Bieber Blanks Blue Jays in One-Hit Shutout; Indians 4, Blue Jays 0

Cleveland’s Shane Bieber took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and limited the Toronto Blue Jays to just one hit over nine innings in a complete game 4-0 shutout on Wednesday night.

Bieber could do almost no wrong in the series finale from Rogers Centre in Toronto as the Indians claimed a series win and pulled within two games of the first place Minnesota Twins, which dropped its series finale with the New York Yankees. The Indians (59-42) improved to 14-4 in the month of July and have scored twice as many runs (104) as they have allowed (52) through 18 games. The club has raced towards the top spot in the AL Central and holds a two-game lead over Oakland for the top Wild Card spot in the league.

The pitching matchup from Canada featured a pair of American League All-Star teammates in Bieber and Marcus Stroman. The story entering the day was whether this start would be the final one by Stroman in a Blue Jays uniform, as Toronto (39-65) could be selling off expendable pieces as they further embrace their youth movement. Stroman is to become a free agent following the 2020 season and is likely to receive a healthy jump in salary in his final winter of arbitration eligibility later this calendar.

Bieber – Mark Blinch/Getty Images

For four innings, there was little to talk about. Stroman retired the first four before Jose Ramirez singled in the second. He stole second but was stranded. Greg Allen reached on an infield single to start the third, but was erased on a caught stealing after a strikeout by Kevin Plawecki. Jason Kipnis singled with two down in the fourth, but Ramirez lined out to end that frame.

Bieber faced the minimum through the first four innings. He struck out a pair in the first and got a double play ball in the second to take care of a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leadoff walk. He added two more strikeouts in the third and one more in the fourth.

The Indians struck first in the fifth to take the lead and did so with the familiar two-out rally. Allen notched his second hit of the game with a single to shallow right-center. The next pitch was deposited into left by Plawecki and it was off to the races for Allen, who jetted all the way around the bases and scored just ahead of the throw to catcher Danny Jansen to give the Indians a 1-0 lead. Toronto challenged the call at the plate, but the ruling was upheld.

While Bieber set down six more in a row after taking the mound with his first lead of the night, Stroman did his best to match Bieber’s efforts, providing a 1-2-3 sixth and working around a one-out walk by Jake Bauers in the seventh in his final inning of the night. He left to a loud ovation from the small crowd in attendance and was noticeably amped up leaving the field.

Bieber ran into his only trouble in the game after the stretch. Eric Sogard broke up the no-hit bid with a ground rule double over the wall in right to start the Jays’ at bats. Freddy Galvis lined to left before Bieber hit Lourdes Gurriel Jr. with an 0-2 fastball. With two on and only one out, Bieber got Guerrero Jr. to line to center for the second out, then struck out Tuesday night’s hero Justin Smoak on three straight to leave runners on the corners.

The Indians added a valuable insurance run in the top of the eighth against right-hander Daniel Hudson. With one out, Francisco Lindor doubled to right and stole third. A sacrifice fly by Oscar Mercado made it a 2-0 game.

Bieber was back in business as he returned to the mound for the eighth. He set down Randal Grichuk with a six-pitch strikeout, then put three straight past Jansen for his ninth K of the game. Teoscar Hernandez popped the next pitch to second to send the game to the ninth.

The Indians doubled their pleasure and their lead in their last trip to the dish to give Bieber even more wiggle room. Facing Wilmer Font, Kipnis flied out before Ramirez singled to right. Bauers doubled on a ball interfered with by a fan to put two runners in scoring position for Jordan Luplow. He grounded out, pushing Ramirez across, and Allen recorded his third hit of the game with an RBI-single to center to score Bauers to give the Indians a four-run cushion.

Sitting at 94 pitches through eight, Bieber was brought back out in search of his second complete game shutout of the season. Brandon Drury lined a 2-0 pitch to center for the first out. Sogard grounded the next offering to Lindor. Galvis struck out on four pitches to end it on Bieber’s tenth strikeout of the game.

Bieber moved to 10-3 on the season with yet another gem pitched for the Tribe. He allowed just one hit, one walk, and one hit batter over nine innings of work while facing just two batters over the minimum. He had as many called strikes as swinging strikes (18) and was able to induce 12 fly ball outs while keeping the ball in the yard.

“He just pitched like a veteran,” Indians manager Terry Francona said after the game. “He’s maturing so fast. He’s barely got a year under his belt. It just looks like he’s going to get better and better. It’s fun to watch.”

Allen – Mark Blinch/Getty Images

He also became the first pitcher in the Majors this season to fire two complete games with ten or more strikeouts (following his May 19 effort against Baltimore). Only four other pitchers (the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard, the Red Sox’s Chris Sale, the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka, and the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler) have accomplished that feat once this season.

If Wednesday was his final start in Toronto, Stroman left a lasting impression. He limited the Indians to just one run on five hits over seven innings, walking one and striking out six on an even 100 pitches. He was the tough luck loser, dropping to 6-11 despite a respectable 2.96 ERA for the year. The bullpen allowed three more runs over the final two innings to let the game slip out of hand.

Allen reached base three times via single for the Tribe to pace the offense. He scored once and drove in a run while reaching base safely for the 17th straight game. Ramirez had a pair of hits and scored once while stealing his 22nd base of the season. Lindor swiped his 15th after hitting his 21st double of the year.

The Indians easily won the season series from the Blue Jays, taking six of seven contests while outscoring Toronto, 29-11. Cleveland is now 9-4 in the second half and has outscored its opponents 65-40 (+25) in that stretch, accounting for nearly half of the club’s run differential (+52) at present.

Cleveland will pack its bags up and immediately head to Kansas City for a rematch against the Royals. The four-game set from Kauffman Stadium will kick off on Thursday, as right-hander Adam Plutko (3-2, 4.81 ERA) will face left-hander Mike Montgomery (1-3, 6.83). The two pitched last weekend when the Royals came to Progressive Field.

Game one of the four-game series is scheduled for an 8:15 PM ET first pitch on Thursday night.

Photo: Mark Blinch/Getty Images

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