TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays finally got their bats working.
Aaron Sanchez and the bullpen took care of the rest, and Toronto is still alive in the American League Championship Series after defeating the Cleveland Indians 5-1 Tuesday afternoon.
Cleveland leads the best-of-seven series 3-1 and could clinch a World Series berth by winning Game 5 at Rogers Centre on Wednesday afternoon.
Marco Estrada will pitch for Toronto, with Cleveland going with rookie Ryan Merritt.
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“We’re still alive, no doubt,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “Even through the struggles of the last few games where they outplayed us and shut us down, I mean, it was the same guys, just weren’t getting the results.”
Josh Donaldson hit a solo homer, and Edwin Encarnacion had a two-run single. Sanchez (1-0) allowed two hits and one run in six innings. He struck out five and walked two.
Toronto relievers Brett Cecil, Jason Grilli and Roberto Osuna allowed no baserunners over the final three innings.
Donaldson spoke to his teammates during a team meeting before the game.
“Everybody knew coming into today how important today was,” Donaldson said. “But at the same time, I just wanted to kind of reiterate that and let the boys know I was coming to play today.”
Cleveland right-hander Corey Kluber (1-1), starting on three days’ rest for the first time in his career, allowed two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out seven in five innings. The runs were the first he allowed this postseason.
“They hit better than us, they pitched better than us, they played defense better than us today, so they deserved to win,” Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “Their hitters looked a lot better today, a lot more comfortable.”
The Blue Jays took a 1-0 lead on the first homer of this postseason by Donaldson with two outs in the third.
An RBI single by Ezequiel Carrera gave Toronto a 2-0 lead in the fourth. The flare to center came with one out after Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin opened the inning with consecutive walks.
“Today we got that nice ball that dropped on that Carrera hit, things like that,” Gibbons said. “You’ve got to get some breaks, too. But really, you hear a few guys talking, ‘Hey, let’s go, we’ve got to do this.’ It was definitely good focus, and the right things were said today. But that’s one game. We’ve got another game tomorrow. So see what the heck happens.”
Indians manager Terry Francona said of the Toronto offense, “I think they’re good hitters. I mean, Donaldson got a 3-2 breaking ball that he hit for the home run. The other run off Kluber came — kind of lost the strike zone for a little bit there and had two walks. And Carrera dunked in a little bleeder. I actually thought Kluber pitched really well.”
Roberto Perez hit an RBI double with two outs in the fifth to cut the Blue Jays’ lead to 2-1. It scored Coco Crisp, who walked and took second on a wild pitch. Donaldson, the third baseman, kept the lead intact when he made a diving stop on Carlos Santana and threw the designated hitter out at first.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games,” Sanchez said. “There’s nothing more I can say about J.D.”
Dan Otero replaced Kluber in the bottom of the sixth and pitched around singles by Tulowitzki and Michael Saunders.
Bryan Shaw, Cleveland’s third pitcher, allowed a leadoff single to Ryan Goins in the bottom of the seventh. Shaw threw errantly to first on a squibber by Jose Bautista to put runners at the corners. Donaldson was intentionally walked to load the bases for Encarnacion.
“I’m not a manager, I’m not too concerned about what they do,” Donaldson said. “But to say the least, I was a little surprised.”
Francona said, “I went through every scenario in my head where we can’t exchange outs for a run. So it’s a difficult situation all the way around. But rather than play the infield in without a forceout with Donaldson, I decided (to try for) the forceout at the plate and pitch to Encarnacion.”
Encarnacion hit a two-run single to center and took second when Donaldson was thrown out trying to advance to third. Toronto led 4-1.
Carrera hit his second triple of the postseason with one out in the bottom of the eighth and scored when Kevin Pillar lined a sacrifice fly to right, where Brandon Guyer made a sparkling catch.
NOTES: Cleveland set an American League postseason record in Game 3 on Monday, using seven pitchers in a nine-inning victory. The previous record was six, which was accomplished 17 times. The National League record is eight. Cleveland was forced to use six relievers in the 4-2 win after RHP Trevor Bauer lasted only two-thirds of an inning in his start because of a cut pinky finger, the result of playing with a drone last week. The Indians are the first team in postseason history to win a game in which none of its pitchers logged at least two innings. … OF Michael Saunders, who is from British Columbia, became the second Canadian to hit a postseason home run for the Blue Jays when he went deep in the second inning Monday. Toronto C Russell Martin is the other Canadian with a postseason homer. … In Game 5 on Wednesday, Blue Jays RHP Marco Estrada (1-1, 1.65 ERA in the playoffs) will face Cleveland LHP Ryan Merritt, who will be making his postseason debut.