Former Indians farmhand Thomas Pannone held Cleveland to just two runs over six and one-third innings and the Toronto Blue Jays used three early runs and three more late to claim a 6-2 win on Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre.
Pannone, making just his third Major League start and ninth overall appearance since being acquired by the Blue Jays last July for reliever Joe Smith, filled in for the injured Marcus Stroman with a quality outing for Toronto while keeping the Tribe bats quiet. The Jays touched up starter Mike Clevinger for three runs in his own quality start, and three more in the eighth off of right-hander Jon Edwards provided enough cushion late when the Indians threatened briefly in their final at bats.
The 24-year-old rookie southpaw Pannone worked around a jam in the first inning as Michael Brantley singled and was erased on a fielder’s choice by Jose Ramirez. The Tribe’s top MVP candidate joined the 30/30 club with a steal of second before a walk by Edwin Encarnacion with two outs, but Yandy Diaz grounded out to strand a pair.
Toronto took an early lead three batters into the game against Clevinger. After Billy McKinney flied out, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. worked a walk. Two pitches later, Justin Smoak found a four-seamer in a place to drive it and parked it over the wall in right field for a two-run home run.
Francisco Lindor cut the deficit in half in the third inning in his second plate appearance of the day. He pulled a 2-0 pitch down in the zone to left-center, making it a 2-1 game with his 34th homer and 85th RBI of the day.
Smoak assisted again for the Jays in the bottom of the third as they got the run right back. Reese McGuire drew a four-pitch leadoff walk and stole second after a strikeout by McKinney. Gurriel struck out swinging for the second out, but Smoak delivered with a single to shallow center to score McGuire from second, making it a 3-1 game.
Pannone walked a pair in the fourth with two outs, but Brandon Barnes was unable to put the Tribe back on the board as he flied out to center. But his next trip through the order with one out in the seventh, he did help out the offense in a big way, hitting his first big league homer since 2015 to knock Pannone out of the game, clinging to a 3-2 lead. Ryan Tepera got the job done out of the bullpen, striking out both Erik Gonzalez and Lindor swinging.
Edwards worked a quick seventh, retiring the side on 12 pitches, but he ran into trouble in the bottom of the eighth. McKinney doubled, but was caught trying to advance to third on a fielder’s choice by Gurriel. Smoak grounded to Diaz at first, but an error covering second by Ramirez on the shifted infield allowed both runners to reach their bases safely. The next pitch was sent over the wall in center by Teoscar Hernandez, who had entered the game for an injured Randal Grichuk in the top of the fourth, giving Toronto a backbreaking 6-2 lead.
The Indians threatened in the ninth, but could not change the outcome. David Paulino retired the first two batters before walking Barnes. Gonzalez singled to center to keep the inning going, but manager John Gibbons went to closer Ken Giles, who got Lindor to ground out to end the game.
The Blue Jays moved to 65-78 with the win and are now 37-37 at home on the year. The victory earned them a series split with the Tribe and a season series win, four games to three, over the Indians.
Pannone stepped up his game against his former club, making his first start since a disastrous seven-run outing last month. He scattered four hits and two runs over six and one-third innings, walking three and striking out two along the way for his second big league win.
“It was a great opportunity to go out there and face the team that traded me last season,” said Pannone after the game. “It was definitely extra special.”
Clevinger gave the Indians a quality start, but it was not enough as the offense struggled to find its way at the plate against Pannone and five relievers. The Tribe’s right-hander worked six innings, allowing three runs on four hits with a pair of walks and nine strikeouts to drop to 11-8 on the year. Edwards allowed the big insurance blast in his second inning of work, giving up three runs (two earned) on two hits in an inning and two-thirds.
Ramirez became the Indians’ third member of the 30/30 club when he picked off second base in the first inning. He joined Joe Carter and Grady Sizemore in accomplishing the feat in club history and it was the first time a player has accomplished the statistical combination since both Mike Trout and Ryan Braun did in 2012.
Grichuk exited the game early after a bizarre collision in the top of the fourth. Chasing after a foul pop off of the bat of Encarnacion, he went into a slide by the ball boy down the right field line, but his face collided with the stool that had been moved by the employee trying to get out of the way of the play. Grichuk left the field with assistance from the trainers while holding a towel across his face at the site of impact.
The Indians leave Toronto with an 81-62 record and head to Tampa Bay for their second matchup this month with the Rays. Corey Kluber (18-7, 2.75 ERA), the MLB leader in victories this season, will get the nod in the series opener for Cleveland, looking to make his late push for top Cy Young votes in the American League. The Rays have not yet named a starter in what is expected to be an opener game.
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