Josh Donaldson backed up a fiery pep talk to teammates before the game, hitting a home run and turning in a timely diving stop to help the Blue Jays avert a sweep with a 5-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series.
TORONTO – Just in time, Josh Donaldson and the Toronto Blue Jays broke out the bats to save their postseason.
Now they get a chance to really make things interesting in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series.
Donaldson backed up his fiery pep talk to teammates before the game, hitting a home run and turning in a timely diving stop Tuesday to help the Blue Jays avert a sweep with a 5-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
The Indians lead the ALCS 3-1, but with a couple of big hits and a strong outing by Aaron Sanchez, Toronto handed them their first loss of this postseason.
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“I’m not going to give too much away of what I had to say, but just more so getting everybody’s attention and focus and understanding,” Donaldson said. “I mean, everybody knew coming into today how important today was. But at the same time, I just wanted to kind of reiterate that and let the boys know that I was coming to play today.”
Cleveland will try again Wednesday to earn its first World Series trip since 1997, but the big concern for the Indians coming into the series — an injury-riddled rotation — lingers. In Game 5, Cleveland will start Ryan Merritt, who has pitched a mere 11 innings in the majors, against Toronto’s Marco Estrada.
It was an emotional day all around at Rogers Centre, where the home crowd had fallen quiet because of a slumbering offense that managed three runs over the first three games of the series.
“I thought we battled pretty good today with the bats,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “Naturally, when you score, which we haven’t been doing, it always looks good.”
Donaldson’s solo shot to left-center field off Corey Kluber in the third put the Blue Jays ahead for the first time all series. Two innings later, the third baseman made an outstanding play to preserve a one-run edge.
Sanchez, the American League leader in earned-run average this year, allowed a run and two hits in six innings, and the bullpen finished with three perfect innings.
Kluber was starting on three days’ rest for the first time in his career.
“I felt fine. I don’t think it physically affected me. I made a mistake to Donaldson,” Kluber said. “We’re one win away from the World Series, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Kluber hadn’t allowed a run in either of his first two starts this postseason. Donaldson, the reigning AL MVP and sporting a still freshly shaved face, opened the scoring with his first home run of these playoffs.
The wild-card Blue Jays made it 2-0 in the fourth when Ezequiel Carrera’s blooper fell between three Cleveland fielders in left-center field for an RBI single.
Roberto Perez hit an RBI double in the fifth off Sanchez. Carlos Santana’s two-out grounder to the left side might have had a chance to score him, but Donaldson made the play to his left, then danced off the field with a bit of a fist pump.
“I was locked in,” Donaldson said. “It helps when you have a guy like Sanchez in the zone, where you can really focus in on a certain area of the strike zone.”
• Ex-Arizona Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale, 51, is returning to the Oakland organization as third-base coach on manager Bob Melvin’s staff.
Hale replaces Ron Washington, who took the same position with the Atlanta Braves.