CLEVELAND -- One swing was going to decide Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday night (CLE 2, TOR 0). Marco Estrada was masterful, flummoxing the Indians with his changeup in his eight-inning effort. Corey Kluber had to grind, but as Cy Young winners tend to do, he still tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings even when at something less than his best.
The game was decided in the sixth inning, when Estrada left one of those changeups up to 22-year-old wunderkind shortstop Francisco Lindor, who smacked the game-winning two-run home run to right-center. On a night when few well-struck fly balls seemed to carry, Lindor hit his home run 413 feet.
"Oh man, it was unreal," Lindor said about his home run. "The first thing I did when it went out -- first of all, I thought (Kevin) Pillar was going to catch it -- as soon as it went out I put my hands out and said, 'Thank God!' And I looked at the dugout and everybody was going insane. And the crowd today, unreal. I just tried to go with the flow. I celebrated like it was a walk-off."
The home run was Lindor's second of the postseason; he also went deep in Cleveland's Game 1 win over the Red Sox in the ALDS. His 2-for-4 effort Friday night gives him a .313 batting average through four postseason games. Lindor has also played his typically excellent defense -- he started a big inning-ending double play in the second -- and represented the city with "Believeland" cleats.
"I believe in my team. I believe in my city. And it's cool. It's cool shoes and I believe," Lindor said. "I believe in my team. I believe in what we have, the glory is God's. We're just trying to do our thing."
Lindor was an All-Star this year. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last season and could have easily won the award. Only seven shortstops in history -- and only three since 1946 -- have accumulated 4 WAR in each of their first two seasons, and Lindor's one of them. He's a special player who has received a fraction of the fanfare as contemporaries like Corey Seager and Carlos Correa.
"There's a lot of guys doing it, but he's doing it with ease. He makes it look pretty effortless," said double play partner Jason Kipnis. "We have a team approach, so it takes some of the pressure off him. He doesn't feel the weight of the team or the city, where he has to be the one ... He stays ready. Got that change up, put a fantastic swing on it. It was the difference tonight."
"I think for a guy who is still so young, and has only been around so long, he's just so calm, cool, and collected," added Andrew Miller, who turned in yet another dominant performance out of the bullpen in Game 1. "He's such a threat when he's at the plate. He obviously plays great defense. He's a star."
Let's face it, as good as they were this season, the Indians were not exactly a major draw. They're rarely on national television and only the Athletics and Rays, two teams in desperate need of new ballparks, drew fewer fans in 2016. Lindor is the bright young star no one seems to watch. This postseason is changing that. He's starring on the biggest stage and making those who haven't seen him take notice.
"He's got a ton of talent. I just think you can tell how much he enjoys playing the game," manager Terry Francona said. "On the baseball field, that's where he's most comfortable. And you can tell he's enjoying himself. And what's probably even better is as good a player as he is, he's probably a better kid. That's saying something."
Lindor very well might be the best shortstop in baseball right now. The argument can be made. No shortstop has a higher WAR the last two seasons. Not Correa, not Seager, not Troy Tulowitzki, not Xander Bogaerts. No one. And yet, Lindor is rarely discussed in those terms. This postseason is making him a household name. He's a star on both sides of the ball. He just needed people to notice.
"I'm just trying to play the game. Have fun, enjoy it," said Lindor. "We're just trying to do our thing. Play the game the right way. And we all have a different role. Kluber has his role. I have a different role. I'm doing it. If we all do our role, we'll be successful."