinkie continued dripping too much blood to conceal, began trudging back to the
TORONTO -- There was little solace to be had at the time. Indians manager Terry Francona, with no choice but to remove his starting pitcher from the mound in the first inning Monday, as Trevor Bauer's lacerated pinkie continued dripping too much blood to conceal, began trudging back to the dugout. He had just summoned the first of six relievers on the night. Then he spotted his ace.
"When I came off the mound after taking Trevor out," Francona said, "that was kind of the one thing that lifted my spirits a little bit. The first guy I saw was Kluber."
• ALCS Game 4: Today at 4 p.m. ET on TBS/Sportsnet/RDS
In a perfect world, Corey Kluber would not have to take the mound until Wednesday, in a potential Game 5 in the American League Championship Series. But the Indians don't live in a perfect world -- they haven't all year. So Kluber will go today opposite Aaron Sanchez, with an opportunity to send the Indians to their first World Series in 19 years following the Tribe's inspiring 4-2 victory. The win pushed Cleveland's series lead over the Blue Jays to 3-0.
That means the Blue Jays need to win four straight, and to date, the only team to do so in a best-of-seven postseason series is Francona's 2004 Red Sox club, against the Yankees in the ALCS. Not to mention, the Indians haven't dropped that many in a row all year, becoming the first Major League team to go through an entire season without a losing streak of at least four games since the 2014 Dodgers. As a franchise, Cleveland had not achieved that rare feat of consistency since nearly a century ago, in the 1918 campaign.
• Kluber looks to punch Tribe's World Series ticket
Kluber has 136 Major League starts to his name. His 137th will be his first on short rest.
:: ALCS: Blue Jays vs. Indians coverage ::
"I wouldn't put anything past Corey," Indians president Chris Antonetti said. "He does a great job of conditioning his body and putting himself in a spot, in a position, to do that. Exactly what that will be, who knows? We'll have to leave that up to the game. The one thing I have great confidence in is Tito knowing when it's the right time for him."
Earlier in the day, the Indians announced rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt as the scheduled starter for Game 4, albeit with a footnote: Francona would have no problem turning to Kluber should Bauer, attempting to pitch with 10 stitches in his right pinkie finger, be unable to eat up innings.
Following Bauer's exit, Francona asked for 8 1/3 innings from his relievers. They delivered again and again under the watchful eye of their manager, who utilized each with caution. Under Francona, the Indians became the first team in postseason history to win a game without any pitcher recording more than five outs.
All are seemingly available again today, ahead of another bullpen game -- led by expected starter Merritt -- on Wednesday should this series reach a fifth game.
"Everybody's available," Francona said. "We've got to hold Merritt back because he's going to start, but other than that, everybody's available. [Josh] Tomlin even came to me and told me he wanted to be available tomorrow. We're all pulling in the same direction, and we're going to need it."
An injury-ravaged Indians staff has been strumming along without Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, magnifying Kluber's actions; the 30-year-old has been at his best in the first two postseason starts of his career, giving the Indians 13 1/3 scoreless innings.
Just Friday, Kluber pitched the Tribe to a 2-0 Game 1 victory over Toronto with 6 1/3 shutout frames. There's potential for him to pitch a third time in this series, too, should the series push to a seventh game. And, in fact, that was one of the factors in the decision to pitch him today.
"If we don't bring him back [today] and he pitches Game 5, we don't have a starter for Game 7," Francona said. "I mean, we have to physically have a starter. So this is the best way to do it. I mean, this is the only way to do it. There's no other way around it. We don't have another starter right now. It's not that difficult."
Said Antonetti: "I think Corey and the way he's continued to progress, I think anybody who's been around him knows that he's relentless in his continual drive to try to improve and get better. And every single year, every single day, he's looking at, 'How do I become a better pitcher? What can I do physically, mentally, on the mound, to get better and be more effective?' That mindset has had a huge impact and has helped him evolve into the pitcher that he's become over the last few years."
Today's affair offers the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner yet another challenge.
"He's our ace, he's our horse," Indians reliever Andrew Miller said. "I think we like our chances with him."
Jane Lee has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.