The Indians bullpen has been a surprising strength for the club this season, but that was not the case on Tuesday from the Rogers Centre as Justin Smoak delivered a game-tying home run off of Brad Hand in the ninth before coming through with the walk-off single in the tenth to deal a 2-1 defeat to Cleveland.
It was a disappointing end to a tightly contested game and a well-pitched effort by Trevor Bauer, who lasted two outs into the eighth while pitching three-hit shutout baseball. Oliver Perez closed out the eighth with a strikeout, but Smoak’s late heroics (after going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Bauer) turned the table on Cleveland and gave Toronto a late inning celebration.
Holding on to a 1-0 lead, manager Terry Francona made the logical call to go to his closer, Hand, to get the final three outs. After Freddy Galvis grounded to his counterpart at short for the first out, Smoak smoked an 0-1 pitch over the wall in center to tie the game at one with his second homer in as many days. Hand got Cavan Biggio to fly to center before Vladimir Guerrero Jr. singled. With 17 pitches thrown and the winning run on base, Francona came back to the mound for Adam Cimber, who gave up a single to Randal Grichuk before striking out Teoscar Hernandez to force extra innings.
Facing probable reliever on the move in Ken Giles, the Indians had a chance to take the lead in the tenth. Roberto Perez singled and was lifted for a pinch-runner. Mike Freeman popped up a sacrifice attempt to the pitcher. Greg Allen walked before Francisco Lindor advanced Kevin Plawecki to third with a fly ball to center. Allen swiped second with his second stolen base of the night, but Oscar Mercado struck out swinging.
Cimber returned for the bottom of the tenth and got a liner to left by Danny Jansen and a grounder to second by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. before Francona went back to the bullpen for Tyler Olson. He walked Eric Sogard and the runner advanced to second on a wild pitch. Galvis singled to third to put runners on the corners and he moved up to second on indifference before Smoak delivered the game-winner off of the glove of Jose Ramirez at third and into shallow right.
With the loss, the Indians dropped to 58-42 on the year, but with an unbelievable back-and-forth game at Target Field later in the night, Cleveland lost no ground on the Minnesota Twins, who maintained a three-game lead in the American League Central Division after losing 14-12 in ten innings to the New York Yankees.
Toronto is now 39-64 on the year and 19-31 at home.
The Indians got their lone run in the third inning in a two-out manufactured situation against right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who had lost each of his last ten games started and 13 straight decisions overall after beginning the year 3-1. After a strikeout by Perez and a grounder to third by Freeman, Allen singled to right. He picked off second base in a close play and it proved to be a big bag swiped as Lindor singled on a tough hop that skipped under the glove of Biggio at second to drive home his speedy teammate to put the Indians up a run.
Bauer was brilliant for much of the day, with only three walks blemishing his stat sheet. He retired the side in order in the first, but walked the first two batters in the second, putting the rookies Biggio and Guerrero Jr. on. Grichuk grounded into a costly double play before Hernandez left a runner at third on a strikeout swinging. Bauer retired the side in order in the third and fourth, striking out a pair in the latter inning.
The Indians threatened twice more against Sanchez, but could not add to their tiny lead. Carlos Santana started the fourth with a ground rule double to the right field corner and moved to third on a groundout by Jason Kipnis. Ramirez fouled out to third for the second out and Jake Bauers was hit by a pitch, but Perez lined out to first to leave runners on the corners. In the next inning, Lindor singled and Mercado doubled with two down to put two in scoring position, but Santana struck out looking as the last batter Sanchez would face on the night.
The Jays finally found the hit column for the first time in the fifth, when Guerrero Jr. led off the inning with a double to the gap in left-center. Grichuk flied out to left before Hernandez walked on the payoff pitch, but Bauer followed his third free pass by striking out Billy McKinney and Luke Maile to leave a pair.
Bauer made it eight straight retired by working 1-2-3 innings in the sixth and seventh, and with an eight-pitch seventh, he was able to come back out for the eighth. Hernandez led off the inning with a single to left-center. MicKinney struck out swinging before Gurriel Jr. pinch-hit for the catcher Maile. A wild pitch moved Hernandez into scoring position and Gurriel Jr. slapped a single to right, but the throw in from Allen to Santana to Perez at the plate nailed Hernandez for the second out. O. Perez struck out Sogard to keep it a 1-0 contest.
David Phelps was able to work himself out of the ninth for the Jays, striking out Kipnis and Bauers around a walk by Ramirez. He was caught stealing to end the inning and the Tribe’s last hope for insurance runs in the one-run game.
Sanchez gave the Blue Jays a five-and-fly, but he looked much better than other outings over the last couple of months. He allowed just one run on five hits with no walks and six strikeouts. He left after 80 pitches. The Toronto bullpen allowed just one hit over five scoreless innings of relief.
Hand was dealt just his second blown save of the season in 29 tries. The American League saves leader has allowed a solo homer in three of the last four games.
“I feel like my last few outings, my breaking ball has been real good,” Hand said after the game. “I wouldn’t say it was bad today, it just wasn’t well located.
“Trevor pitched a really good game. It’s a tough one to swallow.”
Neither team did much with their opportunities at the plate. Lindor was the only Indians hitter to post a multi-hit game. Kipnis’s hitting streak ended at eight games. Mercado struck out three times. Smoak and Guerrero Jr. each had a pair of hits for the Blue Jays. Galvis struck out three times in five trips.
The rubber match on Wednesday night will pit a pair of All-Stars against one another. Marcus Stroman (6-10, 3.06 ERA) will go for Toronto in what could be his final start with the Blue Jays. Fellow right-hander Shane Bieber (9-3, 3.69) will seek win number ten while looking to move to 14-2 in his career on the road.
First pitch from Rogers Centre is scheduled for 7:07 PM ET.
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