CLEVELAND -- The Yankees found out what they are up against on Thursday night, and the Indians showed precisely why they are no longer the underdogs who reached the World Series a year ago.
Behind an overpowering outing by Trevor Bauer and some offensive heroics from Jay Bruce, Cleveland took Game 1 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan with a 4-0 victory at a loud and raucous Progressive Field. It marked the first step in the Indians' quest to not only win consecutive AL pennants, but to finish what they could not last fall: Bring home their first World Series title since 1948.
"It couldn't have gone any better for us," said Bruce, who homered and drove in three runs. "It's a dangerous team with all the guys that can leave the ballpark with one swing, and the guys that run the bases well. I mean, they have a very dynamic lineup over there, and for us to show them none of that was important."
The depth of Cleveland's pitching staff created flexibility for manager Terry Francona, who surprised plenty of people when he opted to hand the ball to Bauer, not ace Corey Kluber, for the ALDS opener. Bauer answered the call by cruising through 17 consecutive batters before relinquishing a hit to Aaron Hicks in the longest no-hit bid (5 1/3 innings) in Indians postseason history.
Bauer's performance came as no surprise to Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway.
"Trevor has always been more of a big-game guy, wanting that spotlight," Callaway said.
Now armed with a 1-0 lead in the series, the Indians will turn to Kluber for Game 2 on Friday, when the Yanks will counter with former Tribe ace CC Sabathia. In Division Series history, the team that has won the first game has gone on to win 66 of 92 series.
"This has been a guy we've relied on heavily after losses this year, and he's pitched some of the biggest wins for us during the course of the year," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's been in a ton of these games, and you know that there's no situation that is too big for CC."
Sonny Gray's Yanks postseason debut lasted just 3 1/3 innings, as the right-hander struggled with his command. Issuing four walks while also hitting a batter, Gray was charged with three runs on three hits. Cleveland's biggest blow off Gray came in the fourth, when Bruce followed a leadoff walk to Edwin Encarnacion with a towering two-run homer to right field.
"It's tough," Gray said. "You put everyone on our side at a disadvantage, going out there and doing that. It put us in a hole that we weren't able to climb out of."
The crowd erupted in a cry of "Bruuuce!" as fireworks popped and the slugger made his way around the bases. Acquired in an August trade with the Mets, Bruce also doubled and scored in the second, and he brought home an important insurance run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth.
"He's a veteran guy," Francona said of Bruce. "I don't think a game like tonight is going to be too big for him. I think he was more excited than anything."
Francona's strategy for this postseason will mirror last October, when the manager leaned heavily on his relief corps. Bauer's no-hit run bought him more time on the hill, and the right-hander logged 6 2/3 frames before his manager summoned lefty relief ace Andrew Miller from the 'pen. Bauer struck out eight, scattered two hits and walked one in the scoreless effort.
Bauer said the no-hitter was not on his mind at any point.
"No, not at all," Bauer said. "The mindset was to go out there like a closer in the first inning and put up a scoreless inning at all costs. And then, if I was still in the game, do it again in the second inning and the third and on until I was taken out of the game. So no-hitter, 10-hitter or whatever, that was the mindset. I never really strayed from that."
Miller, who set single-postseason records a year ago in innings by a reliever (19 1/3) and multi-inning appearances (10), struck out three of the five batters he faced, but a pair of walks in the eighth led to closer Cody Allen's entrance.
Allen was tasked with facing slugger Aaron Judge, who chased a curveball that broke low and out of the zone for an inning-ending strikeout. The closer remained on the mound for the ninth and set down the Yankees in order, notching his seventh career postseason save and sealing the victory for Cleveland.
"You can't say enough about the job that Trevor and the rest of the pitching staff did tonight," Bruce said. "And we were able to put some runs on the board. They really never got to get anything going."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Four stars for Kipnis: The Indians began experimenting with Kipnis -- a second baseman for his entire Major League career -- in center field only three weeks ago. In the third inning, Kipnis faced his biggest defensive test yet, and he delivered a catch that had the Progressive Field crowd roaring. Chase Headley sliced a pitch from Bauer deep over the left-center-field gap, where Kipnis made a jaw-dropping diving catch. Per Statcast™, the center fielder covered 88 feet in 4.7 seconds on a play that had a 26-percent catch probability. That made the out a 4-Star catch for Kipnis, who shouted in celebration from his knees after pulling off the stunning grab.
