TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays survived their first elimination game of the postseason on Tuesday by defeating the Cleveland Indians 5-1 in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
Now they must try to do it again in Game 5 on Wednesday at Rogers Centre.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has given the assignment to right-hander Marco Estrada, who took the loss in Game 1 despite pitching Toronto's only complete game of the season — a 2-0 loss to Corey Kluber.
The Indians will go with left-handed rookie Ryan Merritt, who will be making his postseason debut after spending most of the season at Triple-A Columbus.
The Blue Jays' five runs Tuesday were more than they had scored in the three previous games combined (three). It helped when a home run by Josh Donaldson gave them a 1-0 lead in the third and an RBI flare single by Ezequiel Carrera in the fourth gave them a 2-0 lead.
“You know, I liked being able to get the lead there early on in the game,” Donaldson said. “We haven't been able to get a lead in this series. And I felt like it was very important for us to get out to a lead. And even if it was one run, whatever. … In the playoffs, these games aren't going to come easy to win. They've played great defense. They've pitched well and had timely hits.”
The Indians were able to get through Tuesday without using their two best relievers, right-hander Cody Allen and left-hander Andrew Miller. Both played vital roles in the first three games of the series. They will be rested for Game 5.
“I think that helps,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Certainly when you're down one trying to keep it at one so we have a chance, but also recognizing that if Miller and Cody pitch, that would have been four out of five pretty high-stress, high-leverage innings.
“(I) decided to try to go a different route. Didn't work out as well as we wanted, but we do have those guys available with a day off behind it.”
Edwin Encarnacion added a two-run single and Kevin Pillar had a sacrifice fly.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons felt like his team approached the game like they normally would.
“Really, everything, almost like a normal day,” Gibbons said. “Obviously it's not, but it was almost like a normal regular-season game. They were nice, loose and relaxed, well aware of the circumstances. They showed up today like they always do and played a good ballgame.”
Francona was down 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS when he was managing the Boston Red Sox. They became the first major-league team to come back from a 3-0 disadvantage, beating the New York Yankees in seven games. They then went on to win the World Series.
“I'm proud of that, obviously,” Francona said before the game Tuesday. “That was a wonderful four days. I don't think the first three were that great. But it ended — it was fun to live through that and to actually live. So I guess if people ask, I don't mind it, because like I said, I was proud of those guys. … But this is a different time, a different team, very different circumstances.”
Merritt has pitched in four regular-season games, including one start, and is 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA. In 24 starts at Columbus, he was 11-8 with a 3.70 ERA.
“If you told me at the start of the season I was going to be pitching in the ALCS, I would've thought you were crazy,” Merritt said. “It's awesome. I'm glad it's here.”
Estrada allowed two runs in eight innings in the 2-0 loss in Game 1 at Progressive Field. He allowed six hits and one walk and struck out six.
In his regular-season start against Cleveland this season, he allowed three runs in five innings. In two career regular-season starts vs. Cleveland, he is 0-0 with a 3.75 ERA.
“We've got to win,” Estrada said. “That's basically it. I'm going to go out and do what I've basically done all year and not really think about it as an elimination game. I'll just think about it just as another game. My job is to try to go nine innings and give up zero runs. So it doesn't matter if it's the last game of the season, the first game, you want to do that every time out.”