CLEVELAND — The charmed summer here, a season of ceaseless victory and unbridled delight, bled Thursday night into wondrous autumn. A vivid sun warmed the chill coming off the lake, and as night fell, the 37,612 at Progressive Field bundled under a starless sky. The Cleveland Indians set about redeeming last October and extinguishing pained history. Trevor Bauer, an eccentric 26-year-old possessor of peculiar habits and a knuckle-curve from hell, nearly joined the ranks of the unforgettable.
The Indians, a juggernaut seeking the franchise's first World Series title since 1948, returned to the postseason with a 4-0 humbling of the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. They took the Chicago Cubs into extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series last year, and this October they intend to finish the job.
These Indians won 102 games, including 22 straight and 33 of 37 to end the regular season. They opened the playoffs with a show of force. Bauer carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, until Aaron Hicks's one-out double off the left field wall kept the duo of Don Larsen and Roy Halladay from growing into a trio. He held the Yankees scoreless for 6⅔ innings, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out eight, including hulking Yankees slugger Aaron Judge three times.
Once Bauer exited, Andrew Miller pitched an uneven inning and handed off to closer Cody Allen with two outs in the eighth, two men on and Judge coming to the plate. Allen struck him out chasing a curve in the dirt, his fourth whiff.
Cleveland's Jay Bruce, a trade-deadline pickup from the New York Mets, drove in three runs and blasted a two-run homer in the fourth inning.
Bauer's decisive performance validated the unconventional choice by Manager Terry Francona to bypass former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber for the Game 1 start. Now the Indians can hand Kluber the ball Friday in Game 2, with a chance to put a hammerlock on the best-of-five series.
"Trevor's arguably been one of the better pitchers in baseball in the second half," Indians starter Josh Tomlin said. "There's no question in this clubhouse why the decisions are being made. We have 25 guys pointed in the same direction, and that's trying to win a World Series."
In a postseason riddled with chewed-up starters, Bauer stood above. The opening games this postseason intensified the trend of starting pitchers yielding early to the bullpen. Entering Thursday night, only Justin Verlander had recorded an out past the fifth inning among six playoff starters.
Francona chose Bauer for Game 1, in part, because he anticipated the possibility of using multiple relievers for multiple innings on maximum rest. Bauer scuttled those thoughts early. Most games, it takes Bauer a few innings to gain a feel for his curve. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway saw them dropping like anvils from the first batter. "It was clear you're not going to take him out just to get the bullpen in the game," Callaway said.
Bauer overpowered the Yankees almost exclusively with two pitches: a mid-90s fastball with vicious, late snap and a parabolic knuckle-curveball, a slider only sprinkled in as he faced New York's lineup a third time. He had no qualms about throwing either pitch in any location or in any count, and the Yankees could not solve Bauer's stuff or strategy.
"The pitcher that you see now is a byproduct of all the things that he has thought about along the way," Callaway said. "He is who he is today and did what he did tonight because of the way he has prepared himself since he was probably 10."
Before he climbed the Progressive Field mound Thursday night, the baseball world best knew Bauer for slicing his hand open on a toy. In the ALDS last October, he lasted four batters in a start against the Toronto Blue Jays because a cut opened on his pitching hand, an injury he had suffered four days earlier while repairing his drone.
Baseball people would call Bauer "high-maintenance." He engages with unruly fans on Twitter and not exactly in a fashion that elevates the discourse. When the Arizona Diamondbacks traded him after his rookie season, former teammates were uncommonly harsh in their critique: "He never wanted to listen," one said. He recorded a rap song titled "You Don't Know Me."
And that is only his off-field persona. Bauer employs unique training methods he believes will be revolutionary. Under his jersey Thursday, he wore a T-shirt emblazed with the logo of Driveline Baseball, the Washington state training center he employs. He uses an array of bands and flexible bars to warm up. Between starts, he plays long toss from foul pole to foul pole, tosses weighted balls and throws marathon bullpen sessions. When he was younger, he had people shoot paintballs at him during bullpen sessions to grow comfortable with distraction. He believes his success can win converts.
"If I have one really good season and I'm contending for a Cy Young Award, then hopefully it will blow up," Bauer told the New York Times this season. "Because now instead of like, 'Hey, you stink; these training methods don't work,' from some casual fan or Twitter troll, all of a sudden it's like, 'Oh, he's pretty good, and he does this; maybe I should start trying to do that.' "
The Diamondbacks raged against Bauer's tendencies and tried to change him until they gave up on him. The Indians, a franchise that warmly embraces forward-thinking and employs one of the game's most player-friendly managers, allowed Bauer free rein and even tried to learn from him. Baseball clubhouses are not welcoming to renegade thinkers. Five years into his Cleveland tenure, the Indians have learned to accept him.
"When he first got in the big leagues with Arizona, it probably wasn't looked too highly on," Tomlin said. "He understands what it took to make him a good pitcher, and he stuck with it. Guys in here accept him for who he is and let him do his thing."
"He probably has a lot more trust in the staff and his teammates than maybe he did initially," Kluber said. "Just because I think that he realizes how much everybody is pulling for him to do well as well because he's a big part of our team. Just because somebody may do something that's a little bit unconventional and not the way everybody else does it doesn't make it wrong."
In Game 1, Bauer submitted his best performance as an Indian and one of the best in the franchise's playoff history: He became the first Indian to take a no-hitter past the fourth inning in the postseason, surpassing a mark held by Bob Feller and Early Wynn. The Indians have taken only one step this October. If Bauer can come close to matching his Game 1 outing, there are many more to come.
"Now the goal is to go out and replicate tomorrow night," Bauer said. "Obviously, Kluber's on the mound."