CLEVELAND — With few opportunities to make plays, it was tough to tell whether Jason Kipnis was a legitimate center fielder when he converted to the position at the end of the regular season.
He sure looked like one in Game 1 of the American League Division Series when he laid out to make a diving catch and rob Starlin Castro of extra bases to lead off the third inning.
“I broke on the ball, he broke on the ball,” left fielder Lonnie Chisenhall said. “I peeked over at him. He looked like he was going to be aggressive. So I let him have it.
“It’s nice to see him go after balls like that and make plays. Especially since he’s not been out there a long time. It’s a huge play in the game. I told him I was just getting out of his way, especially if he’s going to make a big play like that at a big time. Trevor (Bauer) gets fired up on the mound. It was good to see.
“It was a big situation. It could have been a double. They could have gotten something started. But he stopped it. I know he’s athletic. I know he can play the position. It’s nice to reaffirm what he’s been thinking and what everybody’s been thinking.”
After Kipnis made the catch, Bauer raised his arms and screamed, then pumped his fist and screamed again before acknowledging Kipnis with a tip of the cap.
“I think that’s the biggest play of the game,” Bauer said. “At that point, it’s a very close game. If he doesn’t catch that, it’s a double, and now you have your leadoff guy on second. One baserunner in the postseason is a momentum swing. So that takes a guy off second and a high-stress inning and turns it into nobody on and a low-stress inning, which is huge.
“Yeah, I was pretty pumped up about that. Yeah, I think there’s some people that have kind of doubted his ability in center field given that he hasn’t played a whole lot out there, but hopefully that puts that narrative to rest. We all trusted that he could go out there and play defense like that.”
Veteran outfielder Austin Jackson, who made possibly the play of the year when he tumbled over the wall to steal a home run at Fenway Park, thinks Kipnis’ web gem will help him feel more comfortable in center going forward.
“I think it gives him a lot of confidence to be able to make a play like that on the big stage,” Jackson said. “You make a diving play like that, and, like I said, on the big stage, you usually have confidence. He needs that. He hasn’t had a lot of balls hit his way, but to be able to make a play like that in this situation is key.”
“I thought that was good, not only for getting an out, but I thought it was good for his confidence,” manager Terry Francona said. “Again, we wouldn’t put him out there if we didn’t think it was going to be fine, but it was still a nice play.
“He’s worked really hard at it every day, and he’s been really conscientious about his work, and from the very first day, (bench coach and outfield instructor Brad Mills), who’s been with him every day,” said he’s going to be just fine.”
Andrew Miller’s appearance in Game 1 was an up-and-down one, but the left-hander said there were no issues with his right knee.
Miller struck out Greg Bird to end the seventh inning, then fanned Todd Frazier to open the eighth before walking Chase Headley, striking out Aaron Hicks and walking Brett Gardner.
“They put together professional at-bats,” Miller said of the Yankees. “I wish I’d thrown a couple more competitive pitches to (Brett) Gardner. Sometimes you’re going to lose the battle, and I felt like … he won that one. That was a heck of an at-bat. It happens and you move on to the next guy. (I’m) glad Cody (Allen) came in and cleaned up my mess. But all in all, I felt pretty good.”
Though the Indians have Corey Kluber, who is in line to win his second Cy Young award, right-hander Carlos Carrasco has pitched like an ace all season. He matched Kluber for the most wins (18) in the American League, while posting a 3.29 ERA and ranking fifth with 226 strikeouts over 200 innings (32 starts).
“Carrasco has been a guy who’s been very, very consistent,” Allen said. “Early in the year, when maybe some guys weren’t pitching necessarily that well, he was very, very solid for us.
“Whenever you have a front-runner like Kluber on your staff, you know, he’s probably going to take a lot of the attention. I mean, Carrasco’s had a heck of a year for us, and he’s been very important.”
Carrasco, who missed Cleveland’s entire postseason run last year with a broken hand, is scheduled to make his playoff debut Sunday in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium.
“Cody can speak to it more, but his career, he’s really taken off the last few years,” Miller said. “His stuff is second to none. Just like Trevor (Thursday) night, we love having him on the mound. I think there’s 24 guys that have confidence in that game when he takes the ball. So we’re pretty lucky to have the staff we do.”
Francona hinted that left fielder Michael Brantley might start Sunday in Game 3.
Brantley, who missed nearly two months at the end of the regular season with a right ankle injury, was available off the bench in the first two games, but his return to the lineup would be a welcome sight for Francona.
“You know what, on a number of fronts,” he said. “One, I think he helps us win. But, two, I’m excited for him because last year he missed out. This year, with a lot of hard work, he’s now going to be a part of what we’re doing. And I think — I know it will mean a lot to him, and because of that, it means a lot to us.”
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