Trevor Bauer Becomes Playoff Hero 1 Year After Drone Injury Nightmare Ruined Him

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 6, 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 05: Trevor Bauer #47 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after retiring the side in the third inning against the New York Yankees during game one of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on October 5, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Previously, Trevor Bauer's most famous walk off a postseason mound was one set to a chorus of jeers as he bled out from an ugly, ill-gotten finger wound.

Not anymore.

There was nothing but cheers when Bauer exited his assignment against the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on Thursday. With six and two-thirds shutout innings, he was the head at the spear of a 4-0 victory that gave the Cleveland Indians a 1-0 series lead.

Of all the experiences Bauer had in his first trip to the playoffs in 2016, none were even remotely like this.

His opening act was allowing three runs in four and two-thirds against the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS. Then came his stranger-than-fiction, drone-induced finger fiasco in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays. After that was more of the unpredictable same in three appearances against the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.

This time around, let it not be said that the 26-year-old lucked his way into dominance.

He took a no-hitter into the sixth and left with two hits, a walk and eight strikeouts on his pitching line. All against one of the most explosive offenses Major League Baseball had to offer in 2017.

There's no going any further without a tip of the ol' hat to Cleveland manager Terry Francona, whose touch even Midas has to be jealous of.

It's hard to question a skipper who's led teams to two World Series titles and three pennants, the last of which happened just last year when he led the Tribe to within a win of their first World Series title since 1948. Nonetheless, it was tempting to question his choice to start Bauer in Game 1.

That meant bypassing staff ace Corey Kluber, who's in line for a second Cy Young following a scalding finish to the regular season. It also meant bypassing Carlos Carrasco, who's quietly been one of the AL's best pitchers for several years.

"I was completely comfortable with our decision to do what we did for a number of reasons," Francona said after Game 1, according to Jordan Bastian and Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. "Now, it's awful nice when Trevor goes out and pitches like he does, but I wouldn't have felt any different if they would have beat him."

These words would have been of little consolation if the Indians had stumbled to a series-opening defeat, which Bauer's 4.36 career ERA indicated to be distinct possibility.

Instead, the right-hander figuratively thew a curveball by literally throwing a ton of curveballs.

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 05: Trevor Bauer #47 of the Cleveland Indians delivers the pitch during the first inning against the New York Yankees during game one of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on October 5, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Yankees saw 10 curves from Bauer in the first inning alone, which set the trend for the rest of his outing. He went to the hook for 35 of his 98 pitches, according to Baseball Savant.

While his high-octane fastball sat in the mid-90s, his curves varied in speed from 75 to 81 miles per hour. They buckled knees, froze batters where they stood and, on occasion, induced swings that belong in dictionaries next to the word "meager."

Via Pitcher List, Gary Sanchez will now demonstrate:

The excellence of Bauer's curveball isn't news. It was lauded as a plus pitch when the Arizona Diamondbacks chose him at No. 3 overall in 2011 and has since taken its place among MLB's most eye-popping curves. To wit, it rated ahead of Clayton Kershaw's in vertical drop this season.

What is news is how large Bauer's curveball now looms in his repertoire. It accounted for just 11.6 percent of his pitches two years ago, per Brooks Baseball. This year, it accounted for 29.1 percent overall and 31.9 percent amid a second half that featured a sparkling 3.01 ERA.

The Yankees were a good candidate to spoil Bauer's breaking-ball-induced breakout. Their .385 slugging percentage against breaking stuff may not sound like much, but that was good for sixth in MLB.

But they obviously weren't equal to the task. And in the wake of it, the fear in New York should be that the Bombers' trial against Cleveland breaking balls is just beginning.

Up next is Kluber's slider in Game 2 and Carrasco's slider in Game 3. Among pitchers who threw at least 500 sliders, these nasty breakers ranked first and fifth in batting average against this season. 

You can bet that Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway will urge that these pitches be thrown early and often. This is, after all, the same guy who oversaw a pitching staff that threw a whopping 36.2 percent breaking balls last October.

If the Yankees fight the good fight against Kluber and Carrasco, their reward could be another shot at Bauer later in the series. Given the awesome power of their offense, they could get their revenge and then hand things over to a bullpen with its own awesome power to close things out.

But coming off a 102-win regular season, Cleveland featured many reasons it was widely favored at the outset to win the series. Bauer's eye-opening excellence in Game 1 is just one more for the pile, as well as a warning for anyone else the Indians come across this October.

Provided, of course, that he keeps his fingers intact this time.

            

Data courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball. Odds provided by OddsShark.

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