"I think that's the biggest play of the game," Bauer said. "I was pretty pumped up about that. I think there's some people that have kind of doubted his ability in center field, given that he hasn't played a whole lot out there. But hopefully that puts that narrative to rest. We all trusted that he could go out there and play defense like that."
"Initially when I first hit it, I didn't hit it as sound as I could have," Headley said. "But as the play developed and I was running to first, I thought it had a pretty good chance to get down. He ran it down and made a great play." More >>
Bauer vs. Judge: Two batters after Hicks ended Bauer's no-hitter, Judge stepped to the plate with two outs and a runner on third base. After falling behind, 2-0, Bauer worked the count even and then froze Judge with a curveball that dropped over the inside edge of the zone for a strikeout. Bauer struck out Judge in each of their three battles. On the night, Bauer ended with 19 called strikes overall, including eight with his curve.
"My curveball was good from the start," Bauer said. "I need to have my best pitch working for me early, so I did a little extra work on that to try to ensure that was the case, and fortunately it was. I was able to throw that pitch pretty much from the outset."
"I was sitting on a different pitch," Judge said. "He was mixing curveball, slider, fastball in there pretty well. I tried to pick a different pitch out there with a guy in scoring position. I just guessed the wrong one."
Tribe strikes first: During the regular season, Cleveland posted a 78-21 record when it scored the first run. That trend continued on Thursday, when the Indians loaded the bases with no outs in the second. Bruce got things rolling with a double off Gray that clanked off the wall in left field. Carlos Santana followed with a single, and Gray hit Lonnie Chisenhall to put three runners aboard. Gray then induced a double-play groundout off the bat of Roberto Perez, but it scored one run. And that proved to be enough.
"I felt OK. I thought my stuff was good," Gray said. "When you put that many guys on base, more times than not, it's not going to turn out in your favor."
"I think the pitcher that you see now, with the great pitch mix and the way he uses it, is a byproduct of all the things he's thought about along the way. He is who he is today, and did what he did tonight, because of the way he's prepared himself since he was probably 10, and all the things he thought about." -- Callaway, on Bauer
"He pitched his heart out. I thought, when the moment arose, he attacked it. He embraced everything that was thrown at him tonight. His poise was tremendous. All the way around, he attacked the strike zone with all his pitches." -- Francona, on Bauer
"Got a good read on it, on the jump. Fortunately, [Chisenhall] kind of peeled off and went back to back me up so there wouldn't be a collision or something like that. It was a fun one to be able to run after and cut it down." -- Kipnis, on his catch
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• This marks the second time in Yanks postseason history that their starters did not complete four innings in each of the team's first two games of the playoffs. The other occurrence was the 1956 World Series (Whitey Ford and Don Larsen in Games 1 and 2, respectively).
• Cleveland's shutout was the 14th in the franchise's postseason history, and its first since blanking the Cubs, 1-0, in Game 3 of the 2016 World Series. The Indians led the Majors with 19 shutouts during the regular season this year.
WHAT'S NEXT Yankees: Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA in 2017) has been tabbed to start Friday's Game 2 of the ALDS, facing the club that drafted him in the city where he blossomed into a big league star. No left-handed starter allowed a lower average exit velocity on batted balls than Sabathia (83.9 mph) this season.
Indians: Kluber (18-4, 2.25 ERA) will take the ball for the Indians at 5 p.m. ET for Game 2 of this ALDS. The matchup will pit Cleveland AL Cy Young Award winners of past (Sabathia in 2007) and present (Kluber in '14) against each other. Kluber paced MLB in ERA this year and posted a 1.62 ERA in 23 starts from June 1 to the end of the regular season.