TORONTO (Reuters) - Terry Francona rolled the dice looking to punch the Cleveland Indians’ ticket to the World Series but instead watched the Toronto Blue Jays come off ropes with a 5-1 win on Tuesday to keep the American League Championship Series alive.
Leading the best-of-seven series 3-0, Indians manager Francona sent out his ace Corey Kluber on three days rest for the first time in his career to finish off the Jays.
But Toronto struck first, scoring on a third inning Josh Donaldson solo home run to take a lead they would never surrender.
”We’re still alive, no doubt,“ said Toronto manager John Gibbons. ”Even through the struggles of the last few games where they outplayed us and shut us down.
“We’ve got another game tomorrow.”
While the Blue Jays live to fight again, the challenge in front of them remains the sporting equivalent of scaling Mount Everest.
Only once in Major League Baseball’s 113-year history has a team -- the 2004 Boston Red Sox -- erased a 3-0 deficit in the postseason.
Yet suddenly some suspense has been injected into the series.
With his starting rotation in tatters; Trevor Bauer sidelined with a sliced pinkie injured playing with his drone, Carlos Carrasco out with a broken hand and Danny Salazar a sore forearm, Francona has limited options.
Kluber, a Cy Young winner who has been in dominating form, represented Cleveland’s best chance to deliver the knockout punch.
The big righthander, who tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings in a Game One win on Friday, delivered a serviceable effort giving up two runs on four hits in five innings of work but lacked his usual sharpness as Toronto’s slumbering bats finally awoke.
Now the task of getting Cleveland back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1997 lands on 24-year-old rookie Ryan Merritt, whose wafter-thin major league resume consists of one start and 11 regular season innings.
“I think he’s OK. I think he’ll be fine,” said the hopeful Francona.
A win by Toronto in Wednesday’s Game Five would send the series back to Cleveland with the Blue Jays riding the momentum.
Certainly no one knows better than Francona that impossible comebacks are indeed possible.
Francona was manager of the Red Sox in 2004 when Boston went down 3-0 to the New York Yankees but stormed back to take the ALCS and go on to win the club’s first World Series in 86 years to end the “Curse of the Bambino”.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Larry Fine