The Cleveland Indians took a 1-0 lead in the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox thanks to the longball and a dominant bullpen.
The MLB postseason got off to a booming start at Progressive Field on Thursday night as the Cleveland Indians rode an inning in which they hit three home runs to a 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Game One of the American League Division Series.
The Tribe had an answer every time Boston’s vaunted offense scored, and after a serviceable start from Trevor Bauer, the bullpen was able to preserve the lead and give the club a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
The corner of Carnegie and Ontario was loud and locked in from half an hour before first pitch and stayed that way until the final out was recorded. The first playoff win in Cleveland since 2007 was certainly worth the wait.
Based upon ESPN’s rankings of ballpark factors, Progressive Field was the third-most hitter-friendly venue in baseball during the 2016 regular season, and saw the fifth-most home runs. Those stats played true on Thursday night, as the six longballs were hit by the two teams.
The Red Sox scored more runs than anyone in baseball this season, so seeing three balls leave the yard is perhaps not that surprising. The fact that those blasts came off the bats of Sandy Leon, Andrew Benintendi, and Brock Holt, however, could not have been predicted.
For the Indians, Roberto Perez got the ball rolling with an opposite-field shot in the third inning, and was followed by solo homers from Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor, all within the span of nine pitches from Boston starter and Cy Young hopeful Rick Porcello.
Porcello allowed just 23 home runs in 223 innings during the regular season, and had never allowed one in 16.1 career postseason innings.
The Tribe was just 10th in the American League in home runs in 2016, but on a night when the ball was jumping out of the park, they used three big swings to grab the momentum and send the home-field fans into a frenzy.
Stretch the Pen
Terry Francona is a veteran manager and one of the best in all of baseball, as evidenced by the two World Series rings he owns. He’s also infamous for his love of relief pitchers, so it’s not surprising that he went to the bullpen early.
“We wanted to win the game tonight – and we did,” Francona said. “[Game 2] might have a little different design.”
Bauer threw just 4.2 innings before giving way to Andrew Miller, and in doing so did his job. All the team needed was for the 25-year old to get them to the bullpen with a lead, and that’s exactly what Bauer did.
Francona used his top three bullpen arms – Miller, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen – in a way that has possibly not been seen since the heyday of the “fireman” back in the 1970s. Miller threw 40 pitches in two innings, Shaw just 13 in 0.2, and Allen 40 of his own in locking down the final five outs of the ballgame. Those aren’t the sort of pitch counts many back-end relievers ever see, but showed what a weapon the Tribe’s bullpen can be.
“The playoffs are a different animal,” Miller said. “It’s something that whenever Tito asks anybody to pitch we’re all ready to go. This is a selfless team. This win sums up who we are.”
The format of the postseason, with days off built into the schedule, allows for the increased workload without the fear of being short a couple of arms the next day. While it’s unlikely Miller or Allen will thrown multiple innings in Game Two on Friday, they should still be available for a quick burst.
“I was joking with [Game Two starter Corey] Kluber and told him he’s on a tight 165-to-170 pitch count in Game Two,” Francona said. “Nobody ever said you have to be conventional to win.”
No Rest for the Weary
The two clubs will be back at on Friday afternoon with a pair of former Cy Young award winners toeing the rubber in Kluber and David Price. First pitch is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET, and if the atmosphere inside Progressive Field is anything like Game One, it should be a raucous evening.
Bauer, who allowed three runs on six hits with six strikeouts, may be back on the mound for Cleveland in Game Four on Monday, just three days rest. That may played a role in Francona removing him after 78 pitches, but the right-hander has now gotten a taste of postseason baseball, and shouldn’t have any issues rebounding.
This Indians team has thrived at home all season, and the playoff atmosphere at the stadium was electric for everyone in attendance, including the players. As Mike Napoli said of the crowd, “I couldn’t even hear myself think at the end of the game. We’re going to need that. We feed off of them.” So let them hear you again tomorrow, Tribe fans, and send the team to Boston with a 2-0 lead in the series.