TORONTO -- As unbelievable as it may seem, what took place on Monday night at Rogers Centre was the embodiment of the Indians' season. A bloody finger stemming from a freak injury forced Trevor Bauer out of the game in the first inning. The bullpen turned in an October performance for the ages. Slumping hitters awoke and delivered critical hits.
It all added up to an improbable 4-2 victory over the Blue Jays that gave the Indians a 3-0 edge in the American League Championship Series, one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1997. Anchored by another overpowering showing by Andrew Miller, six relievers appeared for the Tribe, helping the team become the first in postseason history to win without having at least one pitcher record more than five outs.
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Leaning against a wall inside the visitors' clubhouse, his arms crossed and his face wearing an expression of exhaustion, Indians team president Chris Antonetti summed it up best.
"I don't think anyone could've written this script," Antonetti said.
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After Bauer took the hill four days after a drone accident left him with 10 stitches in his right pinkie, Cleveland's worst-case scenario became a reality in the first inning, when the laceration opened and he began bleeding, a lot. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons pointed it out, and despite the efforts of Indians athletic trainer James Quinlan, Bauer was forced to exit the game after only two outs.
Following Bauer's exit, the bullpen pieced together 8 1/3 innings of excellence. Miller closed it out, piling up three strikeouts in 1 1/3 frames to earn the save and build on his incredible October. The lefty now has an ALCS-record 13 strikeouts out of the bullpen for the Indians, who became the fifth team in history to open the postseason with a winning streak of at least six games. (The 2014 Royals started 8-0, and the '07 Rockies started 7-0. Both lost the World Series.)
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Cleveland's bullpen performance gave its offense time to chip away. Mike Napoli and Jason Kipnis led the charge, breaking free of slumps with well-timed home runs off Toronto starter Marcus Stroman, who went 5 1/3 innings in a losing effort.
"What words do you even put on that? Unbelievable, right?" Bauer said of the bullpen's showing. "They came in and did what they've done all year. They shut the game down easily."
The Indians are now on the verge of securing a World Series berth, and the odds are certainly in their favor. In Major League Baseball history, Terry Francona's 2004 Red Sox (ALCS vs. the Yankees) remain the only team to rally from a 3-0 deficit and win a best-of-seven postseason series. Overall, teams that have taken 3-0 leads in a best-of-seven format are 34-1.
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Cleveland has reached this point without injured starters Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, and while dealing with recent health setbacks for ace Corey Kluber and Bauer.
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"This just shows the resiliency of the team," Miller said. "Trevor's injury was obviously unfortunate. We want them on the mound. He's really, really good at what he does. But it's almost like, 'Hey, it's another thing. It's another thing that's trying to keep us down, and we'll just find a way around it, go through it.'"
The main reason the Tribe finds itself in this position has been its dominance on the mound, and that was the case again Monday. One after the other, Dan Otero, Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Miller all found ways to get the job done.
"That wasn't the way we drew it up," said Francona, Cleveland's skipper. "But about our bullpen, that's one of the most amazing jobs I've ever seen. I mean, starting with Otero to Manship to McAllister to Shaw, if anybody has a hiccup, we probably lose."
Perhaps one of the reasons the Indians handled the situation so well was that the relievers have been down this road before. During the regular season, Cleveland's bullpen was forced to log eight-plus innings four times, posting a 1.09 ERA with a .133 opponents' batting average in those games. On Monday night, the six Tribe relievers scattered seven hits and one walk.
"There was no panic at all," McAllister said. "Once that happened, everyone kind of settled down and knew our name might be called within an inning or within two innings. Everyone was prepared."
Napoli had a breakout night to lead the Indians on offense. Despite entering the game on an 0-for-25 skid vs. right-handed pitchers, he hit an RBI double in the first inning and added a solo homer in the fourth. Kipnis' homer gave the Indians the lead for good in the sixth, and Jose Ramirez added some insurance with an RBI single three batters later.
Stroman was charged with four runs despite limiting Cleveland to three hits. Two of Stroman's three walks came around to score, and he struck out five while throwing 59 of his 94 pitches for strikes. The righty took the loss, but once again the onus fell on the Blue Jays' offense, which has yet to generate much of anything vs. the Indians.
Toronto is batting .177 (17-for-96) with four extra-base hits in this series. To make matters even worse, the Blue Jays have not been able to take advantage of what few opportunities came their way, with a 1-for-11 mark with runners in scoring position. The three runs in this series represent Toronto's lowest output over three games at any point this year.
"Everybody is supposed to have done their homework on those guys, and everybody has a scouting report," Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said when asked about the six relievers Toronto faced instead of a regular start from Bauer. "There are no surprises. … But on any given day, if you ask anybody, if you want to face somebody's bullpen over a starter, you'd want to face their bullpen. That's what you normally battle to get to, but unfortunately for us, their bullpen did a pretty good job today."
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MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Bauer's early exit: The Indians knew it was a possibility, but Bauer's departure from Monday's game in the first inning still caused Cleveland to scramble. Without the ability to wear a bandage on the mound, the cut broke open and began to bleed in the opening frame. After a meeting on the mound, home-plate umpire Brian Gorman informed the Indians that Bauer would need to leave the game.
"Disappointment that I couldn't pitch," said Bauer, when asked what emotions he felt as he walked off the field. "I'm pretty even-keel when it comes to that stuff. It is what it is. I did everything I could to go out there and pitch. We treated it, did everything we could. It started bleeding on me. I'm a competitor. I wanted to be out there."
