TORONTO — There’s no magic elixir, no major mid-October adjustments, no easy answers.
Down two games to Cleveland in the American League Championship Series, with their World Series hopes flickering, Russell Martin knows it’s now or never when it comes to his Toronto Blue Jays finding a way to score some runs.
“You f—ing show up, man, and you f—ing play the game hard and that’s it — that’s my line,” Martin said in a rally-the-troops sort of way Sunday afternoon inside the Blue Jays’ clubhouse.
“That’s it. There’s no f—ing secret. You play the game. Period. There’s no magic way of doing things, you just keep doing what you’ve been doing the whole way. That’s it. It’s actually annoying answering questions about it, you know what I mean? That’s the honest truth. I have nothing to say except we’ve just gotta show up and play. That’s it. That’s what you’re getting from me today.”
That was enough.
It summed up the situation perfectly — the offence simply hasn’t shown up, scoring a grand total of one run in two games, and the Blue Jays are now in desperation mode coming back home, facing a must-win spot Monday night at the Rogers Centre in Game 3.
The odds are already stacked against them, with just three teams since 1985 coming back to win a seven-game LCS series after dropping the first two games.
Three games down? Next to impossible, unless you’re spending a bunch of time around the 2004 Boston Red Sox.
Credit Cleveland’s arms, as well, with everyone from starters Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin to the lethal bullpen duo of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen contributing to the Blue Jays’ severe lack of ALCS offence.
Jays manager John Gibbons pointed out that the Indians haven’t exactly been lighting up scoreboards, either. But four runs in two games is better than one. Just like two wins is way better than none.
As Gibbons noted earlier in this playoff run, the Blue Jays are a much better team when they’re hitting home runs, something they haven’t done thus far.
“We played how many months? It’s the same team, same guys,” Gibbons said. “For the most part, we approach it the same every night. They got to this point. It’s a slugging team, that’s how they’re built. Not a bunch of young guys — some guys that have been around, and they’ve been sluggers, for the most part, their whole career.”
In Game 1, the Jays scratched out seven hits, but couldn’t get a key knock with runners in scoring position, stranding eight runners in total.
In Game 2, three hits was all they could muster.
Not only is the lack of production an obvious concern, it also places a whole lot of pressure on Game 3 starter Marcus Stroman to be near-perfect and outduel Cleveland hurler Trevor Bauer.
Stroman, who has suffered through a lack of run support at times this season, wasn’t about to go droning on about the lack of offence.
“Not really worried about it, to be honest with you,” said Stroman, who hasn’t pitched since the Oct. 4 wild-card win over the Baltimore Orioles, a lengthy 13-day span that some are worried could affect the 25-year-old righty Monday night.
“I think that’s baseball. Sometimes, you go in spurts. Our offence is amazing, it’s been amazing all year. I count on every single one of those guys to pick me up, and I have the confidence in them to go out there and score runs, regardless of what the previous two games were.”
Through 18 innings in Cleveland, the Indians and Blue Jays have each managed just two extra-base hits.
The difference is the Indians have hit a pair over the fence — Francisco Lindor in Game 1 and Carlos Santana in Game 2 — and Toronto’s have been doubles, with third baseman Josh Donaldson’s plating their only run of the series in the second game.
Outfielder Kevin Pillar didn’t shy away from saying he needs to do more, personally — “It would help if we got on base,” he said — but gave full credit to the Indians’ arms.
That’s the difference between the hot bats that scored 22 runs in the three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers that got them to this point and the dormant lumber through two games against Cleveland.
“Cole Hamels wasn’t as sharp as he normally is,” Pillar said. “He made a lot of mistakes and we capitalized on them. Yu Darvish made a lot of mistakes and we capitalized on them. If you ask anyone in this room, no one’s really seen a mistake, aside from maybe JD getting that hanging breaking ball (in Game 2).
“We feel like we’ve been in every ballgame,” Pillar added. “It could very easily be the other way. Not to take anything away from them — they’re up 2-0, they earned it, but we’re the two best teams in the AL for a reason. It’s going to be competitive.”
Low-scoring games are synonymous with October baseball, but no-scoring games aren’t at all synonymous with winning.
After coming back from two games down to oust the Rangers last year in the five-game ALDS, Pillar has confidence this group can pull off a similar feat.
“Everything we still want is in front of us,” Pillar said. “We’ve been here before. This is a team that’s played well with our back against the wall. It’s not ideal, it’s not a situation we intentionally wanted to put ourselves in or wanted to be in, but we’re back home. You’ve still gotta win four games in this series — it doesn’t matter how you do it or what order they come in.”
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