Indians' Victory in Bloody-Finger Game Sets Corey Kluber Up for the Kill

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 18, 2016

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 17:  Jose Ramirez #11, Francisco Lindor #12, Jason Kipnis #22 and Mike Napoli #26 of the Cleveland Indians celebrate after defeating the Toronto Blue Jays with a score of 4 to 2 in game three of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on October 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Toronto Blue Jays found out in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series that the Cleveland Indians can bleed after all.

But unfortunately for the Blue Jays, that applied to only one of the Indians.

The reality that Cleveland walked away from Game 3 with a 4-2 win, pushing their series lead to a commanding 3-0, is borderline astounding considering how bad their mojo was at the outset. There was optimism in the air that Trevor Bauer would give the Tribe a few good innings despite having recently cut his right pinkie in a drone accident. But that optimism slowly began to drip away.

Literally. Bauer threw only 21 pitches before his stitches burst, treating the 49,507 watching at the Rogers Centre and the millions watching at home to an early Halloween horror show. 

When Bauer was forced out of the game, an opportunity the Blue Jays been waiting for finally arrived.

Their normally explosive bats had been quiet in the first two games at Progressive Field, producing just one run and a .159 average. Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen did their part, but couldn't help in the immediate aftermath of Bauer's exit. That ultimately meant 5.1 innings of chances for Toronto to score off Dan Otero, Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister and Bryan Shaw.

But as it turned out, Bauer's exit was a call to action for the other team on the field.

"Sometimes the circumstances aren't in your favor," Bauer told Zack Meisel of Cleveland.com afterward—a clear subtweet at Jose Bautista. "Good teams overcome them and find a way to win."

Oct 17, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis (22) hits a solo home run against the Toronto Blue Jays during the sixth inning in game three of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: N
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto got only two runs on a solo homer by Michael Saunders and an RBI fielder's choice by Ryan Goins. The latter provided some hope when it tied the score at 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth, but that tie was alive for only a matter of minutes. Jason Kipnis erased it and put Cleveland ahead for good when he hit a home run off Marcus Stroman to lead off the sixth.

Mike Napoli also boosted Cleveland on offense, hitting an RBI double in the first, slugging a solo homer of his own in the fourth and scoring an insurance run on a Jose Ramirez RBI single in the sixth. Cleveland held a more inclusive party on defense, with Kipnis, Francisco Lindor and Coco Crisp all making nifty plays in the clutch.

In all, it was more than enough to buoy the Indians in a game where they needed to get the ball from Johnny Wholestaff to Miller and Allen. When they came in to collect the last nine outs—five for Allen, four for Miller—the Indians finished off a win the likes of which had never before been seen. Per Jason Lukehart of Let's Go Tribe:

Chalk it up as another victory not only for Cleveland's bullpen, but for Francona's management of it.

"He's been doing it all year," Napoli said, via Jordan Bastian and Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com. "It's been so nice to be around him every day. He's an awesome guy, but for our bullpen to step up like that today was the only reason we were able to win. They're the only reason why, and for them to do that, it's unbelievable."

Although Bauer's inability to make it out of the first inning without bleeding like a stuck pig didn't hurt the Indians in Game 3, it could hurt them later if this series is extended. Their starting rotation was already thin. It's down to Kluber and Josh Tomlin if Bauer's out of commission.

But if the Indians win Game 4 on Tuesday, Bauer will get a whole week to let his finger heal before the start of the World Series. Francona clearly wants this to be the case. He confirmed during an in-game interview (h/t Bastian) that he'll be going for the kill with his ace on the mound.

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 14:  Corey Kluber #28 of the Cleveland Indians throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays during game one of the American League Championship Series at Progressive Field on October 14, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Maddie M
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Kluber will be pitching on three days' rest after starting Game 1 last Friday. He's never done that before, which could make life easier for Toronto if he doesn't have his best stuff.

However, Kluber won't necessarily need his best stuff if he sticks with the game plan he used to shut Toronto out over 6.1 innings in Game 1. It revolved not on trying to overwhelm the Blue Jays with his nasty sinker and cutter, but with his nasty breaking ball.

Per Brooks Baseball, Kluber threw more of those against Toronto in Game 1 than he had in any other start all year:

Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

This was Kluber sticking to the script that's done nothing but good for the Indians in the playoffs. According to Baseball Savant, Tribe pitchers threw 23.9 percent breaking balls in the regular season. Against first the Boston Red Sox and now the Blue Jays, two of the top offenses in baseball, that figure has been bumped to 37.7 percent.

The risk of starting Kluber on short rest in Game 4 is he could either not get the job done or Cleveland's bullpen could finally run out of magic dust and blow one.

That would force Francona to go to some combination of Tomlin and Ryan Merritt in Games 5 and 6, and another short-rest start for Kluber in Game 7 if the series went that far. This would be "sub-optimal," as the kids say, giving the Blue Jays the chance to open the door wider and wider.

But history, of course, is on Cleveland's side. The 2004 Red Sox are the only team to ever come back from a 3-0 postseason deficit. Francona had a front-row seat for that, so he ought to know how to avoid any karmic justice the baseball gods may have planned.

Plus, there's the matter of omens. Not even a bloody ankle could undo Francona's Red Sox in 2004. On Monday night, not even a bloody finger could undo his 2016 Indians.

If the pattern holds, Cleveland will soon be making World Series plans.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

Follow zachrymer on Twitter 

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