Blue Jays stave off elimination, hand Indians first postseason loss

TORONTO — Just in time, Josh Donaldson and the Toronto Blue Jays broke out the bats to save their season.

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 in the American League Championship Series with a 5-1 win over the Cleveland Indians.

The Indians still lead the matchup 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 by breaking out of a slump that saw the Blue Jays total just three runs in the first three games of the series.

“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 of his pre-game speech. “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 today to win to earn its first World Series trip since 1997, but the big concern for the Indians coming into the series — an injury-riddled rotation — still lingers. In Game 5, Cleveland will start Ryan Merritt, who has pitched just 11 innings in the majors, against Marco Estrada.

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 star third baseman made an outstanding play to preserve a one-run edge.

Sanchez, the AL ERA champion, allowed a run and two hits in six innings, and the bullpen finished with three perfect innings.

Kluber, who hadn’t allowed a run in either of his first two starts this postseason, was starting on three days’ rest for the first time in his career. He was pulled after 89 pitches, allowing two runs and four hits in five innings

“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.”

The Blue Jays made it 2-0 in the fourth when Ezequiel Carrera’s blooper fell between three Cleveland fielders in left-center 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 popped up and 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. And I was able to get a really good read off the bat, and I was fortunate enough to be able to make the play.”

The Indians didn’t have another baserunner after that. Brett Cecil, Jason Grilli and Roberto Osuna pitched an inning each in relief for Toronto.

Taking no chances, Gibbons brought in Osuna, his closer, in a non-save situation to finish off Cleveland.