CLEVELAND -- For Francisco Lindor, this stage is not too big. If anything, the Indians' shortstop would probably want the lights to be even brighter right now. When the spotlight finds Lindor, when the ballpark is roaring, he is smiling or shouting or pumping his fists along with his fans.On
CLEVELAND -- For Francisco Lindor, this stage is not too big. If anything, the Indians' shortstop would probably want the lights to be even brighter right now. When the spotlight finds Lindor, when the ballpark is roaring, he is smiling or shouting or pumping his fists along with his fans.
On Friday night, when the Indians picked up a 2-0 win over the Blue Jays in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, the baseball world got a glimpse of the player Cleveland has already learned to love. Lindor was tearing around the bases, celebrating a sixth-inning home run like a kid who just learned he'd have free rein of a toy store. He'll try to build on his big home run in Game 2 of the ALCS on Saturday (4 p.m. ET on TBS, as well as Sportsnet and RDS in Canada).
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"You can tell he's enjoying himself," Indians manager Terry Francona said with a smile.
Lindor's home run off Toronto right-hander Marco Estrada was a two-run blast that provided the only offensive punch of the evening while traveling a projected distance of 407 feet, according to Statcast™. The shot also came off one of the most devastating offspeed pitches in the Major Leagues. Lindor fell down in the count, 0-2, and Estrada attacked with his signature changeup.
Estrada's changeup can crush a hitter's confidence. This time, it betrayed the starter.
In this situation -- a runner on first base and one out -- Estrada planned on burying the pitch in the dirt. If he executed the offering the way it was intended, a swing from Lindor would have probably netted a disappointed walk back to Cleveland's bench. Instead, the changeup floated inside and dropped into a zone that allowed the shortstop to capitalize.
"I kind of yanked it," Estrada said. "I kept the arm speed the same. I just kind of pulled it. I don't know what happened. I was trying to bounce it to be honest with you. The count was 0-2. If I would've got it down and away, he probably would've swung and missed. But I yanked it, and he hit it out. He's a good hitter."
It is never as simple as that, though.
In his regular-season career, Lindor has posted a .000 slugging percentage on changeups to the section of the strike zone that Estrada's pitch entered. On 0-2 changeups, Lindor has gone 1-for-12 in his career and he has a .157 career slugging percentage on two-strike changeups. On top of that, this is Estrada's changeup. This year, batters posted a .161/.215/.302 slash line against the pitch overall, with no homers and 16 strikeouts in 33 at-bats on 0-2 counts.
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"His changeup is so good, you can look for it and still not hit it," Francona said. "It might be the best changeup in the game. There's deception to go with it. Frankie has good strong hands, and sometimes you get a changeup up a little bit and they'll tend to go out."
According to FanGraphs, Estrada's changeup had a pitch value of 12.4 this year, making it the third-best changeup in the Major Leagues. Against the Indians on Friday, the righty featured the pitch 29 times, throwing 20 for strikes and generating nine whiffs on 18 swings. Two of those misses were by Lindor, who whiffed on a changeup in the fourth and then on another on the first pitch in the sixth.
When the count reached 0-2, Lindor had a plan.
"I was just trying to stay down through the middle," Lindor said. "That's really what I was trying to do the whole at-bat. I was trying to stay down and through the baseball, see something higher and stay inside the baseball. And, it went out."
The home run was the second homer of the postseason for Lindor, who at 22 years old is the youngest player in Indians history to have at least two blasts in one October. His blast was also just the third in ALCS history to break a 0-0 deadlock in the sixth inning or later and hold up as the only runs in the game. Tony Fernandez (Oct. 15, 1997, for Cleveland) and Mike Napoli (Oct. 15, 2013, for Boston) were the others.
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When Lindor's shot cleared the right-center-field wall, he joined the crowd in its jubilation.
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With fireworks popping above the upper deck, the shortstop raised an arm to the sky as he rounded first. Lindor flexed his arms at his sides and shouted as he sprinted around second. When he pulled through third, he turned to the Indians' dugout and saluted his teammates.
Lindor was plenty happy to be in the middle of it all on this stage.
"Oh, man, it was unreal," he said. "I celebrated like it was a walk-off."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.