The message to Cleveland was simple: don't let Toronto win this game, because Marco Estrada pitches tomorrow. The Jays turned to Aaron Sanchez in a must-win matchup, and the young right-hander responded with six innings of one-run ball. One down, three to go.
Although Corey Kluber started on short rest, he did not look phased in the early going. Sanchez matched his pair of scoreless innings, and neither lineup got a runner into scoring position through the first two frames.
The first serious scoring threat belonged to Cleveland, as Tyler Naquin lined a double into the left-centre gap to leadoff the third. Once Roberto Perez laid down a
successful sacrifice bunt, John Gibbons made an aggressive move to bring the infield in against Carlos Santana. After falling behind 3-0, Sanchez battled back to induce a groundball right at second baseman Ryan Goins, who checked the runner and relayed to first for the second out. It was all up to Jason Kipnis to take advantage of the scoring chance, but Sanchez induced yet another groundout to keep the game scoreless.
Escaping the top of the third unscathed seemed crucial, as the Blue Jays constantly played from behind all series. With two outs in the bottom half; Josh Donaldson finally put an end to this, belting a 2-2 curveball over the wall in left-centre. This 402-foot solo shot put the Blue Jays out in front 1-0.
Given Toronto's first lead of the series, Aaron Sanchez responded perfectly with a 1-2-3 forth inning. Toronto's bats were back up to the plate in the blink of an eye, and Kluber's began the bottom half with back-to-back walks to Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin. Looking to extend the lead, Michael Saunders struck out swinging, but Ezequiel Carrera followed with a bloop single just in front of Naquin in centre. A good read allowed Tulowitzki to score from second, and Toronto's lead doubled to 2-0.
A pair of strikeouts to Pillar and Goins kept the Blue Jays from adding even further, and Aaron Sanchez was back out in the 5th with the 6-7-8 hitters due up. He surrendered a one out walk to Coco Crisp, who soon advanced to second on a ball in the dirt. After Naquin struck out for the second out, nine-hitter Roberto Perez crushed a 2-1 fastball off the wall in left-centre for an RBI double. Toronto 2, Cleveland 1.
Aaron Sanchez was still in danger, as Carlos Santana stepped up with a runner in scoring position, looking to tie the game with a base hit. A sharp groundball nearly did the trick, but an outstanding diving stop from Josh Donaldson kept the ball in the infield, and an accurate throw across the diamond preserved Toronto's lead through five.
Kluber responded to the run support with a clean fifth, but Sanchez quickly rebounded with a 1-2-3 inning of his own. Cleveland then went to Dan Otero to begin the bottom of the 6th, and Troy Tulowitzki promptly greeted him with a single off the right-field wall. He missed a home run by a matter of inches, but a one-out single from Saunders quickly gave the Blue Jays a runner in scoring position. Up stepped Ezequiel Carrera, who got a hold of a 91 mph sinker, but a terrific route from right-fielder Lonnie Chisenhall allowed him to run the ball down at the warning track. A groundout from Kevin Pillar stranded the runners, and the Blue Jays failed to add to their 2-1 lead.
John Gibbons turned to Brett Cecil to begin the seventh, leaving Sanchez with a final line of 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 5 K, 2 BB. The moved looked questionable, as Sanchez was coming off a clean 6th, but Cecil made his manager proud with an easy 1-2-3 inning of his own.
Brian Shaw took over for Cleveland following the 7th inning stretch. Once again, Cleveland's reliever was greeted with a base hit to begin the frame, as Ryan Goins lined a single to left field. Bautista followed with what amounted to a swinging bunt down the third base line, and a rushed Shaw overthrew the ball into right-field. With runners on the corners and still none out, Cleveland opted to issue an intentional walk to Josh Donaldson.
Encarnacion made the most of the opportunity, hitting a single up the middle that cashed in two. Donaldson was thrown out advancing to third on the play, but Toronto's lead was extended to 4-1 on the play. With just one out, Encarnacion advanced to third on a wild pitch, but a pair of groundouts from Tulowitzki and Martin kept the lead at three.
Once Terry Francona went to pinch-hitter Brandon Guyer to start the 8th, John Gibbons countered with right-hander Jason Grilli. Just like Cecil, Grilli rewarded his manager with a clean inning, and the Blue Jays were just three outs away from their first victory in the ALCS.
Before Osuna entered the game in the 9th, his offence looked to add to the run support. A one-out triple off the bat of Carrera put an insurance run in scoring position, and Pillar nearly followed suit. Guyer robbed Pillar of extra bases with a phenomenal diving catch, but the ball was hit deeply enough to cash in Carrera from third. Through eight: Blue Jays 5, Cleveland 1.
Despite a four run lead, Osuna entered the game to start the ninth. He didn't seem to need the added insurance run, as he struck out Kipnis to begin the frame, then got Francisco Lindor to groundout to short. Down to the last out, Mike Napoli struck out swinging to end the ball game.
Jays of the Day are Aaron Sanchez (.250), and Josh Donaldson (.110 + huge defensive play). Let's also give one to Edwin Encarnacion for the two-run single, and Ezequiel Carrera since he was robbed of a three-hit day. Brett Cecil (.095) also deserves one for pitching a clean 7th in a one run game.
The show goes on, as the Blue Jays continue their season tomorrow at 4:08 PM ET. It will be Marco Estrada up against Ryan Merritt in Game 5, and a Blue Jays win would send the series back to American soil. The message to Cleveland will be simple: don't let Toronto win that game, because J.A. Happ pitches Game 6.