Before the postseason even began, injuries decimated the Cleveland Indians’ starting rotation.

In Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Thursday night at Progressive Field, the Tribe’s bats and bullpen made sure that didn’t matter.

Trevor Bauer, Cleveland’s starter by default as much as merit, lasted just 4.2 innings, yielding three runs on six hits to a potent Boston Red Sox lineup. 

Still, the Indians prevailed, 5-4, thanks to a balanced offensive attack and dominant performances out of the pen, with a special shoutout due to lefty Andrew Miller.

First, let’s talk hitting. And, more specifically, let’s talk homers.

The Indians raked in Cleveland all season, posting the third-best home OPS (.827) in the majors. On Thursday, they continued the trend.

Catcher Roberto Perez, second baseman Jason Kipnis and shortstop Francisco Lindor all went deep in the third inning off Red Sox starter and 22-game winner Rick Porcello. 

In all, five of Cleveland’s 10 hits went for extra bases, with third baseman Jose Ramirez and first baseman Mike Napoli adding doubles. 

It was a case of fighting fire with fire against a Boston club that led baseball in runs scored (878) and OPS (.810). One game into the ALDS, these Indians demonstrated they can hang with MLB‘s biggest bashers.

OK, now it’s time to praise the Indians’ pen.

In the fifth, with Bauer wobbling and the game in the balance, skipper Terry Francona summoned Miller, the Tribe’s trade-deadline cavalry and one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.

It was early, sure. But Miller delivered, notching two shutout frames and recording four of his six outs via strikeout. 

It was a crank-back-the-clock performance in this era of the in-and-out specialist, as USA Today‘s John Perrotto noted:

“He’s unbelievable,” Perez said regarding the lefty Miller, per’s Jordan Bastian and Ian Browne. “I think he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever caught, and I think everybody is confident about him coming into the game. Oh man, he was awesome tonight.” 

Right-hander Bryan Shaw interrupted the flow by allowing an eighth-inning solo homer to Boston third baseman Brock Holt that made it a one-run game. 

But closer Cody Allen came on to restore order, recording the final five outs with four whiffs of his own.

In the end, Miller and Allen each threw 40 pitches, a heavy burden for a late-inning tandem, as’s Jerry Crasnick noted. It’s worth wondering if that’s a sustainable model.

Then again, the Indians will trot out ace Corey Kluber for Game 2 on Friday. If he can overcome his recent quad injury and pitch deep into the game, the Miller/Allen duo will presumably be ready for Game 3 after a day off Saturday. 

That would provide insurance for Cleveland’s Game 3 starter, Josh Tomlin, who lost six of his final eight regular-season decisions.

“Imagine, for a second, that the Indians win tonight,” Zach Meisel of mused before Thursday’s tussle. “They then need to win two of four, with Kluber available to start twice and two more games taking place at Progressive Field. That’s not a bad spot to be in.”

He’s right. Suddenly, a matchup that appeared to heavily favor Boston begins to tip toward the Indians.

Sure, Carlos Carrasco is lost for the season with a fractured finger, and Danny Salazar is a question mark as he works his way back from a forearm strain.

The Indians won’t be able to ride their stable of power arms to the franchise’s first World Series win since 1948.

The Red Sox won’t lay down without a fight, as they displayed in Game 1. And plenty more challenges await if Cleveland manages to advance.

On Thursday, though, the Indians flashed the formula that could keep them kicking far longer than many—including yours truly—expected. 

Hit the ball. Get it to the pen. Repeat.

Doubts and injuries are inevitable this time of year. But sometimes, they matter less than you think.


All statistics current as of Thursday and courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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