The Cleveland Indians looked to make a bit of history this afternoon as they met the Toronto Blue Jays for an matinee game at the Rogers Centre. A wind today would give the Tribe a 14-game winning streak, the longest in team history. Josh Tomlin was on the hill for the Indians and looking for his tenth win of the year while the Blue Jays countered with right-hander Marcus Stroman.
The Toronto fans were a raucous crowd from the start, but excitement quickly turned to boos in the bottom of the first inning. Josh Tomlin got off to a hot start by striking out the side, but it was not without controversy as Edwin Encarnacion protested his called third strike—which did look to be a bit outside—by arguing with, and then bumping home plate umpire Vic Carapazza. Encarnacion and Blue Jays manager John Gibbons were quickly ejected, and Encarnacion may be facing a suspension from Major League Baseball.
Tomlin was on absolute fire early on, registering five strikeouts in the first two innings alone. While he was obviously pitching well, he may have been helped by the gigantic strike zone Carapazza was giving him, although Stroman benefitted from the same zone.
The Indians got on the board in the bottom of the third inning when Carlos Santana led off with a double to deep center field and scored on a single by Jason Kipnis. Kipnis has now hit safely in thirteen straight games.
The Blue Jays had their first serious threat against Tomlin in the bottom of the fourth inning. After Josh Donaldson grounded out to second, Devon Travis hit in place of Encarnacion and singled to right field. Tomlin then struck out Michael Saunders, but Russell Martin singled to right and Troy Tulowitzki walked to load the bases. Justin Smoak then grounded to second and was thrown out to end the inning.
The Blue Jays’ scoring woes came right back in the bottom of the fifth when Kevin Pillar singled to right field, Darwin Barney singled to center field, and Ezequiel Carrera hit a fielder’s choice to Tomlin to move the men ahead of him to second and third. After Tomlin intentionally walked Donaldson, Travis struck out swinging and Saunders lined out to center field to keep the Blue Jays scoreless.
Other than the Indians’ run in the third inning, Stroman matched Tomlin pitch for pitch, retiring 12 straight batters after that single by Kipnis in the third, and recording five strikeouts through five innings.
The Blue Jays got on the board in the sixth inning, when Justin Smoak homered to center field to tie it at 1-1. Tomlin finished his day allowing one run one seven hits and two walks over six innings. The Indians threatened in the bottom of the seventh, when Lonnie Chisenhall singled, Rajai Davis reached base on an error by Smoak, and Carlos Santana walked to load the bases with two outs. Left hander Brett Cecil came on in relief of Stroman and retired Kipnis on a fly ball to center to end the inning and keep the score tied.
From there the war of bullpen attrition began. The Blue Jays loaded the bases against Joba Chamberlain in the bottom of the 14th and actually had four runners reach base, but some slick fielding helped Chamberlain escape unscathed. Going into the bottom of the fifteenth, both teams had used seven relievers to combine for nine scoreless innings when Terry Francona called on Trevor Bauer, previously scheduled to start tomorrow’s game to take over. Bauer worked a scoreless 15th and Toronto brought Bo Schultz on to pitch the top of the 16th. Back to back singles by Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall put runners on the corners with nobody out, but Michael Martinez popped out to Tulowitzki at shortstop, Tyler Naquin struck out swinging, and Chris Gimenez lined out to third to end the inning.
The Blue Jays had their own threat in the bottom of the 16th inning when Tulowitzki singled to lead off the inning, reached second on a passed ball by Gimenez, and moved to third on a single by Pillar—which he legged out when Francisco Lindor oddly checked third beforethrowing to Mike Napoli at first—after Junior Lake struck out. Pillar then stole second to lessen the odd of a double play, but Darwin Barney popped out to Lindor and Carrera struck out looking to end the inning.
The Jays ran out of pitchers in the 18th inning, when infielder Ryan Goins made his first Major League appearance as a pitcher. To their credit, the Toronto crowd that remained did a great job of supporting Goins, and he was able to get two strikes on Jose Ramirez singled to left field. Chisenhall then hit a blooper to shallow center field and Ramirez was able to get to third. Martinez then grounded into a fielder’s choice at second, and Ramirez was caught in a rundown between third and home. After Naquin was intentionally walked, but Gimenez grounded into a double play to end the threat.
Finally, after Toronto moved Darwin Barney from second base to pitcher, the Indians broke through in the top of the 19th inning when Santana hit a solo home run to right field to make it 2-1 Indians. Bauer held on in the bottom of the inning, and the Indians won their 14th game in a row in about as difficult a fashion as one can imagine.
To say that game was mentally exhausting would be an understatement. When it started, Mel Hall was the Tribe’s ace, and the Charleston was sweeping the nation. The look on the faces of Carlos Santana and his teammates when he hit the go ahead home run was that of relief as much as it was exultation. Bauer was huge in pitching five scoreless inning the day before he was supposed to start, and because of him as much as anyone, the Indians now have the longest winning streak in the 115 year history of the franchise. This team just keeps finding ways to win. The buzz keeps on growing, and it should be. The Cleveland Indians are for real.