CLEVELAND — Trevor Bauer made Aaron Judge look silly, and made his manager look like a genius.
One year after nearly costing the Indians a trip to the World Series, Bauer helped them take the first step back.
Named a surprise starter for Game 1, Bauer chopped Judge and New York’s other big bats down to size, and Jay Bruce drove in three runs as Cleveland began chasing its first World Series title in 69 years with a 4-0 win over the Yankees on the Thursday night in the opener of the AL Division Series.
Bauer struck out Judge three times , twice getting the MVP candidate looking. He allowed just two hits in 6 2-3 innings before manager Terry Francona, who chose to start the right-hander over ace Corey Kluber, turned to baseball’s best bullpen, using Andrew Miller and closer Cody Allen to finish the three-hitter.
Allen came in with two on and two outs in the eighth to face Judge, who struck out for the fourth time and the rookie angrily snatched at his bat frustration. Allen then worked the ninth for a save.
Judge’s verdict on Bauer was unanimous in New York’s clubhouse.
“He was mixing his pitches well, he was using the corners extremely well,” he said. “You’ve got to tip your cap sometimes. We’ve just got to pick ourselves up and get ready for tomorrow.”
New York’s now got to face Kluber, an 18-game winner during the regular season. He’ll start Game 2 on Friday against CC Sabathia.
Bruce connected for a two-run homer in the fourth off Sonny Gray and added a sacrifice fly in the fifth as the Indians began a journey to try and end the majors’ longest Series title drought.
Eyebrows were raised when Francona picked Bauer instead of Kluber, and the eccentric right-hander, perhaps best known for slicing a pinkie open while repairing a drone during last year’s postseason and bleeding all over the mound in Toronto, delivered a performance that started October just right for the Indians.
“The mindset was to go out there like a closer in the first inning and put up a scoreless inning at all costs,” Bauer said. “And then if I was still in the game, do it again in the second inning and the third and on until I was taken out of the game. So no-hitter, 10-hitter, or whatever, that was the mindset. I never really strayed from that.”
Coming off their win over Minnesota in the wild-card game Tuesday, when Judge homered in his playoff debut, the Yankees came in with momentum.
Bauer stopped the Bronx Bombers cold.
He struck out eight and took a no-hitter into the sixth before Aaron Hicks doubled with one out. It was the longest no-hit bid by a Cleveland pitcher in the postseason, bettering Hall of Famers Bob Feller (1948) and Early Wynn (1954), who both went four innings.
Bauer improved to 3-0 this season against the Yankees.
“His curveball was really good,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s as good as we’ve seen it, and he’s been pitching better. You look at his second half, and he had better command. We didn’t get many free base runners, which we have in the past off of him, and he was really good.”
Taking the mound to his usual thundering warm-up music, “The Pursuit of Vikings,” an intimidating song by Swedish metal band Amon Amarth, Bauer didn’t mess around.
He struck out Judge in the first watching a curveball. Bauer, who is 11-1 in his last 14 starts, struck out Judge again in the fourth, but the All-Star reached on a wild pitch. Bauer, though, regrouped by getting Gary Sanchez to bounce into a double play before he freezing Didi Gregorius for his sixth strikeout.
Bauer got help from All-Star-second baseman-turned-center fielder Jason Kipnis, who made a diving catch to rob Chase Headley in the third. As Kipnis slowly got to his feet, Bauer raised both arms above his head, pumped his fist and screamed to salute his teammate.
Bruce gave the Indians a 3-0 lead in the fourth with a towering homer to right.
After Edwin Encarnacion walked, Gray came inside with a 0-1 fastball and Bruce got around on it. As his shot cut through the fall night, Judge appeared as if he might be able to make a play near the wall, but the 6-foot-7 slugger could only watch as Bruce’s shot sailed into the seats.
Bruce nearly caught Encarnacion on the bases, and as he finished a home-run trot that was more of a sprint, Cleveland’s fans hollered “Bruuuuuuuce” like a crowd at a Springsteen concert.
The Indians are 43-9 since Bruce arrived in an Aug. 9 trade from the New York Mets.
“I’m very, very fortunate to be here,” Bruce said. “I couldn’t have fallen into a better situation. Obviously, when you get traded and you’re in trade rumors, it’s usually a contender or a team that’s contending at the moment. For whatever reason, I ended up here. And this has been a blast so far.”
Because of his personality and unorthodox training techniques, it took Bauer time to feel comfortable with his Cleveland teammates. But they’ve grown to appreciate his quirky ways and the fact that he’s a gamer.
Bauer said Wednesday that he was “miserable” and depressed earlier this season, when he was struggling and unable to help.
“It was like I was on the team but didn’t feel like I was contributing, which is a terrible feeling for any competitor,” he said. “You want to be one of the main guys out there with your teammates and contributing.”
He’s doing his part now.
Kipnis was well aware that his move to center was questioned.
“That’s all I’ve been hearing is I shouldn’t be playing center field,” he said. “Tonight was the first ball in the gap that I had to go and get, and it was a fun one.”
Bauer appreciated Kipnis’ exceptional effort, calling it “the biggest play of the game. I was pretty pumped up about that.”
New York’s starters have gone only 3 2-3 innings, forcing the bullpen to log 13 1-3 innings already in the postseason.
“Physically, they’re fine,” Girardi said.