CLEVELAND -- Up there on the screen, as their interview room answers were being broadcast back in the home clubhouse, the two Tribe teammates were a study in contrasts.There was Corey Kluber, still in the standard-issue October hoodie and Indians cap, his famously robotic responses coming out of a mouth
CLEVELAND -- Up there on the screen, as their interview room answers were being broadcast back in the home clubhouse, the two Tribe teammates were a study in contrasts.
There was Corey Kluber, still in the standard-issue October hoodie and Indians cap, his famously robotic responses coming out of a mouth that barely moves. And there was Francisco Lindor, black fedora, dangling necklace, sharp street clothes, smiling wide and looking like an extra in a Michael Jackson video from before he was born.
"That's yin and yang right there," second baseman Jason Kipnis said with a smile of his own.
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Yin -- err, Kluber -- gave the short-handed Indians pitching staff 6 1/3 innings of bend-but-don't-break brilliance in what felt, oddly, like a must-win Game 1 of this American League Championship Series with the Blue Jays at Progressive Field. But it was Lindor whose star, true to form, burned brightest again, his two-run shot off Marco Estrada serving as Friday's first and final blow in the Tribe's 2-0 victory that preserved its home-field edge going into Game 2 (4 p.m. ET on TBS, as well as Sportsnet and RDS in Canada).
Had the Indians wasted Kluber's gem before voyaging into the more suspect side of their injury ravaged rotation, this would have felt like a two-for-one deal in defeat. But Lindor, with one sweet swat off an Estrada changeup, suffocated such a storyline and put Progressive Field in pure party mode -- not an unusual thing for him to do.
"Unreal," Lindor said. "I just tried to go with the flow. I celebrated like it was a walk-off."
By now, you've heard his name, likely noted his runner-up finish to fellow Puerto Rican native Carlos Correa in last year's AL Rookie of the Year Award race and seen the highlight-reel grabs.
But if the postseason is your first real dive into the Francisco Lindor Experience, the kid's giving you a good look at what all the fuss is about.
It's not what the 22-year-old shortstop does but how he does it. It's a savvy, smooth, soulful, self-assured and smiley style of play that would crack even the hardest of hearts. Lindor once pointed to the Chief Wahoo on his cap and said, "He smiles a lot, and I smile a lot, too." He's here to spread the welcomed reminder that while the mechanical mastery and steely stare of a locked-in ace like Kluber will always have a place in the game, there's nothing wrong with playing like a kid who takes his Kool-Aid with two scoops of sugar.
"I just think you can tell how much he enjoys playing the game," manager Terry Francona said. "Shoot, if I had his ability, I'd feel confident, too."
On this night, you saw Lindor pump his fist as he rounded first and the fireworks erupted, and then you saw the full "Frankie" frolic: The dude was quite literally skipping around the bases in his "Believeland" cleats.
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"The whole world turns into a trampoline when he hits a home run," Kipnis said. "He's a little jumping bean. It hurts my calves watching him and how much he jumps."
The Indians needed a jump-start on this night. Estrada is a fastball-changeup guy who had pristine command of both pitches. Cleveland didn't get a runner in scoring position until the fifth, and that didn't end well.
So when Kipnis drew a walk with one out in the sixth, his plan was to put his legs to use, look for the tell in Estrada's slow stride to the plate and hope Frankie could shoot one to the gap. The ball wasn't carrying well on this night, and Estrada was on, so there was little reason to suspect Lindor would do the damage he'd do on that 0-2 changeup. In fact, in his young career, he had never logged so much as a base hit on a changeup in that low-and-in section of the strike zone.
But Lindor has produced surprising power in his 16 months in the bigs. His .454 slugging percentage is a far cry from his .384 mark in a 416-game Minor League sample. Lindor's offensive profile wasn't anything that jumped off the page in the lower levels. It was his defensive wizardry that made him a top prospect. But the Indians feel Lindor is just one of those guys who wanted so badly to get to the bigs that his mind and his swing couldn't find freedom until he got here.
Whatever the rationale, the results have been spectacular, and the attitude is even better.
Lindor is a leader in his sophomore season, odd as that sounds. He has volunteered his time and his talents to various Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities programs both at home and on the road, and through the Lindor Smile Squad, he served as the player ambassador for the Miracle League program, which allows kids with disabilities to play ball. Lindor almost single-handedly loosened up a too-tight clubhouse upon his rookie arrival. And as his profile has rapidly risen, he's simply said and done all the right things, as he did again Friday night.
"Up here," Lindor said, "I owe it to my teammates, coaching staff, my dad and the people that I work with in the offseason. There are so many people helping me in my career. It's not because of me. Yeah, I got out there and I'm the one performing, but behind the scenes, there's a lot of people helping me."
Lindor's home run in Game 1 was elemental in Cleveland -- this injury-ravaged, payroll-challenged underdog -- keeping its crazy story and season alive. This is the kid who once said, "I don't play for awards; I play for October baseball." So seeing him dance around the basepaths, soaking in the love of his teammates and his adopted town, felt like a prophecy fulfilled.
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The Indians had it all going for them in Game 1 -- Kluber's introverted yin, Lindor's extroverted yang and, above all else, a win that brought smiles big and small out of both.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.