Cleveland Indians catcher Roberto Perez bumps fists with starting pitcher Trevor Bauer during the fourth inning against the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday in Cleveland. AP
CLEVELAND — Manager Terry Francona made all the right moves during a magical postseason trek for the Indians last year.
He’s off and running in October again.
Francona’s decision to start Trevor Bauer over ace Corey Kluber in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday night was rewarded by a brilliant outing from the right-hander, who helped the Indians to a 4-0 victory over the Yankees in front a sellout crowd of 37,612 fans at Progressive Field.
The Indians also got a big performance from right fielder Jay Bruce, who hit a pivotal two-run home run in the fourth inning and collected all of Cleveland’s three RBIs while also scoring two runs.
But it was Bauer who stole the show and the thunder from New York’s potent lineup, making his manager look like a genius once again after tossing 6⅔ scoreless innings and allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out seven batters.
“I kind of live by you do what you think is right,” Francona said of his decision to start Bauer. “You have to have the confidence in what you’re doing. Trevor pitched a very good game, but if he hadn’t, it wouldn’t have changed how we felt.”
One of the majors’ best pitchers over the second half of the season, Bauer didn’t allow his first hit until a one-out double from Aaron Hicks in the sixth inning. It was the longest hitless innings streak to start a postseason game in franchise history, surpassing four from Hall of Famers Bob Feller (1948) and Early Wynn (1954).
“I thought he pitched his heart out,” Francona said. “I felt like when the moment arose, he attacked it. From Pitch 1, he had his breaking ball, he had his fastball, he pitched in. I thought he pitched a terrific game.”
Bauer was especially hard on MVP candidate and Rookie of the Year shoo-in Aaron Judge, who struck out three times in three at-bats off Bauer. Judge stuck out for a fourth time with two on and two out against Cody Allen in the eighth.
Yankees starter Sonny Gray, had issues with walks after being acquired by New York at the trading deadline, and he was shaky early. The right-hander walked the leadoff batter in the opening inning, then allowed the Indians to load the bases with no outs in the second.
Cleveland scored just once when Roberto Perez bounced into a double play, but the Indians caught up to Gray in the fourth.
Edwin Encarnacion drew a leadoff walk and Bruce followed with a towering blast to right field for a 3-0 Cleveland lead. The Indians loaded the bases with one out after Bruce’s homer but failed to score again.
A sacrifice fly from Bruce put Cleveland in front 4-0 in the fifth.
“Jay Bruce was the guy that really hurt him tonight,” Yankees manager Joe Giardi said of Gray. “Besides that, he pitched really well.”
Like Gray, both the Indians and Yankees were interested in acquiring Bruce’s services for the postseason, but New York was reportedly unwilling to pick up the remaining $4 million of the slugger’s contract.
“It’s a good thing he showed up tonight,” Francona joked. “He’s a veteran guy. I don’t think a game like that is going to be too big for him.”
Thanks to another smooth move by Francona and a top-shelf outing from Bauer, the Indians now find themselves in a comfortable position with a 1-0 series lead and Kluber on the mound today.
“Being up 1-0 in a short series with your ace coming back bodes well, I think,” Bruce said.
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