That old Tito magic lives!
In life, it doesn’t always work out the way you draw it up, but in baseball it sometimes does.
For the Indians, Thursday night was sometimes.
Everything worked. All the time. And now, Corey Kluber, who has been the best pitcher on the planet for the last three months, will take the mound in Game 2 with a chance to give the Indians a 2-0 advantage over the Yankees in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
“Being up 1-0, with your ace going in Game 2, I think that bodes well for us,” said Game 1 co-hero Jay Bruce.
For that, everyone can thank Terry Francona for drawing it up, and Trevor Bauer for executing it. On this night, Bauer was the executioner. The executionees: that vaunted Yankees lineup.
“He pitched his heart out,” said Francona, who had to be glad of that because it could have led to second-guessing following all the first-guessing of his decision to push Kluber back to Game 2, in favor of Bauer starting Game 1.
This is not Francona’s first rodeo. He rode a bruised and battered pitching staff to Game 7 of the World Series last year. This year most of his horses are healthy, so it’s given him some flexibility that he exercised in Game 1, giving many in the fan base a case of apoplexy.
“You do what you think is right,” Francona said. “It doesn’t always turn out the way you want to, but I was completely comfortable with our decision.”
So was Kluber.
“To me, it’s not about me wanting to pitch the first game or wanting to pitch the second game,” Kluber said. “It’s about us winning three games before they do. Whichever way that happens, and if it happens and we advance, it doesn’t matter who pitches when, in my mind.”
If anything, Francona’s Game 1 pitching decision underscored the fact that there is more than one thoroughbred in the Indians’ pitching stable. They did, don’t forget, lead the majors in earned run average and shutouts.
The wash-and-rinse of a muscular group of Baby Bombers from the Bronx in Game 1 proved that.
Bauer was sensational, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning, and combining with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen on a three-hitter. All that against a Yankees lineup that banged out eight runs and three home runs in an 8-4 pancake-ing of the Minnesota Twins in the AL wild-card game.
In his 6 ⅔ innings, Bauer faced 23 batters, and sent 20 of them right back to the dugout.
“His curveball was really good. As good as we’ve seen it,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Bauer set the tone for the game — and perhaps the series? — by blowing through the pinstripers, striking out eight with only one walk. The one walk was key.
“He didn’t give us the free baserunners,” Girardi said.
What he did give the Yankees was a snootful of the Trevor Bauer Experience.
“He’s very committed to his craft,” Bruce said. “He takes a lot of pride in doing his work. He’s a competitor who wants the ball. I’m glad he’s on our side.”
Everything considered, it was exactly the kind of game the Indians needed, considering that it was the first one they’ve played in four days. Bauer was virtually untouchable, Miller and Allen followed him to the mound and combined to strike out six of the 10 batters they faced.
Bruce played some big-boy baseball, banging a double off the left-field wall and scoring a run in the second inning, then belting one over the right-field wall in the fourth, giving the Indians a 3-0 lead.
The way Bauer was pitching it felt like 30-0.
Francona had to be enjoying the festivities more than anyone. He’s made his postseason bones by his expert handling of his pitching staff. He had to know that when he announced that Bauer, and not Kluber, would start Game 1, that there’d be some backchannel grumbling along the lines of, “What the hey?”
Kluber is Kluber. The best pitcher any of us has seen this year.
Bauer is that zany drone-iac. A loose cannon whose pitches frequently look like they come out of a cannon.
But he was also a 17-game winner this year. Now, make that 18.
It was a Game 1 victory for the Indians, but also, perhaps, a coming of age party for Bauer, who will be looked at in a different light going forward.
Meanwhile, the Indians will report to work today for Game 2 with a 1-0 series lead and their ace not only on the mound for this game, but able to pitch two of the next four games — if necessary.
Thanks to that old Tito magic.
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