"He was dead set on going out and pitching deep into the game," Antonetti said. "To leave it early and have to turn it over to the bullpen so early in the game, he was frustrated by that. But in the end, he was elated that we won. I think that, ultimately, that's been part of Trevor's maturation as a pitcher. He's able to put all those other things aside and just focus on the team win."
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Nap's bat wakes up: Heading into Monday's game, Napoli was mired in a 2-for-18 slump in the postseason. The slugger's last homer had come on Sept. 16, and he batted .140 over the regular season's final month. In Game 3, Napoli emerged from his slumber. In the first inning, he drove a pitch to the wall in right for an RBI double that struck José Bautista's glove. Per Statcast™, the line drive had a hang time of 5.4 seconds and was projected to land 81 feet from Bautista's starting point. That combination led to a catch in 85 of 87 instances this season. In the fourth, Napoli drilled a pitch out to left-center to put the Tribe up, 2-1. Statcast™ tracked the blast's exit velocity at 110 mph and projected it to travel 411 feet.
"I've been struggling a little bit, but I'm a grinder," Napoli said. "I go in the cage every day and try to find it. It's just part of who I am, I go through ups and downs. I was able to feel good in the box today."
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Captain Canada: Toronto's power outage finally came to an end when Michael Saunders led off the bottom of the second inning with an opposite-field homer. According to Statcast™, Saunders' first career postseason homer was projected to travel 378 feet, and it left his bat at 100 mph. The home run, which was sliced to left, came on a 1-1 pitch and was the first home run Otero surrendered on a sinker to a left-handed hitter since Logan Morrison on May 8, 2015. It also marked the Blue Jays' first home run of the series after they hit eight over three games vs. the Rangers in the AL Division Series.
"There's really only one game at a time at this point," Saunders said. "Our backs are against the wall right now. It's an elimination game tomorrow. You have to worry about tomorrow, who we're facing tomorrow and come up with a good game plan."
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Kipnis' leadoff shot: After Toronto tied the game in the fifth, Kipnis wasted no time in putting Cleveland ahead once again. The second baseman snapped an 0-for-13 postseason slump in the sixth by pulling a 2-2 pitch from Stroman out to right-center. The blast, which gave the Indians a 3-2 lead, had an exit velocity of 107 mph, making it his hardest-hit home run of the season. The homers by Napoli and Kipnis were both among the six hardest-hit home runs off Stroman in 2016.
"We're having a blast, just watch us play, watch all the smiles," Kipnis said. "Guys are loose, guys are having a good time, and you're seeing the play out there kind of reflect that attitude."
Gettin' Zekey with it:Ezequiel Carrera is one of the few players in the Blue Jays' lineup who doesn't rely on home runs to generate offense. In the bottom of the fifth, he used his speed to leg out a leadoff triple on a shot into the right-center-field gap. Carrera scored one batter later when Ryan Goins hit a grounder to shortstop Francisco Lindor. Carrera had just one triple in 502 plate appearances dating back to the start of 2015, but he picked a good time to get one here, as it evened the score at 2. McAllister surrendered the triple and then the RBI grounder to Goins before giving way to Shaw, who got out of the inning without further damage.
"I was just trying to do my job," Carrera said through an interpreter. "Tried to put the ball in play and tried to create something. I believe in this team, so hopefully we can get through it."
"We have done it a few times. I don't think anybody ever thinks that we can't get it done, one way or another. I admit that's a little bit of a unique way to win a playoff game, but the alternative is to lose. I don't think anybody wants to do that." -- Francona
"We'll get the assessment from our medical group, but we believe that he'll be able to pitch again this series, if it goes long enough. And if we are fortunate enough to advance, then he still can be an option for us in the World Series." -- Antonetti, on Bauer
"That was the loudest standing ovation I've ever gotten after an outing. I guess I enjoyed the class of them cheering that I was injured." -- Bauer, on waving to the crowd as he walked off the field to thunderous applause
"I wouldn't put anything past Corey. 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." -- Antonetti, asked how much Game 1 starter Kluber can pitch in Game 4 on short rest
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW
With one out in the seventh inning, Kevin Pillar stole second base against Allen. On the play, shortstop Lindor gloved the throw from catcher Roberto Pérez and then made a diving tag attempt on Pillar, whose fingertips nearly came off the base as he moved to his feet. The Indians challenged the safe call, but the stolen base would stand after review.
Toronto won its challenge one inning later when Lindor attempted to steal second with two outs. Second-base umpire Mike Everitt called Lindor safe, but Gibbons challenged. Following a brief review, the call was overturned, as video evidence showed that shortstop Troy Tulowitzki's glove made contact with Lindor when he was off the bag.
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Indians: Due to Bauer's early exit, which turned Game 3 into an all-hands-on-deck bullpen day for Cleveland, Kluber will take the ball in Game 4 on Tuesday. Kluber spun 6 1/3 shutout innings in Game 1 and has turned in 13 1/3 scoreless innings this postseason. He will be starting on three days' rest for the first time in his career.
Blue Jays: Right-hander Aaron Sanchez will try to keep Toronto's season alive when he takes the mound for Game 4 on Tuesday afternoon. Sanchez has not pitched since facing Texas in Game 3 of the ALDS on Oct. 9, when he allowed six runs over 5 1/3 innings in a series-clinching victory. That outing was a dud, but Sanchez led all qualified starting pitchers in the AL this season with a 3.00 ERA.
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.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011.